Vince McMahon is back at WWE to ensure a smooth sale process. Here’s who might want to buy it
World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chairman Vince McMahon is introduced during the WWE Monday Night Raw show at the Thomas & Mack Center August 24, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images
Vince McMahon has returned to the World Wrestling Entertainment board of directors to facilitate potential sale talks ahead of the company’s media rights renewal.
The notion of WWE selling isn’t new. CNBC reported it looked like a sale target in April and that it appeared only more attractive in July after a sexual misconduct scandal. The rationale is fairly straightforward: WWE is valuable intellectual property.
Owning IP allows streaming services to exclusively offer content without the annoyance of winning licensing rights in an auction every few years. WWE also has value to offer in merchandising and theme park businesses.
WWE has hired JPMorgan to help the company advise on a potential sale, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan declined to comment. A WWE spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
If a deal occurs, it would likely occur in the next three to six months, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. WWE plans to talk to potential buyers before it makes a decision on TV rights renewal agreements.
Facilitating a sale
McMahon’s return should help a sale process go smoothly, though there could still be hiccups.
The former CEO and chair is 77 years old and the controlling shareholder of WWE. He stepped down after an investigation found that he had paid nearly $15 million to four women over 16 years to quell claims of alleged sexual misconduct and infidelity. Returning to the board will give potential buyers confidence he’s supportive of the details of any transaction.
“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,” McMahon said in a statement Thursday.
McMahon’s return doesn’t affect current leadership. McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, and former CAA agent Nick Khan are co-CEOs. But it remains unclear what type of role, if any, McMahon would want at WWE if he sold the company. WWE has told investors that McMahon’s role at the company is essential in “our ability to create popular characters and creative storylines.” Currently, McMahon doesn’t have a formal say in the company’s creative direction.
Mansoor (bottom) competes with Mustafa Ali during the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Crown Jewel pay-per-view in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 21, 2021.
Fayez Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images
Whether a buyer would be comfortable with McMahon taking a more hands-on role at the company is unknown. But WWE is McMahon’s life work. It’s possible a sale may only happen with at least some strings attached.
WWE has a market capitalization of more than $6 billion after rising nearly 17% percent on Friday, buoyed by heightened sale speculation.
There are three categories of likely buyers for WWE — the legacy media companies, the streamers and the entertainment holding companies. Here’s who might be interested.
Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is a potential fit as a buyer for WWE. McMahon’s company already has an exclusive streaming deal with Comcast’s streaming service, Peacock, and a cable TV deal with NBCUniversal’s USA Network. Comcast has a market capitalization of more than $160 billion and can easily afford the company — especially with a $9 billion (or more) check coming as soon as January 2024 from Disney for a 33% stake in Hulu.
Comcast can lock up WWE in perpetuity without having to pay upcoming rights renewal increases and can use the company’s IP for theme parks, movies and other spinoff series.
Still, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in October “the bar is the highest it’s been in terms of M&A” and has repeatedly said the company isn’t in a rush to pursue an acquisition.
Returning CEO Bob Iger may want to make a splashy acquisition as he retakes the throne at Disney. WWE fits Disney in the same ways that it fits Comcast. It would bolster Disney’s streaming ambitions (perhaps ESPN+), it would support the linear network business, and it would add some heft to merchandizing and theme park businesses.
Comcast didn’t want Disney walking away with Fox in 2019 and drove up the price by tens of billions by topping Iger’s initial bid. Could Iger see WWE as the next IP battle between Disney and his rival Comcast?
Disney CEO, Bob Iger attends the European film premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ at Cineworld Leicester Square on 18 December, 2019 in London, England.
Wiktor Szymanowicz | Future Publishing | Getty Images
Warner Bros. Discovery
Netflix has long shied away from sports and other live events, but it’s recently become open to the idea of owning a league outright or taking an ownership stake. Owning a sports league would give Netflix the ability to create video games and spinoff series without friction. Netflix found success in its Formula 1 “Drive to Survive” documentary series, giving co-CEO Reed Hastings faith that certain sports properties will resonate with Netflix’s huge global audience. But Netflix doesn’t own Formula 1, limiting its future options.
Acquiring WWE or another sports league would be a path toward offering live entertainment without renting content — similar to Zaslav’s thinking.
“We’ve not seen a profit path to renting big sports,” said co-CEO Ted Sarandos last month at the UBS Global TMT Conference. “We’re not anti-sports; we’re just pro-profit.”
Endeavor Group Holdings
Endeavor, run by superagent Ari Emanuel, could add WWE to its stable of assets after agreeing to buy 100% of UFC in 2021.
