LIV Golf might only be the beginning.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is emerging as a possible bidder for WWE if the promotion puts itself up for sale, sources told Front Office Sports.
PIF controls about $620 billion in assets. Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment company could be the next possible step in its global sports expansion.
WWE has a deep history with Saudi Arabia, holding its Crown Jewel, WWE Live, and Greatest Royal Rumble events there in recent years. WWE has a 10-year agreement to hold two live events per year in the Kingdom. The deal is worth $100 million a year to WWE, according to Wrestlenomics.
“In the same way they did LIV, there’s an unlimited faucet of dollars there,” LightShed Partners analyst Brandon Ross told Front Office Sports. “The Saudis are already a decent part of the profitability of the company just on those two [Saudi-based WWE] events alone. They’re trying to be relevant in the entertainment world.”
Some of the biggest stars in WWE history have wrestled in the Kingdom, including Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Triple H.
In 2019, the WWE staged the first-ever women’s match in the country featuring Natalya and Lacey Evans. That year, the WWE extended its live event partnership with the Saudi General Entertainment Authority through 2027.
The Saudis have been expanding their interests in sports.
PIF has served as the majority owner of Newcastle United in the English Premier League since 2021.
Last year, it spent at least $2 billion to bankroll LIV Golf’s global challenge to the PGA Tour.
Sources pegged other potential suitors for WWE as:
- Amazon entered the U.S. sports business in a big way with a $1 billion-a-year deal to exclusively stream the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” through 2033.
- Comcast’s NBCUniversal Media and Fox Corp., which already boasts media rights deals for “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night Smackdown” respectively
- Endeavor purchased a controlling stake in the UFC for $4 billion in 2016.
- Liberty Media acquired Formula One for $4.4 billion in 2016.
- Global talent agency CAA.
If PIF makes a run at WWE, it will bring up again the question of whether Saudi Arabia is trying to “sports wash” away its history of human rights abuses and treatment of women.
The murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 highlights the issues with their affiliation.
The Saudis may face other hurdles if they want WWE. Given LIV’s inability to score a U.S. media rights deal, there’s a question of whether U.S. media companies would want to be partners with PIF.
On the other hand, WWE co-chief executive officer Nick Khan will be leading media rights negotiations. The former CAA super-agent has deep relationships throughout sports media. He’s expected to drive a hard bargain for the next cycle of rights as the WWE repositions itself as a media giant with valuable IP assets.
Rumors of a possible WWE sale have percolated since longtime boss Vince McMahon stepped down this summer after a sexual misconduct scandal.
McMahon, the company’s controlling shareholder, shook up Wall Street by returning on Thursday.
The 77-year-old said his comeback was necessary as the company explores “strategic alternatives” and kicks off media rights negotiations.
“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.
“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.”
WWE referred deal questions to McMahon’s statement. The PIF could not be reached for comment.