HAMRICK: From Rings to Boardrooms, January 2024 was both turbulent and controversial for WWE

Just a few weeks into the new year, TKO Group and WWE seem to be wasting no time in making some monumental changes to its immediate and future plans. 

With the announcement made Jan. 23, “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment” will be making his way back to the industry where it all started for him, but instead of putting on his signature trunks to lay the smackdown on his opponents in the ring, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be putting on his suit and tie as a new member of the board of directors. 

This new appointment with TKO Group adds another accolade for the successful actor, wrestler and businessman. Johnson has already hit his stride in the business world with his production company Seven Bucks Productions, energy drink company ZOA Energy, Project Rock clothing brand with Under Armour, tequila brand Teremana Tequila and the United Football League. This is, however, the first time that Johnson will be serving on the board for a publicly traded company. 

“I’m very motivated to help continue to globally expand out TKO, WWE, and UFC business as the worldwide leaders in sports and entertainment – while proudly representing so many phenomenal athletes and performers who show up every day putting in the hard work with their own two hands to make their dreams come true and deliver for our audiences,” Johnson told CNBC. 

It makes sense for Johnson to be a perfect fit for his role on the board, as he made an illustrious career for himself in WWE during the 1990s and early 2000s as a third-generation superstar, taking after his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather Peter Maivia, before transitioning into a successful acting career. Johnson also has ties with the UFC, being used for numerous promotional endeavors with the company, as well as partnering with the UFC to advertise his Project Rock brand. 

Along with his position on the board of directors for TKO Group, Johnson has been given the legal rights to “The Rock” name as part of the agreement.

From left, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, pictured in 2015 in New York City. Emanuel and Whitesell are expected to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the first day of trading of Endeavor Group Holdings. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Fast Company/TNS)

WWE also made the announcement Jan. 23  that their flagship show “Monday Night Raw” will be moving to Netflix as part of a 10-year streaming deal at the beginning of 2025. “Raw”, which debuted in 1993, originally aired on USA Network until moving to Spike TV in 2000 before returning to USA Network from 2005 to the present day. 

The show when it first aired was revolutionary in the fact it was a live broadcast instead of the usual pre-recorded format WWE and other wrestling promotions used before, and “Raw” has been aired as a live, weekly show ever since. 

This $5 billion deal to stream “Raw” exclusively on Netflix marks a huge milestone for both companies. For the first time, “Raw” will be airing live on streaming as opposed to airing on traditional network television. For Netflix, the company will be attempting to stream a live television show on the platform for the first time since their failed attempt at “Love Is Blind” back in April 2023. 

With a year to go until the transition happens, there is plenty of time for Netflix to figure out everything the company needs to do to make it run smoothly. WWE does have experience with live-streaming their own shows with the WWE Network, which used to hold their video library, original series and aired premium live events in the United States from 2014 – 2021 until selling itsvideo catalog and streaming rights to Peacock in March 2021. WWE President Nick Khan stated that WWE would aid in the streaming of “Raw” once it moves to Netflix. 

Netflix has the option to extend the deal another 10 years if all goes well, but they also have the option to back out after the initial five years if things go south or not as they hoped. 

WWE also announced along with “Raw”, Netflix will be airing future documentaries, original series and other future projects on the platform. TKO Group CEO Ariel Emanuel claims that with the move of “Raw” and other products, the company does not plan on completely ditching television or cable networks, but the deal with Netflix is being looked at as the next step as streaming platforms are starting to become another option. 

Just like in 1993 when the show first aired, “Monday Night Raw” could be on its way to once again changing the landscape of how sports entertainment, or professional wrestling, is being watched on a weekly basis. 

WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon speaks at a news conference at Wynn Las Vegas on Jan. 8, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images/TNS)

The week was not entirely all celebrations and huge milestones for WWE and TKO Group however. Just three days later, Vince McMahon, the man who started it all for WWE, announced his resignation as TKO executive chairman and from the TKO board of directors following an ongoing lawsuit based on allegations of sexual assault and sex trafficking.

The lawsuit against McMahon states Janel Grant, a former WWE employee, was allegedly forced into a sexual relationship with McMahon or else jeopardized losing her job. Additionally, the lawsuit hints at Grant being trafficked off to other employees within the company in order to secure deals with talent beginning in March 2020. Explicit content of Grant was also passed around to many employees in the company, and screenshots of text messages from McMahon asking for many sexual favors were also included in the lawsuit. 

McMahon forced Grant to sign a nondisclosure agreement in which McMahon agreed to pay her $3 million to keep the incidents private. Grant claims that she was only paid $1 million from the agreement and payments ceased thereafter.

“I stand by my prior statement that Ms. Grant’s lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and is a vindictive distortion of the truth,” McMahon said in a statement. 

Khan made notice of the resignation to the company through an all-staff email. 

In July 2022, McMahon stepped down as WWE Chairman and CEO as a result of an investigation that looked into his acts of sexual misconduct with another former employee, and for paying off multiple women a total of $12 million in hush money. By November 2022, McMahon had repaid the money he took from the company and was back with WWE. 

As TKO Group and WWE continue to make big moves in its young endeavor together, WrestleMania season kicks off in its first McMahon-less era.

Contact Hayden Hamrick with comments via email at hehamrick@bsu.edu.


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