Emanuel bought UFC to increase the scope of the talent agency’s business to live events. WME-IMG, now just a part of Endeavor, represents many UFC athletes — as well as WWE superstars. The UFC deal has been a success for Endeavor, which paid about seven times 2016’s $600 million revenue in 2016. UFC generated more than $1 billion in revenue in 2022.
Ari Emanuel speaks onstage during the 2017 LACMA Art + Film Gala Honoring Mark Bradford and George Lucas presented by Gucci at LACMA on November 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Stefanie Keenan | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Endeavor’s enterprise value of just about $11 billion makes WWE a huge swing for the company. The company’s relatively small balance sheet would likely prevent Endeavor from winning a bidding war against media giants. But McMahon’s outsized personality may fit with the brash Emanuel and UFC President Dana White.
Selling to a third party would also allow WWE to increase rights renewals every few years. That may or may not be a positive for the long-term future of the company as the media distribution ecosystem changes.
While Endeavor owns UFC, Liberty’s Formula One Group owns Formula 1. John Malone, Liberty’s controlling shareholder, and CEO Greg Maffei, along with Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, have figured out how to globally market the car racing league, including cracking American culture after decades of obscurity.
Malone and Maffei have extensive track records at maximizing media valuations and acquiring media assets for less than $10 billion, including Formula 1, Sirius XM and Pandora. The global success of Formula 1 could provide a roadmap for a future WWE strategy.
Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.
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Lucid to cut 1,300 workers amid signs of flagging demand for its EVs
Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson poses at the Nasdaq MarketSite as Lucid Motors (Nasdaq: LCID) begins trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange after completing its business combination with Churchill Capital Corp IV in New York City, New York, July 26, 2021.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Struggling EV maker Lucid said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday that it plans to cut about 18% of its workforce, or roughly 1,300 employees, as part of a larger restructuring to reduce costs as it works to ramp up production of its Air luxury sedan.
Lucid said it will incur one-time charges totaling between $24 million and $30 million related to the job cuts, with most of that amount being recognized in the first quarter of 2023.
News of the job cuts was first reported by Insider earlier on Tuesday. Lucid’s shares closed down over 7% on Tuesday following the Insider report.
In a letter to employees, CEO Peter Rawlinson said the job cuts will hit “nearly every organization and level, including executives,” and that affected employees will be notified over the next three days. Severance packages will include continued healthcare coverage paid by Lucid, as well as an acceleration of equity vesting, Rawlinson wrote.
Lucid ended 2022 with about $4.4 billion in cash on hand, enough to last until the first quarter of 2024, CFO Sherry House told CNBC last month ahead of the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report. But there have been signs that demand for the high-priced Air has fallen short of Lucid’s internal expectations, and the company may be struggling to convert early reservations to sold orders.
Lucid said that it had more than 28,000 reservations for the Air as of Feb. 21, its most recent update. But it also said that it plans to build just 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles in 2023, far fewer than the roughly 27,000 that Wall Street analysts had expected.
With Lucid’s factory currently set up to build about 34,000 vehicles per year, the company has warned of continuing losses.
“As we produce vehicles at low volumes on production lines designed for higher volumes, we have and we will continue to experience negative gross profit related to labor and overhead costs,” House said during Lucid’s earnings call on Feb. 22.
Lucid hasn’t yet announced a date for its first-quarter earnings report.
Virgin Orbit extends unpaid pause as Brown deal collapses, ‘dynamic’ talks continue
NEWQUAY, ENGLAND – JANUARY 09: A general view of Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400 aircraft carrying the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing, as final preparations are made at Cornwall Airport Newquay on January 9, 2023 in Newquay, United Kingdom. Virgin Orbit launches its LauncherOne rocket from the spaceport in Cornwall, marking the first ever orbital launch from the UK. The mission has been named Start Me Up after the Rolling Stones hit. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Matthew Horwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Virgin Orbit is again extending its unpaid pause in operations to continue pursuing a lifeline investment, CEO Dan Hart told employees in a company-wide email.
Some of the company’s late-stage deal talks, including with private investor Matthew Brown, collapsed over the weekend, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.
Hart previously planned to update employees on the company’s operational status at an all-hands meeting at 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon, according to an email sent to employees Sunday night. At the last minute, that meeting was rescheduled “for no later than Thursday,” Hart said in the employee memo Monday.
“Our investment discussions have been very dynamic over the past few days, they are ongoing, and not yet at a stage where we can provide a fulsome update,” Hart wrote in the email to employees, which was viewed by CNBC.
Brown told CNBC’s “Worldwide Exchange” last week he was in final discussions to invest in the company. A person familiar with the terms told CNBC the investment would have amounted to $200 million and granted Brown a controlling stake. But discussions between Virgin Orbit and the Texas-based investor stalled and broke down late last week, a person familiar told CNBC. As of Saturday those discussions had ended, the person said.
