Report: Saudi Arabia in talks to buy WWE, expand sportswashing empire

In the wake of Vince McMahon rejoining the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) board of directors to begin a potential sale process for his company,…

By: Karim Zidan | 9 months ago
Report: Saudi Arabia in talks to buy WWE, expand sportswashing empire
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In the wake of Vince McMahon rejoining the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) board of directors to begin a potential sale process for his company, Saudi Arabia has reportedly emerged as a potential frontrunner to purchase the world’s largest wrestling promotion.

According to various reports, the controversial kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has shown interest in adding WWE to its growing sports and entertainment portfolio. The PIF controls more than $600 billion in assets and serves as the majority owner of English Premier League football club Newcastle United. It also finances the professional golf tour, LIV golf.

While the notion of WWE being sold isn’t new, the latest reports come following McMahon rejoined the company last week.

McMahon stepped down in July 2022 following a sexual misconduct scandal that found he had paid several women more than $14 million to cover up claims of sexual assault and misconduct. He returned to the company as a board member following a six-month hiatus and quickly suggested plans to explore a potential sale.

“WWE is entering a critical juncture in its history with the upcoming media rights negotiations coinciding with increased industry-wide demand for quality content and live events and with more companies seeking to own the intellectual property on their platforms,” McMahon said in a statement last week.

“The only way for WWE to fully capitalize on this opportunity is for me to return as Executive Chairman and support the management team in the negotiations for our media rights and to combine that with a review of strategic alternatives. My return will allow WWE, as well as any transaction counterparties, to engage in these processes knowing they will have the support of the controlling shareholder.”

WWE already has a lucrative, long-term partnership with Saudi Arabia, whereby the organization earns approximately $50 million for each event held in Saudi Arabia. And while the partnership has been lucrative for the wrestling company, the events have been criticized of laundering the kingdom’s reputation as a human rights abuser and warmonger, a process known as sportswashing.

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has spent billions on high-profile international sports and entertainment events. The strategic investment is part of the kingdom’s ‘Vision 2030’ masterplan that aims to reduce Saudi’s economic dependence on oil but it also serves to distract from ongoing human rights abuses committed by the kingdom with impunity, as well its ongoing war in Yemen that has resulted in a humanitarian crisis among the worst in the world.

The kingdom’s sports portfolio includes a Formula One Grand Prix, the Saudi Cup horse race, several boxing showdowns, massive investments in esports and gaming, the Newcastle United football club, and the LIV professional golf tour financed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

It is unclear how much the WWE will change its operations if the reported Saudi deal goes through. However, it is worth noting that the company is home to a sizeable women’s roster, LGBTQ+ wrestlers, and a handful of notable talent—Sami Zayn, John Cena, and Kevin Owens included—who have refused to compete in the controversial kingdom.

About the author: Karim Zidan is an investigative reporter for Bloody Elbow focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. His work is also a contributor to The New York Times and The Guardian. (full bio)

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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