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McMahon seeks to put brave face on WWE turbulence

World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon (Credit: XFL)

World Wrestling Entertainment, facing a reeling stock and declining digital network subscribers and executive turmoil following last week’s abrupt dismissal of co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios, sought to put a brave face on its corporate outlook in an earnings call with financial analysts.

WWE chairman and chief executive Vince McMahon, making his first live comments since the management shakeup, did not detail the specific reasons behind the departures of Wilson and Barrios. But he insisted the company “won’t miss a beat” and has a deep executive bench. He also said the move did not signal a broad shift in company plans.

“This decision did not reflect a change in our strategy,” he said. “It was made after careful consideration. We remain highly focused on growing the value of our content, furthering international expansion, and engaging fans across all platforms. The decision, of course, of management transition was based on the different view of execution and areas of focus.”

Later in the earnings call, McMahon asked, “Who wouldn’t want to work with WWE?”

Despite WWE’s ongoing issues with the WWE Network streaming service and lower event live ticket sales, the company still reported record revenues of $960.4m for the full year of 2019. McMahon also teased the future possibility of what he called “transformative” content licensing deals for areas such as the Middle East and India as the company continues to pursue more international expansion.

“Quite frankly, I have more confidence than ever that we’re going to exploit our opportunities,” he said. 

Thus far, however, the stock market has held a rather different view. Shares in WWE immediately dropped 20 per cent after the dismissal last week of Barrios and Wilson, who each had been instrumental figures in the company’s growth. Following the February 6 release of the latest company earnings, which indicated the mixed set of operating results, shares immediately dropped another 15 per cent. Shares closed on the 6th at $44.50 each, down more than 9 per cent for the day, and down 29 per cent in the last week. 

McMahon also received two questions during the analyst call regarding his personal interest in the revived XFL, which is set to start play this weekend. McMahon is investing a half-billion dollars of his own money, in part from liquidated personal holdings in WWE stock, in the spring football league. But the league will remain a separate asset from WWE.

“There’s no plan to put the XFL back in as a part of WWE investments,” said Frank Riddick, WWE’s interim chief financial officer. “It’s a completely independent entity.”