Who is the most powerful man in professional wrestling?
That’s a pretty easy question, but it’s also accurate to say that Vincent K. McMahon might also be one of the most powerful people working in the entertainment/media industry.
The WWE chairman and CEO was ranked for the second year in a row in the second annual edition of Variety 500, an index of the 500 most influential business leaders shaping the global $2 trillion entertainment industry.
McMahon, who came in at 239th overall, finds himself ranked alongside the likes of such moguls and influencers as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Robert Iger.
Updated Oct. 30, the Variety500 reflects the accomplishments of its members over the previous 12 months. They were selected by the Variety editorial board, which conducted extensive research for its selections.
“A lifetime devotee of the sport, McMahon led the venerable wrestling organization to record revenues this year ($281.6 million in Q2 alone, up 31 percent year over year) thanks largely to increases in subscriber growth for its streaming outlet WWE Network and licensing fees for content and merchandise,” according to the Variety website.
It also was noted that “the spoils stay largely in the McMahon family” as they own 70 percent of WWE’s interests.
At 73 years old, McMahon is still making headlines and huge deals with his company.
WWE’s new TV deals with FOX and the USA Network also were mentioned as McMahon positioned the WWE for future success when he closed landmark media-right deals worth in excess of $2 billion. Effective October 2019, those have 3.6 times the annual average value of its present U.S. distribution deal with NBCU.
McMahon also recently returned to the coveted Forbes 400 list of richest Americans following a 16-year absence.
The report noted that McMahon’s net worth saw a $1.6 billion increase from last year, making his current net worth $3.3 billion. Soaring revenues hit an all-time high of nearly $282 million in the second quarter this year as WWE stock saw a meteoric rise.
McMahon first became a billionaire after WWE’s stock went public in 1999, and since returning to billionaire status in 2014, his wealth has steadily climbed.
The wrestling magnate announced earlier this year that the XFL will be returning in 2020, and reports have indicated McMahon intends to invest at least half a billion dollars on the league’s relaunch.
Also making the Variety 500 list was former wrestling champion and current Hollywood star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“The former wrestler who started out with $7 to his name (hence Seven Bucks Productions, which he co-heads with his ex and longtime manager Dany Garcia) has worked tirelessly to become a multi-platform powerhouse,” said Variety. “In 2018, Johnson juggled his HBO series ‘Ballers’ and films including the remake of ‘Jumanji,’ which reeled in nearly a billion dollars, plus ‘Rampage’ and ‘Skyscraper,’ both overseas smashes that cemented his global appeal.
“On deck for 2019 is Disney’s ‘Jungle Cruise,’ his own ‘Fast & Furious’ spinoff and the ‘Jumanji’ sequel, while 2020 will bring his superhero flick ‘Black Adam.’ Off-screen, Johnson opened his own advertising agency this year, Seven Bucks Creative. And of course, he told Variety he would ‘100 percent consider’ running for president.”
While McMahon continues to make headlines, some of them have been highly controversial.
The third-generation promoter most recently has drawn attention due to his decision to hold the company’s Crown Jewel event this weekend in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Headlined by major stars including The Undertaker Brock Lesnar, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, the show’s location has been sparsely mentioned in the days following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born critic of the regime, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Backlash has grown louder against WWE’s lucrative long-term deal with a monarchy facing increased scrutiny.
Although WWE reportedly stands to make nearly half a billion dollars as part of a 10-year agreement with Saudi Arabia for holding annual events there, the arrangement includes a propagandistic strategy pushing the kingdom’s purported diversity and social and economic Vision 2030 plan, which aims to promote the country’s image as “the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.”
In weeks leading up to the event, WWE has attempted to distance itself from the international outcry over the killing while downplaying its ties to the Middle Eastern country.
In a statement made ahead of the Greatest Royal Rumble pay-per-view held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, earlier this year, a WWE press release lauded the relationship.
“Our partnership with the Saudi General Sports Authority reflects a long-term commitment to present WWE’s world-class entertainment to a global audience on a grander scale than ever before.”
At a recent conference call, however, McMahon was more muted regarding the subject.
“We're not going to talk a lot about that,” he said. “It's a very sensitive subject these days, naturally.”
Show must go on
Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, WWE has found itself in a highly unenviable position.
Some members of WWE’s roster, such as Randy Orton and John Layfield, have supported the decision to go, promoting the idea of helping create change in the country.
“I think we should go. I think the only way to help with change over there is to go and not to cancel the trip,” Orton told TMZ two weeks ago. “Our girls performed in Abu Dhabi not too long ago, and I think we’ll be there eventually with Saudi and the Crown Jewel. That’s the goal is to make things better everywhere and I think us not going — it doesn’t help. Going helps.”
On Wednesday, however, Orton hinted that money also was a big factor why he would be wrestling in Saudi Arabia.
“I've got five kids. I gotta go make that dollar. If they want me in Saudi, I'm going to Saudi.”
Others, such as John Cena and Daniel Bryan, refused to take part in the show.
Cena, who reportedly had misgivings about his participation at Crown Jewel, was quietly removed from his match as part of last week’s Raw.
Cena appeared on a Saudi Arabia show in April and said at the time that it was “an honor and a privilege” to participate in the event, thanking Saudi Arabia for “its unmatched hospitality.”
Bryan, who reportedly also chose to opt out of the controversial event, was officially written out of the show on Tuesday night.
“As always, we maintain an open line of communication with our performers and will address each situation accordingly,” WWE said in a statement.
The company confirmed the event would move forward as scheduled as part of its recent Q3 financial report.
“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base,” WWE said in a statement. “Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul , the company faced a very difficult decision as relates to its (Crown Jewel) event. Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.”
Amidst calls from some politicians to postpone or cancel Crown Jewel, WWE’s decision to go on with the beleaguered event was impacted not only by keeping a promise and maintaining a business relationship, but also by potential financial losses if the company decided to cancel. Canceling would have risked the remaining nine years of the contract, obviously a risk the company wasn’t willing to take.
As for a potential loss of goodwill, that remains to be seen.
Old School Wrestling
Old School Championship Wrestling will be back in town on Nov. 11 at the Hanahan Rec Center.
The show features the return of former WWE star Kevin Thorn and Team Fearless (Brad “Lodi” Cain and Scotty Mathews), along with the John Skyler challenge, and ladies including OSCW women’s champ Savannah Evans and Priscilla Kelly.
Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Action gets under way at 5.
Adult admission is $12 (cash only at the door); kids under 12 $7.
For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 843-743-4800.