Vince McMahon Resigns From TKO Group Board Following Sexual Assault Lawsuit

Vince McMahon has resigned as executive chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment’s parent company, TKO Group, days after a former WWE employee Janel Grant filed a lawsuit alleging the WWE founder and former CEO, along with another WWE executive, sexually assaulted, harassed and trafficked her over a period of years.

McMahon, who has not been criminally charged with any crimes, denied the allegations, but said he would step down due to “respect for the WWE Universe.”

“I have decided to resign from my executive chairmanship and the TKO board of directors, effective immediately,” McMahon said in a statement. He remains WWE’s largest shareholder.

In a separate statement, TKO said: “Mr. McMahon does not control TKO nor does he oversee the day-to-day operations of WWE. While this matter pre-dates our TKO executive team’s tenure at the company, we take Ms. Grant’s horrific allegations very seriously and are addressing this matter internally.”

After briefly resigning from WWE in 2022 following allegations of improper workplace behavior, McMahon returned in early 2023 to help facilitate WWE’s sale to entertainment Endeavor Group Holdings, which combined the pro wrestling entertainment company with Ultimate Fighting Championship to create TKO.

Earlier this week, TKO inked a reported $5 billion exclusive streaming rights agreement with Netflix for WWE’s weekly “Raw” live wrestling show, among other assets. The company also named Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to its board of directors.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock is the current exclusive streaming platform for WWE programming, including last night’s “Royal Rumble” live event.

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Former Employee Files Sexual Abuse, Trafficking Charges Against WWE, Founder, Chairman Vince McMahon

A former employee at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Jan. 25 filed a lawsuit against the pro wrestling conglomerate, its founder and chairman Vince McMahon, and another executive, alleging years-long sexual abuse and sex trafficking, among other charges.

Vince McMahon (Shutterstock image)

The 67-page suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, in lurid detail contends that in 2019 plaintiff Janel Grant met and was subsequently hired by McMahon with the promise of a career at WWE. Instead, over time Grant claims she was subjected to sexual harassment and abuse by McMahon and former WWE employee John Laurinaitis “for their own pleasure and as a pawn to secure talent deals with prospective wrestlers they were recruiting”.

The suit alleges “McMahon objectified and trafficked Grant,” demanded that she “engage in threesomes with other men,” and that she “send explicit photographs for him to share with other men,” despite the plaintiff on multiple occasions explaining that she was hesitant to obeying, and all while McMahon controlled her job security.

After McMahon’s wife learned of the affair, Grant was allegedly forced to resign and sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with a reported payment of $3 million in 2022. The suit alleges McMahon made initial payments and then stopped paying.

In the suit, Grant seeks to invalidate the NDA under Federal and State laws and other laws, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Nate Johnson, managing director at August Company, who claims to be representing McMahon, issued a statement on behalf of McMahon.

“This lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and a vindictive distortion of the truth,” Johnson wrote. “[McMahon] will vigorously defend himself.”

McMahon, who in 2022 briefly stepped aside from WWE after its was reported the company had paid millions to four women as hush money to keep secret allegations of his sexual misconduct, returned to the company in January 2023 as executive chairman. He was instrumental in selling WWE to Endeavor, in a deal that included the Ultimate Fighting Championship, to create TKO Group Holdings, a media company reportedly worth $21 billion.

The suit comes the day after Netflix inked a reported 10-year, $5 billion distribution deal with TKO for WWE’s weekly live “Raw” program, in addition to streaming rights to much of WWE’s content portfolio across foreign markets, set to begin in 2025.

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Ted Sarandos: ‘Super Excited’ About WWE ‘Raw’ Deal, Expanding the ‘Sports Entertainment’ Market Internationally

Netflix pursued the WWE’s “Raw” live weekly pro wrestling show due to the content’s “sports entertainment” focus, mirroring the streamer’s strategy for producing reality-based docuseries on Formula 1, NASCAR, tennis, golf and the Tour de France bike race.

