WWE Has a Clear Succession Plan in Place Despite Speculation

David BixenspanFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

World Wrestling Entertainment personality Triple H speaks at a news conference in East Rutherford, N.J., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, to announce that MetLife Stadium will host WrestleMania XXIX on April 7, 2013. (AP Photo/StarPix, Dave Allocca)
Associated Press

You may or may not have heard about the rumor that started circulating last week in regard to WWE selling the company to/merging with AMC Networks.  Stock analysis site SeekingAlpha.com attributed a spike in the price last week to the rumor, which originated at Betaville, an obscure UK-based financial blog.

There doesn't appear to be any legitimacy to it, as it seems to have come from confusion over Bloomberg.com's report that AMC was interested in WWE's domestic cable TV package.  In addition to being ridiculous on its face, TheStreet.com debunked it as "just a rumor" on its own.

That takes us to today, as Bloomberg's "Real M&A" (mergers and acquisitions) column for Monday focused on potential bidders if, by some chance, the McMahon family were to sell their private controlling shares.  On top of the sale discussion in general, there's an odd quote early on from financial analyst Robert Routh of National Alliance.  

"What is McMahon’s succession plan and who will he pass the keys of the kingdom to? ... WWE would be very attractive to many different types of buyers. What they’ve built can’t be recreated. But without McMahon’s blessing, it doesn’t matter how much somebody is willing to pay for the company."

That's a very peculiar statement because WWE's succession plan has been perfectly clear for several years: Vince McMahon's son-in-law Paul Levesque (Triple H on TV), currently the executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, is being primed to take over for him.  Stephanie McMahon, as chief brand officer, would be the face of the company.

Just look at what Levesque's duties entail right now.  If you strip away his regular on-screen role on Raw and SmackDown, his most visible influence is how he revamped the developmental system this past year.  

When WWE tapes the NXT TV show at Full Sail University, he's in Vince's role at "the Gorilla Position" (named for Gorilla Monsoon's backstage role) behind the curtain.  With a headset on, he's in the thick of things, producing the announcers and directing traffic in general.  Even on the NXT TV show, the NXT version of Triple H (who is not exactly the same character as the Triple H who's on Raw and SmackDown) is in the Vince McMahon role, the ultimate authority figure who can overrule the general manager.  

Generally speaking, it's clear that whenever Vince is gone, he's the one who will be in charge of everything directly wrestling-related.

Meanwhile, with Stephanie McMahon's move into her role as chief brand officer, you can see she's becoming the smiling corporate face of the company.  She's been the main spokesperson in its anti-bullying efforts and is doing a Twitter chat with the "WWE Moms" Twitter group this week.

To most of the world, the new McMahon power couple will be synonymous with WWE, but it will go a bit deeper in the business world.  

Just look at how WWE handled the WWE Network announcement two months ago: Vince McMahon just came out for a minute, for the basic announcement of the network, and quickly left the stage to leave the details to everyone else.  Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson was the one who presented the most immediate/relevant/newsworthy details, like the price point, every pay-per-view event including WrestleMania being shown live on the network, etc.  The entire presentation was like a peak into the future, as Vince was almost a non-entity.

Granted, it's not like WWE has put this in its official documents, as this section is under "risk factors" in its annual 10-K filing (PDF link):

The unexpected loss of the services of Vincent K. McMahon could adversely affect our ability to create popular characters and creative storylines or could otherwise adversely affect our operating results.
In addition to serving as Chairman of our Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. McMahon leads the creative team that develops the storylines and the characters for our televised programming and live events. Mr. McMahon, from time to time, has also been an important member of our cast of performers. The loss of Mr. McMahon due to unexpected retirement, disability, death or other unexpected termination for any reason could have a material adverse effect on our ability to create popular characters and creative storylines or could otherwise adversely affect our operating results.

There's no reference to a succession plan in the filings, so you can see where investors and financial analysts would be coming from to a degree, but they'd have a lot less problems if they kept up with the wrestling media.


David Bixenspan is also lead writer of Figure Four Weekly. Some of his work can be seen in Fighting Spirit Magazine.