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In a twist worthy of a Monday Night Raw storyline, the founder and former CEO of the wrestling giant is planning a comeback to the company after retiring amid a misconduct probe led by the company’s board of directors.
McMahon, who still controls the company through his ownership of Class B shares, has told the WWE board of directors that he plans to name himself and two former executives, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, as new board members. He has asked to be named executive chairman of the company.
“WWE is entering a critical juncture in its history with the upcoming media rights negotiations coinciding with increased industry-wide demand for quality content and live events and with more companies seeking to own the intellectual property on their platforms,” said McMahon in a statement Thursday night. “The only way for WWE to fully capitalize on this opportunity is for me to return as executive chairman and support the management team in the negotiations for our media rights and to combine that with a review of strategic alternatives. My return will allow WWE, as well as any transaction counterparties, to engage in these processes knowing they will have the support of the controlling shareholder.”
The board coup d’état comes as the WWE is said to be pursuing strategic options, including the possibility of a sale. McMahon wants to lead any talks about a possible sale or rights negotiations himself, he said in his statement.
McMahon retired in July after an investigation into allegations that he had sexual relationships with employees at the company and subsequently paid the women millions of dollars as part of their severance packages. The company said that it spent $19.4 million on costs related to the investigation last year, which it completed in November.
His daughter Stephanie McMahon and WWE president Nick Khan succeeded him as co-CEOs.
“WWE has an exceptional management team in place, and I do not intend for my return to have any impact on their roles, duties, or responsibilities,” McMahon said in his statement.
McMahon said that he initially reached out to the board last month, asking to rejoin as executive chair, however, it does not sound as though those conversations went well.
“Following conversations with representatives of the Company both before and after Mr. McMahon’s most recent letter on December 31, Mr. McMahon determined, consistent with his rights as controlling shareholder, that the steps announced today are necessary to maximize value for all WWE shareholders,” the statement added.
The new leadership led to speculation that the WWE could be up for sale. With rights for Raw and Smackdown set to be renegotiated this year, McMahon reportedly felt that the window to sell the company was closing (some potential buyers, like streaming services, would likely want to keep the programming on their own platforms).
The WWE’s existing TV and streaming partners, NBCUniversal and Fox, would also be potential buyers.
The board shake-up, assuming it happens, suggests that such talks are likely to be taken seriously.
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