Meet WWE billionaire Vincent McMahon, who lost billions during the coronavirus crisis and once wrestled with Trump
WWE owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon (C) flanked by wrestling stars The Undertaker (L) and Brock Lesnar (R). Simon Galloway - PA Images via Getty Images
WWE CEO Vince McMahon was one of the billionaires hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
After the pandemic threatened WWE's business, McMahon's net worth plummeted so badly that he lost his spot on the Forbes 400 and signed a deal with Morgan Stanley that effectively acted as an upfront $ 80 million.
McMahon is a friend and donor of President Trump and his wife, Linda, served in the Trump administration for two years.
Trump casinos have hosted major WWE events from the 1980s, sometimes with Trump himself as a wrestler.
McMahon has been criticized for failing to insure WWE stars and putting them to work during the pandemic.
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WWE billionaire Vince McMahon is having a tough year.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the live wrestling matches that are the be-all and end-all of his business, the league's ticket sales and subscriber base had declined amid concerns about the brand's creative direction under McMahon's leadership.
McMahon built WWE, a strictly scripted wrestling league, into an entertainment powerhouse after his father bought the brand in 1982. Along the way, McMahon became one of the richest people in America and made friends with other billionaires, including President Trump.
A McMahon representative at WWE did not comment on Business Insider's personal history, career at WWE, or the CEO's net worth.
Read on to find out more about WWE billionaire Vince McMahon.
Vincent McMahon, 75, was practically born into the wrestling business.
Vince McMahon attends a press conference to announce the 2013 WWE Wrestlemania 29 at MetLife Stadium at MetLife Stadium on February 16, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
McMahon was raised in North Carolina by a wrestling promoter on Forbes. His father, also known as Vincent McMahon, founded WWE (then a regional league called Capitol Wrestling Co.). McMahon's grandfather Jesse also worked in wrestling.
Before McMahon started working full-time in the family business, he graduated from East Carolina University in Forbes.
McMahon took over the business that would eventually become WWE in 1982 from his father.
Vince McMahon speaks to the media in 2000. Tim Boyle / Newsmakers / Getty
With McMahon at the helm, WWE went "from a regional operation to a global phenomenon," according to Forbes, with events broadcasting in 150 countries.
WWE used heavily scripted matches with a spinning cast of characters to build a base of loyal fans willing to pay monthly for access to WWE's streaming service. Bloomberg reported in 2018 that the WWE network was the 11th most popular streaming service in the country with 1.5 million subscribers.
"There was a time when it turned out to be shoddy, like playing in pub fights," McMahon's daughter Stephanie told Bloomberg in 2018. "Our businesses are more like Disney than anything."
McMahon controls almost every detail of the WWE business.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vince McMahon and John Cena attend the 2013 WrestleMania 29 press conference at Radio City Music Hall. Eugene Gologursky / WireImage
McMahon "encapsulates a sloppy old-school CEO," benchmark analyst Mike Hickey told Bloomberg in February.
He is even involved in the various storylines of the league. McMahon often appears in the ring as "Mr. McMahon," a person very similar to his real person, according to The Washington Post. McMahon's character in the ring was once described by Bleacher Report's Mike Chiara as the "Jerk Boss Persona" who "had a lot of power and was only used to make people's lives miserable".
Brandon Ross, an analyst at LightShed Partners, wrote in early 2020, ahead of the outbreak of the pandemic, that McMahon "needs to loosen his creative grip" because "WWE's creative process needs a major overhaul, according to Bloomberg."
McMahon has also been criticized for the way WWE treats its stars, including former presidential candidate Andrew Wang.
Wrestling stars Chris Benoit and Vince McMahon in 2003. REUTERS / Patrick Price
In a critical WWE segment on Last Week Tonight in 2019, John Oliver reported that WWE athletes had a higher rate of premature death than even NFL players, who studies have shown to have high rates of brain injury.
Oliver called McMahon "morally underground" for not guaranteeing WWE Talent health insurance, retirement plans, or paid vacation and employee compensation if they were injured, and broadcast interviews with athletes who said they continued to work while injured because of them couldn't afford to take time out.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang reiterated Oliver's criticism on Twitter in September, adding that WWE prevents wrestlers from using their similarities to benefit from third parties.
