Around the Loop: Return of the Mac

He’s back.

In a power move that makes the Red Wedding look like a child’s tea party, Vincent Kennedy McMahon has returned to the WWE Board of Directors.

“Today, we announce that the founder of WWE, Vince McMahon, will be returning to the Board,” said Chairwoman & Co-CEO Stephanie McMahon, Co-CEO Nick Khan and Chief Content Officer Paul Levesque in a press release issued by WWE on January 6. “We also welcome back Michelle Wilson and George Barrios to our Board of Directors. Together, we look forward to exploring all strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value.”

McMahon has claimed that there is a “narrow window” to renegotiate the media rights for WWE. Contracts with their television partners are nearing expiration dates. Selling the company seems like a foregone conclusion. In a remarkable statement of hubris, McMahon alleged that his input is absolutely essential to the future of WWE.

“There is no rationale for your position that my return to the Company ‘would not be prudent from a shareholder value perspective,’ McMahon wrote in a December 2022 letter to the WWE Board of Directors. “To the contrary, my return in the context of the media rights negotiations and a potential value maximizing strategic transaction is necessary precisely from a shareholder value perspective because it 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 doubled down on this point in a statement released on Thursday, in which he said that 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.”

That says maybe. With a number of allegations of sexual impropriety and legal action pending against McMahon, it is questionable if potential buyers will want to work with him. After news of McMahon’s alleged malfeasance leaked, WWE began an internal investigation. That investigation revealed McMahon’s misappropriation of company funds as hush money paid to the victims of McMahon’s alleged sexual impropriety to the tune of $14.6 million. McMahon addressed that investigation in the same letter. Sort of.

“Further,” McMahon wrote, “the special committee of the Board has concluded its investigation and presumably all of its material findings have been publicly disclosed by the Company, and nothing has been communicated to me about any matter that would prevent me from returning to the Board.”

In none of the released communications does McMahon mention the allegations on a personal level. That omission may be on the advice of McMahon’s legal counsel. It is inadvisable to utter anything that could be construed as responsibility or empathy when lawsuits are pending.

In his return to the Board, which some observers have referred to as a “counter-coup,” McMahon brought along former Board members George Barrios and Michelle Wilson. That trio replaces JoEllen Lyons Dillon, Jeffrey R. Speed, and Alan Wexler who were, well, fired. Ignace Lahoud and Man Jit Singh resigned from the board in response to McMahon’s actions. Singh was the head of the internal investigation that occurred during McMahon’s absence.

As of this writing, McMahon’s daughter, co-CEO Stephanie McMahon, his son-in-law, Chief Content Officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque, and co-CEO Nick Khan remain on the Board.

However, there was a hint given that McMahon’s retirement from the company was always planned to be short-lived. At the time of WWE’s amended 10-K filing for 2021, WWE said that losing McMahon “could have a material adverse effect on our ability to create popular characters and creative storylines or could otherwise adversely affect our operations and/or financial performance.”

Many are worried that McMahon’s return to the Board could lead to him resuming his past duties, such as being Head of Creative. McMahon claims that his sole intent is to guide the company through any potential sale. However, he has also claimed the right to torpedo any deal that he does not like.

“I would like to be clear that unless I have direct involvement and input as Executive Chairman from the outset,” McMahon wrote in December 2022, “I will not be able to support or approve any media rights deals or strategic transaction (including any commitments made by or on behalf of the Company regarding a potential transaction or process).”

If everything is as both McMahon and the company say, then McMahon is only there to help negotiate new TV deals and get things ready for a potential sale of the company. What could happen after that is unknown. Any new owner could opt to keep the management team as is, including McMahon. His reinstatement of himself to the Board indicates that he would have no intention of leaving the company again willingly.

Much like Emperor Palpatine, McMahon has somehow returned. What he will do and how long he will stay promises to be the subject of both interest and scrutiny for the foreseeable future.

Leave a Reply