Separately, another person said talks with a different potential buyer broke down on Sunday night.
The people asked to remain anonymous to discuss private negotiations. A representative for Virgin Orbit declined to comment.
Hart promised Virgin Orbit’s over 750 employees “daily” updates this week. Most of the staff remain on an unpaid furlough that Hart announced on Mar. 15. Last week, a “small” team of Virgin Orbit employees returned to work in what Hart described as the “first step” in an “incremental resumption of operations,” with the intention of preparing a rocket for the company’s next launch.
Virgin Orbit’s stock closed at 54 cents a share on Monday, having fallen below $1 a share after the company’s pause in operations.
Virgin Orbit developed a system that uses a modified 747 jet to send satellites into space by dropping a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing mid-flight. But the company’s last mission suffered a mid-flight failure, with an issue during the launch causing the rocket to not reach orbit and crash into the ocean.
The company has been looking for new funds for several months, with majority owner Sir Richard Branson unwilling to fund the company further.
Virgin Orbit was spun out of Branson’s Virgin Galactic in 2017 and counts the billionaire as its largest stakeholder, with 75% ownership. Mubadala, the Emirati sovereign wealth fund, holds the second-largest stake in Virgin Orbit, at 18%.
The company hired bankruptcy firms to draw up contingency plans in the event it is unable to find a buyer or investor. Branson has first priority over Virgin Orbit’s assets, as the company raised $60 million in debt from the investment arm of Virgin Group.
On the same day that Hart told employees that Virgin Orbit was pausing operations, its board of directors approved a “golden parachute” severance plan for top executives, in case they are terminated “following a change in control” of the company.
Historic UAW election picks reform leader who vows more aggressive approach to auto negotiations
Supporters wave signs during an address at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 5, 2012 on the second day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
Mladin Antonov | AFP | Getty Images
DETROIT – United Auto Workers members have ousted their president in the union’s first direct election, ushering in a new era for the prominent organized labor group ahead of negotiations later this year with the Detroit automakers.
The union’s new leader will be Shawn Fain, a member of the “UAW Members United” reform group and local leader for a Stellantis parts plant in Indiana. He came out ahead in a runoff election by hundreds of votes over incumbent Ray Curry, who was appointed president by union leaders in 2021.
Fain, in a statement Saturday, thanked UAW members who voted in the election. He also hailed the election results as a historic change in direction for the embattled union, which he says will take a “more aggressive approach” with its employers.
“This election was not just a race between two candidates, it was a referendum on the direction of the UAW. For too long, the UAW has been controlled by leadership with a top-down, company union philosophy who have been unwilling to confront management, and as a result, we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption, and plant closures,” Fain said.
Curry, who previously protested the narrow election results, said in a statement that Fain will be sworn in on Sunday and that Curry is “committed to ensuring that this transition is smooth and without disruptions.”
“I want to express my deep gratitude to all UAW staff, clerical support, leaders and most of all, our union’s active and retired members for the many years of support and solidarity. It has been the honor of my life to serve our great union,” Curry said.
More than 141,500 ballots were cast in the runoff election that also included two other board positions, a 33% increase from last year’s direct election in which neither of the presidential candidates received 50% or more of the votes.
The election was overseen by a federal monitor, who did not immediately confirm the results. The election results had been delayed several weeks due to a run-off election as well as the close final count.
Shawn Fain, candidate for UAW president, is in a run-off election with incumbent Ray Curry for the union’s highest-ranking position.
Jim West for UAW Members United
Fain’s election adds to the UAW’s largest upheaval in leadership in decades, as a majority of the union’ s International Executive Board will be made up of first-time directors who are not part of the “Administration Caucus” that has controlled the union for more than 70 years.
Fain and other members of his leadership slate ran on the promise of “No corruption. No concessions. No tiers.” The last being a reference to a tiered pay system implemented by the automakers during recent negotiations that members have asked to be removed.
The shuffle follows a yearslong federal investigation that uncovered systemic corruption involving bribery, embezzlement, and other crimes among the top ranks of the UAW.
Thirteen UAW officials were convicted as part of the probe, including two past presidents. As part of a settlement with the union in late 2020, a federal monitor was appointed to oversee the union and the organization held a direct election where each member has a vote, doing away with a weighted delegate process.
For investors, UAW negotiations with the Detroit automakers are typically a short-term headwind every four years that result in higher costs. But this year’s negotiations are anticipated to be among the most contentious and important in recent memory.
Fain has said the union will seek benefit gains for members, advocating for the return of a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, as well as raises and job security.
The change in the UAW comes against the backdrop of a broader organized labor movement across the country, a pro-union president and an industry in the transition to all-electric vehicles.
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