"Come on, Vince - you've already taken people's backs on health, safety, recreation time, retirement planning, and fair treatment about licenses and royalties," Yang tweeted. "At least let them live on their own names. Many of them need it."
Criticism only escalated during the pandemic. In April, at the start of the pandemic, while other professional sports were halted to slow the spread of the coronavirus, WWE continued its signature WrestleMania event without a live audience, the AP reported. WWE said it changed its production process to only film with essential staff, but the BBC reported that the league could have done more to limit human contact on set, including limiting games to two wrestlers and the Use of static cameras instead of manually operated ones.
Despite mounting criticism, WWE executives said the show must go on because "people need to be entertained," according to the BBC.
Several WWE employees eventually tested positive for COVID-19, including announcers Renee Young and Kayla Braxton, and producers Adam Pearce and Jamie Noble via Forbes.
WWE made McMahon extremely rich, but he has previously filed for bankruptcy.
Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. in 2009. Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Before WWE, McMahon and his wife Linda invested in a difficult construction company on the advice of their then accountant in the 1970s, she said during a Small Business Week event in 2017, according to CNBC, during a 2017 Small Business Week event streamed live on Facebook
"We personally signed some of the bank's loans to run this business for a while and we didn't understand [the industry]," McMahon said, according to CNBC. "It went wrong ... We tried to repay the loan for over a year and we just couldn't do it anymore, so we had to file for bankruptcy."
The couple lost their home and Linda's car during bankruptcy, according to CNBC.
McMahon is also friends with President Trump.
Donald Trump (R) and WWE owner Vince McMahon chat during a portion of NBC's "Today" show in New York on April 2, 2007. REUTERS / Brendan McDermid
McMahon has known the president for years, according to NPR. Trump even appeared at a WWE event in 2007 where he pushed McMahon to the ground and shaved his head.
The billionaires' relationship is not all personal, however. McMahon and his wife gave millions for Trump's 2016 campaign and his now-defunct foundation, according to Politico.
McMahon's wife, Linda, is a former Trump administration official.
President Donald Trump with Big Backer and Former Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon. AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta
After Trump took office in 2017, Linda was appointed to the helm of the Small Business Administration, where she served until April 2019, NPR reported.
"Linda McMahon did an incredible job," Trump said after her resignation via NPR. "She was a superstar."
Linda McMahon now heads the pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action, the Washington Post reported.
Before Linda McMahon began her career in politics, she was a WWE executive and ran two failed campaigns for a seat in the Connecticut Senate, according to Politico.
The McMahons have two children.
Vince McMahon kisses his wife as he poses with his plaque after his Hollywood Walk of Fame star was unveiled in California on March 14, 2008. REUTERS / Fred Prouser
The McMahons have two children per Forbes. Daughter Stephanie is WWE's chief brand officer and is married to wrestler Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Bloomberg reported. Son Shane also works for WWE.
McMahon once spent $ 200 million to start a new soccer league that could rival the NFL.
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon speaks to the media about the creation of the XFL, a new professional football league in 2000. Robert Rosamilio / NY Daily News Archive / Getty
McMahon's emerging soccer league called XFL played a single season in 2001, which Business Insider's James Pasley described as the "violent and sexualized version of the NFL."
The league made its big comeback last February, but had to cancel it in just five weeks due to the pandemic. The company filed for bankruptcy in March and laid off almost all of its employees.
Dwayne Johnson, along with his ex-wife and business partner Dany Garcia and private investment firm RedBird Capital, bought the league for $ 15 million ahead of the scheduled bankruptcy auction in August.
The coronavirus pandemic brought hard times for WWE and sank McMahon's fortune.
WWE shares fell more than 40% between December and the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in March, Bloomberg reported.
Sure, the pandemic didn't help and restricted ticket sales to live events, but WWE struggled to get through to 2020.
Bloomberg reported in February that both ticket sales and the Wrestling League's share price were in freefall as audiences were saturated with seven hours of programming a week and McMahon hampered the WWE's recovery by refusing to accept the company's business model to change.
The WWE struggles put McMahon in such a financial position that the billionaire signed a prepaid variable futures contract with Morgan Stanley in March that allowed him to raise cash for approving the sale of shares in March 2024 per Bloomberg. McMahon's net worth declined so badly that it lost his spot on the Forbes 400 richest American list. Forbes now estimates his net worth at $ 1.7 billion.
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