Speaking on the Jan. 23 fiscal webcast, co-CEO Ted Sarandos said he was “thrilled” with the deal that begins in 2025, but it does not alter Netflix’s heretofore limited interest in live sports streaming. Instead, the executive reiterated that “Raw” hits the streamer’s “sweet spot” revolving around the “drama” of sport, and not necessarily the score, wins or losses.

“Fifty-two weeks a year of live programming feeds our desire to expand our live event [content],” Sarandos said. “But, more importantly, fans love it. For decades, WWE has grown this multigenerational fan base [that] we believe we can serve and we can grow.”

The executive contends the WWE has been historically under-distributed outside of the United States — a key point since the majority of WWE content licensed to Netflix outside of “Raw” is for international markets only. NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform holds the U.S. rights to that WWE programming.

“We can help them, and they can help us build that global fandom around the world,” Sarandos said, adding that “Raw” would help with Netflix’s nascent ad-supported content as well.

The executive said the deal would not increase the streamer’s current $17 billion annual content spending, but rather be a part of that spending. Sarandos characterizes the agreement as the inverse of Netflix’s deal with Formula One, which saw the streamer capture the international auto racing circuit’s fan base and replicate it in the United States.

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“We can build on that as we have with Formula 1, and other sports programming, like ‘Drive to Survive,’ ‘Full Swing’ [golf], ‘Break Point’ [tennis], and the Tour de France bike race,” he said. “Storytelling is part of WWE, so this is a proven formula for us… so, super excited about this.”

Netflix Inks $5 Billion WWE ‘Raw’ Deal, Streamer’s First Live Sports Venture

Netflix has officially entered the live sports streaming business.

The streamer Jan. 23 announced a long-term deal with World Wrestling Entertainment, part of TKO Group Holdings Inc., that will bring WWE’s flagship weekly program — “Raw” — to the world’s largest streaming service beginning in January 2025. Media reports say the deal is worth $5 billion over 10 years.

This marks a major programming shift as “Raw” leaves linear television for the first time since its inception 31 years ago. Beginning next year, Netflix will be the exclusive new home of the series in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Latin America, among other territories, with additional countries and regions to be added over time.

Netflix will also become the home for all WWE shows and specials outside the United States as available, inclusive of “Raw” and WWE’s other weekly shows — “SmackDown” and “NXT” — as well as the company’s live events, including “WrestleMania,” “SummerSlam” and “Royal Rumble.”

NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service holds the exclusive U.S. rights to the aforementioned programming, excluding “Raw.”

WWE’s documentaries, original series and forthcoming projects will also be available on Netflix internationally beginning in 2025.   

“This deal is transformative,” Mark Shapiro, TKO President and COO, said in a statement. “Our partnership fundamentally alters and strengthens the media landscape, dramatically expands the reach of WWE, and brings weekly live appointment viewing to Netflix.”  

Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s chief content officer, said the deal will afford subscribers weekly access to “great characters and storytelling” with live action 52 weeks a year.

“We’re thrilled to be in this long-term partnership with WWE,” Bajaria said.

With 1,600 episodes since its debut in 1993, “Raw” has delivered action, drama and athleticism 52 weeks a year. The three-hour show has helped launch the careers of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple  H, John Cena, Roman Reigns, Bianca Belair and Charlotte Flair.

The show is currently the No. 1 show on the USA Network, where it brings in 17.5 million unique viewers over the course of the year. One of television’s best performing shows in the 18-49 advertising demographic, “Raw” trends on X 52 weeks a year while each new episode is airing. On social media, WWE has more than 1 billion followers across its platforms. 

Netflix reports fourth-quarter fiscal 2023 fiscal results later today.

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WWE Inks Partnership With Twitch Streaming Video Platform

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) June 5 announced a multiyear partnership with Amazon-owned streaming video platform Twitch that will see the return of the official WWE channel and WWE Superstar channels, featuring live and exclusive content.

