Breaking down just how much stock and what portion of WWE voting rights are controlled by whom can be complicated, though.
The confusion is mainly because WWE has two share classes, which is common for many publicly traded companies. Facebook is another company that grants its founder a preferred class of shares that allow the founder-shareholder to possibly sell shares down to a small minority while still maintaining control of the company.
As of today, Vince McMahon holds about one-third of WWE shares, however, he holds the vast majority of voting rights. His class B shares give him 10x voting power over that of class A “common stock”.
Other McMahon family members, Linda and Stephanie, also hold class B stock. Shane McMahon used to hold a large amount of class B shares but appears to have disposed of all his shares by 2014. Only Vince, Linda, and their descendants can hold class B stock. Those privileged shares cannot be sold or transferred to others who are not descendants. When McMahon family members sell stock, those shares are necessarily converted to class A stock.
Despite his marriage to Stephanie, WWE EVP Paul Levesque can only own class A shares, which are awarded to him regularly as part of his compensation.
As a result, voting power actually breaks down as shown in the pie chart below:
Let’s look at who are some of the top WWE stockholders.
Vince McMahon: WWE’s long-time chief executive, current CEO and chairman of the board of directors. He holds about 38% of shares and 81% of voting power.
Lindsell Train Limited: The largest institutional owner of WWE shares, owning about 15% of shares and less than 4% of voting power. The U.K.-based firm is majority-owned by founders Nick Train and Michael Lindsell.
Stephanie McMahon: WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, a member of its board of directors, and Vince’s daughter. She holds about 2.5% of all shares and 5% of voting power. This doesn’t include the shares held by her husband, EVP “Triple H” Paul Levesque. His shares are just a fraction of Stephanie’s.
Linda E. McMahon: The former WWE president and husband of Vince McMahon holds less than 1% of WWE stock, but those are class B shares. So her voting power accounts for about 1.6% of the total.
BlackRock, Inc.: Another massive investment corporation that holds stake in thousands of companies. BlackRock holds about 8% of WWE and less than 2% of voting rights. You can buy stock in BlackRock itself on the New York Stock Exchange.
Vanguard Group: This multinational investment firm is headquartered in Pennsylvania and holds 5.4% of shares and about 1% of voting power. Vanguard holds shares in thousands of companies. Their assets were worth more than $6 trillion in January 2020. Vanguard is the largest provider of mutual funds and the second-largest provider of ETFs, second only to BlackRock.
Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.
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All Elite Wrestling’s portion of viewers who are people of color is still well behind any of the three major WWE programs or Impact Wrestling, even as AEW Dynamite has increased viewership with Black and Hispanic viewers year-over-year.
The disparity for AEW programs is largely due to a lower percentage of Black viewers.
“I have noticed that,” AEW president Tony Khan said on the media call earlier this month ahead of AEW Revolution. “I study the patterns very closely, and it’s something I’m cognizant of, and it’s an audience that we really do want to grow and it’s very important to us,”
We have limited data of viewership by race demographics over time, mainly consisting of averages for year-quarters, rather than data for each episode. That said, we have an update on that data for the current quarter.
Viewers 18 to 49
For Dynamite, 15% of the aged 18 to 49 audience consists of Black viewers in the current year-quarter to date, up from 11% last year in the first quarter. Hispanic viewers are 13% of Dynamite’s key ad demographic, up from 11% last year.
Black viewers in P18-49 by percentage for WWE programs NXT, Raw, and Smackdown have also grown year-over-year. More than 25% of each show’s viewers are Black. NXT’s demo in the current quarter is 30% Black viewers (up from 22% last year). Raw is 27% (up from 21%). And Smackdown is 29% (up from 24%). Rampage, which is not yet a year old, has 17% of its P18-49 from Black viewers.
Raw has the greatest portion of Hispanic viewers in the current year-quarter, with 21%, up from 14% a year ago. NXT and Smackdown are comparable. Of NXT’s P18-49 audience, 20% are Hispanic viewers (up from 12% last year), meaning 50% of NXT’s 18 to 49 audience are either Black or Hispanic. Smackdown’s demo is 19% Hispanic viewers (up from 13%). Rampage’s audience is 17% Hispanic viewers.
We didn’t get data by race in P18-49 for Impact, only in total viewership.
