Former WWE chairman Vince McMahon is looking to make a return to the company in order to pursue selling it, according to the Wall Street Journal's Lauren Thomas.
WWE announced last June that McMahon "voluntarily stepped back from his responsibilities as CEO and Chairman of the Board" as he was investigated for alleged misconduct, including sexual harassment. He abruptly announced his retirement in July.
Thomas reported the 77-year-old wrote a letter to WWE's board of directors in late December indicating he wanted to come back:
"Mr. McMahon, who has majority voting power through his ownership of WWE's Class-B stock, has told the company that he is electing himself and two former co-presidents and directors, Michelle Wilson and George Barrios, to the board, the people said. The move to reinstate Mr. McMahon, which the board previously rebuffed, and the others will require three current directors to vacate their positions."
McMahon confirmed his intentions in a statement and said he "expects to assume the role of Executive Chairman of the Board":
"Mr. McMahon's new role will enable unified decision-making through the Company's upcoming media rights negotiations and a parallel full review of the Company's strategic alternatives, which Mr. McMahon believes is the right course of action and in the best interests of WWE and WWE shareholders amidst the current dynamics in the media and entertainment industry. As Mr. McMahon has communicated to the Board, he believes there is a narrow window of opportunity to create significant value for all shareholders and that to do so, the strategic alternatives review must occur in tandem with the media rights negotiations. He also expressed to the Board that he believes these two initiatives require Mr. McMahon's direct participation, leadership, and support as controlling shareholder."
McMahon's departure came after the Wall Street Journal published multiple stories detailing payments totaling $12 million to resolve allegations of sexual misconduct. The Journal's Ted Mann and Joe Palazzolo reported on July 25 the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors were looking into the settlements because the settlements weren't reflected in WWE's official accounting.
Thomas' report and McMahon's statement both emphasize WWE's upcoming media rights deals as a driving force behind his attempted comeback.
In 2018, the company announced it had struck five-year contracts, which went into effect in October 2019, with USA Network and Fox Sports to broadcast Raw and SmackDown, respectively.
For decades, McMahon was synonymous with WWE and he had maintained a significant on-screen presence. Given the allegations surrounding him now, his return might prove counterproductive.
Thomas reported the WWE board "said it unanimously agreed that Mr. McMahon's return to the business wouldn't be in shareholders' best interest."
This will once again bring the longstanding palace intrigue surrounding WWE to the fore as well.
Wrestling fans have wondered what a post-Vince McMahon future would look like. It seemed as though one of his children, Shane or Stephanie, or son-in-law Paul Levesque would be a natural successor to the throne.
However, McMahon offered telling comments in an interview with Pat McAfee last March (via 411Mania's Jeremy Thomas):
"You have to be objective, you know, and look at family members or whoever it is just as you would other employees. And quite frankly, I've probably expected more, you know out of my family members, which is probably not the right thing to say. But nonetheless, it's like, you have to do the right thing for the business. So if this person is not working out, then they shouldn't be a part of the company."
At the time, Shane McMahon had been fired from WWE and Levesque, who wrestled as Triple H, was still recovering from his heart surgery and thus had seen his influence behind the scenes lessen. Stephanie McMahon then unexpectedly took a leave of absence last May.
Once the Wall Street Journal's reporting forced McMahon to step aside, Stephanie McMahon and her husband retained influential roles within the company. Stephanie McMahon became a co-CEO along with Nick Khan, while Levesque resumed duties as executive vice president of talent relations. He also replaced McMahon as WWE's head of creative.