In addition to the launch of the channel, WWE is bowing a companion side-cast to “Monday Night RAW,” bringing the WWE Universe behind the scenes and closer to the in-ring action. The weekly show will be led by a rotating cast of hosts and will regularly feature appearances by WWE Superstars, exclusive content such as backstage interviews, among other content.

Viewers can stream the sidecast live every Monday beginning at 8 p.m. ET via https://www.twitch.tv/wwe or the Twitch App.

The official WWE channel will also be home to other live productions and will serve as an alternate live streaming feed for all of WWE’s premium live event press conferences.

The WWE’s subscription streaming service, WWE Network, in early 2021 became exclusive to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform in a long-term license deal reportedly worth $1 billion.

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Roku Greenlights Original WWE Docuseries Executive Produced by John Cena

Roku April 6 announced it has greenlighted the production of original docuseries “WWE: Recruits” (working title), which follows a group of young men and women competing to earn one the distinction of being a WWE Superstar.

The eight-part series, which is executive produced by John Cena, enables viewers to experience the training, personal triumphs, and life-changing moments of thousands of pro wrestling hopefuls who will be narrowed down to an elite group of candidates going for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Cena will also appear in the docuseries, along with other WWE legends and current stars, including Paul “Triple H” Levesque, Shawn Michaels, Ettore “Big E” Ewan, Bianca Belaire and Ric Flair, among others.

Filming is currently underway with locations including WrestleMania 39, which took place April 1 to 2 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

“[The series] not only unpacks how the WWE transforms unknown athletes into world-renowned stars, but also invites audiences into the lives of a group of young people chasing their ultimate dream,” Sean Boyle, head of adventure and exploration programming for Roku Originals, said in a statement.

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‘WrestleMania 39’ Peacock Streaming Viewership Up 29% From Last Year

WWE’s annual WrestleMania 39 extravaganza saw viewership on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform reportedly increase 29% across the April 1-2 event held at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Peacock became the exclusive North American home to the WWE Network subscription streaming platform in 2021 in a licensing deal reportedly worth $1 billion.

While exact streaming data was not made available, the WWE, which just entered into a $10 billion merger agreement with Endeavor-owned Ultimate Fighting Championship, said WM39 became the most-successful and highest-grossing event in company history — setting new records for viewership, gate, sponsorship, merchandise and social media.

Night two of WrestleMania 39 surpassed the existing global viewership record by 33%, just one day after Night one surpassed the existing global viewership record by 28%.

WrestleMania 39 generated a gate of more than $21.6 million, breaking the previous record by 27%, with 161,892 in attendance at SoFi Stadium over the two nights.

In addition, WrestleMania 39 broke all-time sponsorship and merchandise records. Sponsorship revenue eclipsed $20 million, more than doubling the previous record. Merchandise sales were up 20% versus the record set in 2022.

WrestleMania 39 became the most social WrestleMania of all-time, with over 500 million views and 11 million hours of video consumed over the two days, a 42% increase over last year.

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UFC, WWE to Merge Creating $21 Billion Global Live Sports and Entertainment Company

Endeavor Group Holdings, the media parent to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and World Wrestling Entertainment on April 3 announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement to form a new, publicly listed company consisting of mixed martial arts and professional wrestling promotions and content creation. Upon close of the $9.3 billion transaction, Endeavor will hold a 51% controlling interest in the new company and existing WWE shareholders will hold a 49% stake in the new company.

In 2022, UFC and WWE achieved combined revenue of $2.4 billion and a 10% annual revenue growth rate since 2019.

Ariel Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, will head the the new combined company, while WWE founder Vincent McMahon becomes executive chairman of the board of directors. Mark Shapiro will become president and chief operating officer of both Endeavor and the new company. Dana White will continue in his role as president of UFC and Nick Khan will serve as president of WWE.

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The board will consist of 11 members who will be appointed at a later date, six of whom will be appointed by Endeavor and five of whom by WWE.