Total viewers (age 2+)
The makeup of total viewership (aged 2 or older), has lower percentages for Black and Hispanic viewers, but the differences between WWE and AEW programs is consistent in either age group.
WWE and Impact have an edge over AEW in terms of attracting Black viewers to their shows at a disproportionate rate relative to the general population. Black viewers make up about 14% of the cable audience. AEW’s shows line up close to that but Black viewers make up over 20% of WWE and Impact’s audience. The data also shows similar rates in Hispanic viewers for WWE where they had a slightly higher number of Hispanic viewers than the average rate of cable.
In more recent trends, comparing Q3 2021 (July 1 to September 12) to the current year-quarter, since the move to TBS, AEW Dynamite viewership has fallen 7% overall, the same decrease Raw has seen over that time period. However, Black viewership for Dynamite has fallen 22% along with a 14% dip in viewership from other race demographics. Dynamite saw a 4% rise in Hispanic viewers and a 5% dip in white viewers.
Rampage, on the other hand, removed from its stronger early months in August and September, has had a large decline in their viewers with an overall decrease of 32%, a 60% loss in viewers from other race demographics, a 39% loss in Hispanic viewers, a 31% loss in white viewers and an 8% loss in Black viewers, as illustrated in the table below.
So while Rampage has retained Black viewers better than viewers in other race demographics in recent months, the opposite is the case for Dynamite.
For other wrestling TV shows, Impact Wrestling has seen the most growth overall and with Black viewers, with a 25% rise. But Impact did see a dip in Hispanic viewers at 26%. Remember, Nielsen viewership measurements are based on a sample. Given Impact’s relatively small audience, the smaller samples determining these measurements could be resulting in a greater appearance of volatility than the actual viewership that’s taking place.
NXT has revamped itself as NXT 2.0 and has seen losses in all demographics except for Black viewers where they saw a 1% rise, contrasting against the show’s 11% overall decline in viewership between Q3 of last year and the current Q1.
Some online wrestling fan communities don’t reflect wrestling’s high TV viewership with people of color — quite the opposite.
The Squared Circle subreddit is one of the most popular online wrestling fan communities, with more than 615,000 users. Among those surveyed from the United States last summer, 81% were white, while 4% of respondents were Black, 9% Hispanic, and 5% identified as another race. The 2021 survey results for white respondents are actually an increase from 78% for the survey from the prior year.
Whether wrestling fans from more diverse backgrounds are gathering in other online communities instead or whether there’s something about online wrestling fan communities like Squared Circle that don’t attract people of color, isn’t clear.
The subreddit user base generally prefers AEW above WWE. 87% of U.S. responses said they “strongly like” or “somewhat like” AEW. Only 29% of responses said the same about WWE. Respondents were generally favorable toward AEW and less favorable toward WWE across race, but Black responses were slightly less favorable toward AEW and more favorable toward WWE than people of other races.
Considering AEW programs lag behind with Black viewers compared to WWE and Impact, it stands to reason Dynamite and Rampage could improve their ratings by better appealing to Black wrestling fans.
“Not just growing that audience, I think diversity is very important to the company for a number of reasons, but absolutely, expanding our viewership, we think that is something that will help us,” Khan said in the same media call earlier this month.
“I think that AEW should do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis of their Black viewership,” says Dr. Kris Ealy, a professor of political science and co-host of the Nubian Wrestling Advocates podcast.
It’s possible that The Big Bang Theory lead-in could be contributing to an increase in the portion of white viewers watching Dynamite, although we don’t have data on that 7:30 pm airing by race to say whether that’s a factor.
“While the lead-ins to AEW programming might be out of [Khan’s] hands,” Ealy said, “I think it would behoove AEW to find the Black viewers who actually watch AEW and lean into those viewers.”
On the pre-Revolution call, Khan noted the diversity among AEW’s champions and in free agent signings. “When you look at who’s been coming into the company, and the profile of free agents we continue to sign, and the huge push that Jade Cargill is getting and a lot of the stars who have been getting pushed up the card and getting put in big spots, I think that is consistent with trying to grow that audience.”
In addition to Cargill’s TBS title reign, AEW has made prominent moves with Black wrestlers recently. Scorpio Sky won the TNT title this month. AEW debuted stars like Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland this year.
