WWE expands Saudi events agreement, looks to Mena rights deal

World Wrestling Entertainment has signed an expanded events agreement with the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, guaranteeing a second annual large-scale wrestling event in the country until 2027.

Although the WWE has held two events in Saudi Arabia in both 2018 and 2019 the initial agreement, signed last year, did not contain an explicit guarantee for two events annually.

WWE also said that it is continuing to work with the GEA towards a media rights agreement in the country, following the news last week that shares in the company fell by almost 16 per cent amid doubts over the timing of new broadcast rights deals in India and the Middle East and North Africa.

Investor confidence was also shaken by reports that WWE had pulled the TV feed for its Crown Jewel event, held in Saudi Arabia last week, because of a missing payment of as much as $500m from the Saudi government in relation to a previous event in June. 

According to reports, this led to the Saudi government grounding a flight which was due to take the WWE stars back to the US, though both the WWE and Saudi authorities have claimed that the delay was caused by mechanical issues. Shares fell by a further 5 per cent on Monday. 

The new event agreement has helped to settle those nerves, with shares in the company recovering by 7 per cent on Tuesday. The cooperation also suggests that a media rights deal could be forthcoming.

Rights in the Mena region are held by OSN, but the pay-TV broadcaster has not yet renewed its agreement. Rival beIN Sports is sure to take a tough stance on the property given WWE’s ten-year agreement announced in 2018 with the Saudi Arabian government to bring high-profile events to the country.

Speaking on a conference call with analysts last week, WWE co-president George Barrios said of the Mena rights negotiations: “I think it’s like any other discussion you’re having with a partner, you’re trying to find a common ground that works for you. Three months ago, we expected that deal to be finalised. I characterised it now as discussions are ongoing.”