“This is a rare opportunity to create a global live sports and entertainment pureplay built for where the industry is headed,” Emanuel said in a statement. “For decades, Vince and his team have demonstrated an incredible track record of innovation and shareholder value creation, and we are confident that Endeavor can deliver significant additional value for shareholders by bringing UFC and WWE together.”

McMahon said the combined company is a $21+ billion live sports and entertainment powerhouse with a collective fanbase of more than a billion people worldwide.

“The new company will be well positioned to maximize the value of our combined media rights, enhance sponsorship monetization, develop new forms of content, including movies and TV shows, and pursue other strategic mergers and acquisitions to further bolster our strong stable of brands,” McMahon said.

Endeavor expects significant growth across revenue areas, including domestic and international media rights, ticket sales and yield optimization, event operations, sponsorship, licensing and premium hospitality. Endeavor’s success at UFC includes increasing commercial opportunities that have driven more than 200% pre-tax earnings growth since its acquisition in late 2016.

In January 2021, NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform became the exclusive American distributor of the WWE Network, the company’s subscription streaming platform with about 1.5 million paid subscribers.

WWE Reports Uptick in Peacock, Netflix, Hulu Content Licensing Revenue

World Wrestling Entertainment said it has a new streaming hit with the recent release of Netflix original Spanish-language series “Against the Ropes” (“Contra las Cuerdas”), about a paroled ex-convict mother (Caraly Sánchez) in Mexico who becomes a professional wrestler to win back respect from her young daughter (Alisson Santiago).

The series, released Jan. 25, is now the No. 1 streamed program on Netflix in Mexico, according to WWE CEO Nick Khan. Speaking on the Feb. 2 fiscal call, Kahn said the scripted half-hour comedy in just two days of release was the third most in-demand show in Mexico.

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“That’s not just on Netflix, but of all new series premiering on any Mexican platform,” Khan said. “It quickly rose to No. 2 on Netflix’s top 10 shows watched in Mexico.” Citing data from Parrot Analytics, Kahn contends the show is in the top 10 in six other countries.

Separately, production is underway on WWE’s new Hulu documentary series featuring married WWE Superstars Bianca Belair and Montez Ford. The eight-episode docuseries from WWE Studios will be rolling out on Hulu later this year.

Bianca Belair and Montez Ford (Disney photo)

In Q4, WWE’s free YouTube channel topped 92 million subscribers and remains the most popular sports channel on the social media platform, according to Khan.

“We are one of only 10 channels on YouTube to surpass 90 million subscribers,” he said, adding that WWE also surpassed 20 million followers on its flagship TikTok account, making the brand the first sports league to reach that milestone.

Since licensing distribution rights to its branded WWE Network subscription streaming VOD service to NBCUniversal’s Peacock platform in March 2021, the service helped increase WWE’s fourth-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2022) media revenue 39% to $47.1 million, from $33.9 million in the previous-year period.

Network revenue for the 12-month period, which includes the upfront revenue recognition related to the delivery of certain WWE Network intellectual property rights to Peacock in the first quarter, reached $222 million, down from $225 million in 2021.

Revenue related to certain live in-ring programming content in international markets, scripted, reality and other programming, as well as theatrical and direct-to-home video releases, increased 18.4% to $61.7 million, from $52.1 million in the previous-year period.

‘Biography: WWE Legends Vol. 3’ Due on DVD Jan. 24 From Lionsgate

Biography: WWE Legends Vol. 3 will be released on DVD Jan. 24 from Lionsgate.

The release features profiles of eight fan favorites — from longtime legends such as The Undertaker, Goldberg and Lex Luger to more-contemporary superstars The Bella Twins and Rey Mysterio — as well as a finale episode chronicling the takeover of Madison Square Garden for WrestleMania. 

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Each program showcases the stories behind some of the most memorable WWE superstars. Archival footage and compelling interviews reveal the evolution and pop culture impact of WWE giants The Undertaker, Goldberg, The Bella Twins, Lex Luger, Edge, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio and D-Generation X.