AEW has yet to have a Black wrestler consistently in its main event picture, however. The vast majority of matches for AEW’s men’s world title have been between two white wrestlers. Meanwhile WWE recently had its top men’s titles on the likes of Bobby Lashley, Big E, and Roman Reigns. Impact’s world champion is currently Moose and the title last year was held by Rich Swann.
Beyond representation in key roles, Ealy suggests AEW should appeal to different age and gender groups within the Black audience.
“Does TK even know the amount of Black men versus Black women or the ages of the Black viewers that watch his shows?”
Ealy likens appealing to Black wrestling audiences like how one would appeal to different Black audiences that have different musical tastes.
“My mom’s playlist is going to consist of the Temptations; Earth Wind, and Fire; Roberta Flack,” Ealy says. “My playlist is like Jay-Z, Nas, and Lauren Hill, and my nephew is gonna be into maybe Migos and groups like that. Our music sensibilities are very different and I assume it is similar with Black viewing audiences.”
In a new filing today, WWE ripped on the antitrust lawsuit Major League Wrestling filed against the leader of the wrestling industry in January.
MLW earlier alleged in a complaint filed in federal court in California, that WWE interfered and prevented media licensing agreements for MLW, including with Fox-owned streaming service Tubi.
WWE’s response describes a wrestling industry with ample competition and argues against the notion WWE has the ability to influence media distributors like Tubi, as MLW alleged.
“MLW has given up competing in the ring and chosen instead to compete in the courtroom,” WWE’s attorneys wrote.
WWE responded to MLW’s claim that chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon, leaning on WWE’s relationship with Fox, which airs Smackdown, pressured Tubi to end the deal with MLW the day before it was to be announced.
MLW has claimed WWE threatened to take all of its content off of Fox if Tubi didn’t terminate the deal with MLW. WWE says that claim is not only implausible but absurd.
“[T]he notion that WWE would jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in rights fees and breach its own contract with Fox in order to keep MLW off a streaming service makes no rational sense.”
WWE cited legal tests of the Sherman antitrust act and argued MLW’s allegations don’t suffice.
WWE says MLW failed to show WWE has monopoly power because MLW hasn’t established a relevant market that WWE dominates. WWE seems to argue there actually isn’t a wrestling broadcast rights market, there is just a broadcast rights market in which wrestling programs compete with a wide variety of programs.
“Obviously, the vast majority of content aired by national networks, cable, and streaming services is not professional wrestling. MLW cannot explain why other content (such as The Walking Dead, Survivor, 90 Day Fiancé, UFC, or NASCAR) is not a reasonably interchangeable substitute for scripted professional wrestling. To say that no reasonably interchangeable alternatives to professional wrestling broadcast rights exist is akin to saying no reasonably interchangeable alternatives to broadcast rights for zombie shows exist. It is, of course, absurd, and purchasers of broadcast rights for zombie shows would consider other programming as alternatives.”
MLW’s own narrative about other wrestling competitors undermines its argument, WWE says. Impact Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling have managed to get distribution deals with national networks. WWE even emphasizes AEW’s accomplishments.
“AEW’s success further undercuts MLW’s unsupported assertion that substantial barriers to entry exist,” WWE’s lawyers from law firm K&L Gates wrote and went on to reference MLW’s complaint which mentions Dynamite and Raw’s comparable viewership in the 18 to 49 age group.
And, “AEW also recently purchased another promotion, Ring of Honor, from Sinclair Broadcast Group, to operate as a secondary business,” WWE noted in a footnote that points out other companies haven’t had trouble increasing their content output.
WWE stated there are numerous networks that MLW could have potentially made deals with that WWE has no influence over, including Disney, Paramount, WarnerMedia, Discovery, AMC, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and others.
“MLW is complaining about the shadows cast by the boughs of a lone tree, while it stands in an otherwise open and extending field.”
MLW now has until April 22 to oppose WWE’s motion to dismiss, in which the company led by Court Bauer could further support its claims. MLW is being represented by lawyers from Kasowitz Benson Torres, including Marc Kasowitz, a former attorney for high-profile clients like Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly.
WWE has until May 16 to file a reply in support of its motion to dismiss.
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