Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor Group is in advanced talks to take over Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, adding to its ownership of mixed martial arts series Ultimate Fighting Championship, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
Under the proposed all-stock deal, Endeavor would own 51 per cent of a new publicly traded company that would house UFC and WWE, one of the people said. WWE shareholders would retain the remaining 49 per cent.
The deal could be announced as soon as this week, said a person close to the situation.
The professional wrestling series blends the worlds of sport and entertainment, scripting bouts and writing storylines based on larger-than-life personalities such as Roman Reigns and Charlotte Flair.
WWE would be valued at $9.3bn, including debt, under the terms of the deal, one of the people said, with UFC at around $12bn.
Whereas WWE matches are scripted, UFC organises real fights. However, there may be opportunities for crossover. WWE superstar Brock Lesnar famously switched to UFC and later returned to wrestling, while Ronda Rousey is one of the MMA competitors to have switched to wrestling. Both companies use drama outside of the wrestling ring and the UFC octagon to lure in fans.
Endeavor and WWE declined to comment. CNBC first reported the news.
WWE makes most of its money by selling the airing rights to its programming to broadcasters such as Comcast and Fox. Its flagship event is WrestleMania, which is taking place this weekend in Los Angeles.
WWE’s annual revenues rose by 18 per cent to almost $1.3bn in 2022, with net profit increasing to $195mn from $177mn. The group made 80 per cent of its net revenues from exploiting its media rights, including broadcast deals, with the remainder coming from live events and the sale of consumer products.
Endeavor’s “owned sports properties” division, which includes UFC, made revenues of more than $1.3bn in 2022, up from $1.1bn the previous year.
Vince McMahon is the controlling shareholder of WWE. He returned to the company as executive chair in January after stepping down in July last year after allegations of misconduct.
An investigation by WWE’s independent board members found that “certain payments” in previous years had not been “appropriately recorded as expenses” in the company’s financial statements. WWE said McMahon was paying for the expenses.
Since founding Endeavor in 1995 as a Hollywood talent agency, Emanuel has expanded the scope of the company through a series of deals. The company has acquired rival William Morris Agency and sports agency IMG.
Additional reporting by Sara Germano