The WWE has been a family-run business since its inception. That family, of course, is the McMahons. Vince McMahon Sr. started out much like other promoters did, with a regional promotion focused on a particular region of the country. His son, however, had bigger aspirations. Once the Vince we see today purchased the company from his father, his goal was to become national by buying out every other regional promoter in the country to turn the WWE national.
The WrestleMania gamble he took back in 1985 is the stuff of legend, betting everything he had on the event becoming a success. Had that one night failed, we’d never have what the WWE has become today. But the risk paid off, with over one million people watching on closed-circuit television and a card that featured no match going longer than 14 minutes. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff headlined the event with Muhammad Ali serving as a special guest referee, and the rest is history.
The vision of turning a regional promotion into the preeminent sports entertainment company in the country later transformed into a global phenomenon that has really only ever had one competitor. When Vince McMahon and the WWE bought out WCW in 2001, the WWE monopolized the industry for better or for worse. There are other alternatives for both wrestler and viewer, but none on a scale remotely close to the WWE today.
Despite the success of the WWE Network and the company’s reach spanning more countries than ever before, the WWE is not at its peak in terms of viewership. That accomplishment came during the height of the Attitude Era when 10 million viewers tuned in on a weekly basis. Whether the WWE or any future wrestling promotion will achieve those numbers again in the future remains to be seen, though unlikely barring some seismic shift in the direction of the business.
The WWE has lost viewers for a variety of reasons, either because customers have grown dissatisfied with the product or they’ve opted for an alternative. One of those alternatives has become the UFC even though the two companies do not directly compete on any single night of the week. The UFC adopted some of the WWE’s marketing strategies for building fights, but inside the octagon, the action is real and follows no script.
The UFC’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, manufacturing stars like Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor, and Jon Jones, among many others. In fact, it’s become so big that Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta turned an initial investment of $2 million into $4 billion when they sold the company to WME-IMG this past weekend. It is the richest sale in the history of professional sports, coming on the heels of the company’s biggest event ever, Saturday’s UFC 200.
According to Cageside Seats, the idea of selling the WWE was brought up in light of the incredible UFC agreement. Vince McMahon has always stood firm that he would never sell, keeping the WWE a family business, though its global expansion has made it much more than that. It still appears that Vince doesn’t intend to sell, but the fact that there may have been a recent conversation is interesting. While it’s not clear how far that conversation went, it should be noted that the WWE is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $3-3.5 billion.
That astronomical number would make anyone think twice, maybe even Vince. But the succession path seems to be in place for whenever the chairman of the WWE steps down. Despite Shane McMahon’s recent return home, Vince will hand the keys to the kingdom over to Stephanie McMahon and her husband, Triple H. Unless, of course, $3 billion seems more attractive.
[Image via WWE]