WWE and UFC will combine to form $21.4-billion sports giant

A woman in gladiator-style bikini extends her arm onstage before a crowd of fans
Rhea Ripley reacts after winning the WWE Royal Rumble at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
(Alex Bierens de Haan / Getty Images)

Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment will combine to form a new $21.4-billion fighting sports and entertainment powerhouse, majority owned by UFC parent Endeavor Group Holdings.

The newly combined, publicly traded company, which does not yet have a name, will be led by Endeavor Chief Executive Ari Emanuel, the companies said Monday. Pro wrestling mogul Vince McMahon will serve the new company as executive chairman, the same title he held at WWE.

Beverly Hills-based Endeavor, which also owns Hollywood talent agency WME, will hold a 51% controlling stake in the new company. WWE shareholders will have a 49% interest. The combined firm intends to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock symbol TKO.


Emanuel will continue in his role as CEO of Endeavor and Mark Shapiro will be president and chief operating officer of both Endeavor and the new company, which will be based in New York. Nick Khan will remain president of WWE. Dana White, the controversial and outspoken president of UFC, will remain in his role.

“Together, we will be a $21+ billion live sports and entertainment powerhouse with a collective fanbase of more than a billion people and an exciting growth opportunity,” McMahon said in a written statement Monday.

The deal values WWE at $9.3 billion. Endeavor is contributing UFC at an enterprise value of $12.1 billion. Both Endeavor and WWE will contribute cash to the new business. The deal is expected to close in the second half of this year.

Endeavor’s much anticipated initial public offering happened on Thursday. How did Wall Street react?

April 29, 2021

UFC and WWE reported combined annual revenue of $2.4 billion at the end of their fiscal 2022 year, growing at a rate of 10% annually since 2019.

Reports of the impending deal emerged over the weekend as WWE’s WrestleMania 39 was being held at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Emanuel had ringside seats at the event.

The deal comes after a period of turmoil at WWE.

The 77-year-old McMahon, who took over his father’s regional wrestling promotion business and turned it into a global media brand, announced his retirement in July following reports that he personally paid off people who alleged sexual harassment.


But McMahon recently returned as executive chairman, and WWE announced in January it had hired an financial advisor to facilitate a sale.

Multiple parties were rumored to be in the running for the popular asset at one point, including ESPN owner Walt Disney Co., Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Endeavor’s WME and management company IMG has represented WWE for more than two decades.

“We’ve casually mentioned over the years since we got into sports ownership, how much we thought we could do for the WWE inside of the Endeavor flywheel, and there was nothing more than, ‘I agree’ and some chuckles,” Shapiro said.

The process was “competitive,” but Endeavor knuckled down last week on the negotiations and the deal was finalized late Sunday night, Shapiro said.

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April 2, 2023

In a CNBC interview, McMahon said the recent scandal had no bearing on the decision to sell the business that his family has controlled for 70 years. “Things have to evolve,” McMahon said. “This is the right business decision. This is the right family decision.”

Asked about his legacy, McMahon said, “I’ve made mistakes both personally and professionally in my 50-year career. I owned up to every single one of them and I’ve moved on.”


“He’s had due process with regard to the internal investigation that was done, and he’s taking responsibility for all of his actions, and that’s all we can ask,” Shapiro said. “We’re not here to cast any more judgment beyond that.”

Endeavor stock closed at $22.52 a share on Monday, down about 6%. WWE stock closed at $89.30 a share, down 2%.

WWE is a significant provider of live TV programming, which has become more valuable to networks as viewers have shifted to streaming video for scripted movies and series.

WWE has media rights deals with NBCUniversal, which airs “Monday Night Raw,” and Fox Corp., which carries “Friday Night Smackdown” on its broadcast network. The deals expire at the end of 2024, but it remains an open question whether there will be a bidding war that increases the cost of those rights.

Live sports has been an area of increasing investment by streamers and Hollywood talent agencies. Amazon pays $1 billion annually to stream 15 Thursday-night NFL football games, while Apple TV+ has agreements with Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer to carry games. In recent years, Hollywood talent agencies also have increased their ownership in sports representation firms.

“Endeavor’s experience in broadcast rights boasts well for new deal negotiations with any service, and now with a combined UFC and WWE we could see a tremendous bidding war take shape for the combat and entertainment sports programming,” said Elizabeth Parks, president and chief marketing officer for research firm Parks Associates.


Her firm estimates revenue from sports streaming services will increase from around $13 billion last year to more than $22 billion in 2027.

But some streamers, including Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery, have trimmed expenses by laying off staff and cutting programs in an uncertain economic environment.

“The biggest challenge in the marketplace now is that every media company, every distributor, has said that they intend to cut back on content spend, so they’re fighting against that tide,” said Brandon Ross, a partner with LightShed Partners.

Shapiro said he’s confident about the state of media rights when it comes to sports.

“Networks and platforms are not cutting back on sports,” Shapiro said. “We’re at a high when it comes to sports rights and they’re heavily in demand both at the gate and onscreen.”

WWE continues to draw large crowds — the April 1-2 event at SoFi Stadium broke the company’s gate records, at more than $21.6 million, according to WWE.

“Live entertainment is showing that it can drive viewership, particularly at a particular point in time in a way that scripted programming or content can’t,” said Brett Sappington, vice president of market research firm Interpret.


World Wrestling Entertainment is revising its financial earnings going back to to 2019 to reflect payments made by its founder and outgoing chairman Vince McMahon that were not recorded in the company’s books.

July 25, 2022

This is the latest deal for Endeavor, which went public in April 2021 after a previous IPO attempt fell apart. The earlier failed public offering was a rare public setback for the brash Emanuel.

Executives said they saw opportunity for UFC and WWE to join forces.

Emanuel called it a “transformational step in Endeavor’s journey” in a recorded webcast on Monday about the deal. Endeavor has bet big on its ability to create new business between its different areas of strength, such as representing actors and athletes and putting on live events.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring together two leading pure play sports and entertainment companies that operate in the most attractive parts of the media ecosystem,” Emanuel said. “We know the business and are confident in what Endeavor can deliver to unlock even more growth and profitability.”

Endeavor began in 1995 after Emanuel and three other ICM agents (Rick Rosen, Tom Strickler and David Greenblatt) defected to form their own agency and all put up their homes for collateral to get a $500,000 line of bank credit. Endeavor merged with the older William Morris Agency in 2009.

When Endeavor yanked its IPO on Thursday, the move marked a rare and humbling stumble for Hollywood power agent Ari Emanuel, and left questions about what’s next for his firm.

Sept. 30, 2019

Since then, Endeavor has grown into an entertainment giant in a series of acquisitions that has taken its business beyond talent representation.

The company in 2016 bought a majority stake in UFC, the popular mixed martial arts league that gained a loyal audience and attracted controversy because of its violence and the over-the-top personalities of some of its top athletes. Endeavor took full ownership of UFC in 2021.


Other notable acquisitions include live events company On Location and Professional Bull Riders.

Times staff writers Houston Mitchell and Stacy Perman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.