A new powerhouse in sports and entertainment has emerged with the UFC and WWE joining forces under one ownership group at Endeavor following a blockbuster deal announced Monday.
The combined asset has reported value at over $21 billion, with plans to make the UFC-WWE conglomerate a publicly traded company in the next four to six months. Under the new power structure, Ari Emanuel will serve as CEO of the UFC-WWE combined company, with Vince McMahon serving as executive chairman.
Dana White will remain president of the UFC while Nick Khan will be president over WWE.
While the companies will hopefully benefit from working together, Emanuel promises that both promotions will have autonomy when it comes to day-to-day business, as well as creative control over each brand, and any disagreements will be handled in-house.
“Here’s what we said, and I said it to [Vince] — if we disagree on something that we want to do, guess what? We’re not doing it,” Emanuel told CNBC on Monday. “It’s the relationship I have with Silver Lake. It’s the relationship that I have with Dana. Dana’s got the say as it relates to the UFC, Vince as it relates to the WWE. He’s going to have the say. We have nothing to do with the creative process. That’s Vince’s and that’s Dana’s situation.
“All the back stuff, we’re going to try and do what we do. I think that’s what he wants, but if there’s a disagreement, that’s called a relationship. We will work it out and that’s how we have it.”
Emanuel has largely been hands off regarding the UFC when it comes to the daily operations of the promotion, with White still making all the major decisions regarding talent, production, and any other major issues that arise.
McMahon will maintain that same level of control at WWE, although he stated he won’t get as deep “in the weeds” creatively with the product as he has in the past.
Emaneul said he couldn’t imagine a better situation, especially after working alongside White for the better part of the past seven years since purchasing the UFC for just over $4 billion. As part of the evaluation for the combined company, Endeavor now values the UFC at a whopping $12.1 billion.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Emanuel said. “Because I’ve got Vince McMahon, a visionary that sees around corners. I’ve got Dana White and what we’ve built. That’s pretty unstoppable.
“Combined, it’s rarefied air, the two of us. I think the analysts will see it’s good for the shareholders of WWE and it’s good for the shareholders of Endeavor.”
As for McMahon, his family has owned WWE since the beginning and this will be the first time since 1982 that he hasn’t been the person most singularly responsible for decisions made at the company.
While it may seem difficult to relinquish that kind of control, McMahon promises that he was more than happy to strike this deal with Endeavor, especially after seeing what Emanuel and company have accomplished with the UFC over the past seven years.
“It is a great day. One of the greatest days of my life,” McMahon said. “It’s the right time. It’s the right time to do the right thing. It’s the next evolution of WWE. I could probably do what Ari is [doing] with UFC, it would probably take me 10 years.
“By the time I grab those 10 years, he’d be 10 years ahead again. It makes all the sense in the world for all these synergies that we have to extract all the value we can out of the marketplace.”
Emanuel added that he’s envisioned a partnership like this for quite some time after spending the past 23 years in business with McMahon and WWE, with Endeavor (previously William Morris Agency and then William Morris Endeavor) acting as the talent agency for the professional wrestling outfit.
“I always thought about this combination, especially with the Endeavor flywheel and what we could add onto it and what that could become, and putting it into a new company as a pure play. There’s nothing like it out there,” Emanuel said.
“[Vince] gets value, which I don’t think is captured presently in WWE. I don’t think we got pure value for the UFC. Combined, I think the market will understand it, and I do also think for the Endeavor shareholders, they’ll have a different perspective on Endeavor and the remaining assets.”
A huge return on investment for Endeavor will likely come in the next two years, with both UFC and WWE negotiating new media rights deals. UFC currently partners exclusively with ESPN, while WWE works with FOX and Comcast (NBC/Universal), as well as a separate deal for the WWE Network through Peacock streaming, which is also owned by Comcast.
It’s impossible to speculate just yet how much UFC and WWE might leverage their position together when it comes to broadcast deals, but it’s also tough to ignore now that the merged company will share the same ownership.
“The WWE has their current deals with Comcast and Fox expiring at the end of ‘24. And UFC, of course, has our deal with The Walt Disney Company, expiring at the end of ‘25,” Endeavor president Mark Shapiro told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Now remember, nothing would preclude us from going early with those incumbents if we wanted to. And at the same time, we retain optionality to go with the best buyer, best platform, biggest price somewhere over the next couple of years.”
None of that is lost on McMahon either as he cracked quite a smile when discussing those media rights deals, with UFC and WWE maintaining a powerful grip in the marketplace, especially with the majority of the audience coming from the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic.
“There’s nothing like the two [companies] combined,” McMahon said. “It’s live. That’s the key. Our events are live. People want to watch live. That’s one of the reasons we are a success and continue to be a success and can fit in every medium. We can fit everywhere. It terms of social media and everything else, we fit everywhere.”