Vince McMahon, creative head and owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, sold $106 million of his company’s shares Thursday to fund Alpha Entertainment, a new company that would presumably be home to a new professional football league.
McMahon, who took on football in 2001 with the XFL, will be looking at a much tougher environment to start a new league, and from a smaller pop culture perch.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer said Friday the league is a major risk, one bigger than in 2001 when WWE was a hotter and more public brand. It had a network television deal with NBC, and McMahon also split ownership of the league with NBC.
“If he doesn’t have someone who can give him TV rights he’ll lose far more money this time than he did (with the XFL),” Meltzer said. “No one will buy tickets to a football game sight unseen because Vince McMahon is involved. WWE just isn’t the cool thing right now like in 2001.”
Brad Shepard, the first to report McMahon’s new venture, wrote on Twitter an announcement is expected January 25, 2018.
There is so much risk starting a new league, McMahon sold shares to fund a separate company. The reason - a quick death to his new venture could mean a loss of billions in value to WWE.
Meltzer said the league could see success if its in the spring and has a television deal. But getting cash for content is harder than it has ever been in television, and football is already saturated 12 months of the year whether its college or NFL.
“It’s a faulty premise,” Meltzer said. “Fooball fans would rather watch college football on top of it, so you won’t even be No. 2 going in. And every major network has some tie to the NFL.”
Meltzer added it will still come to rights fees and if a network will pay him for the product.
“They either get them or they don’t,” Meltzer said. “The kind of players he gets, the quality of play, starting up and getting it together, that doesn’t matter. He isn’t going to sell out stadiums anyway. He has to get the rights fees and it will be harder than last time because the landscape is much different.”
The question in the minds of wrestling fans - what does the league mean for Vince McMahon and WWE?
“As of now Vince owns 48.1 percent of the company, but the way voting and shares are setup, the family’s stock is worth double of everyone,” Meltzer said. “Vince has 80 percent of the voting stock so nobody can remove him.”
As for his position as creative head, Meltzer said he sees no way McMahon could maintain his position with WWE, sell a football league and get it off the ground without burning up.
“He’s going to have to give up a lot of what he’s doing,” Meltzer said. “But until it happens I don’t know the answer.”
McMahon’s daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Paul Levesque have been involved in WWE creative and had prominent on-screen roles for nearly 20 years. Levesque created WWE’s NXT promotion, which showcases younger wrestling talent and has meant an education for Levesque, who wrestles as Triple H, as a promoter and an evaluator of talent.
“He’s open-minded about talent,” Meltzer said. “But if he judged talent the same way he would have 10 years ago, (Levesque) and the company wouldn’t be where they are.”