SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
WWE’s announcement that they have hired Nick Khan, a 45 year old former attorney and agent to some of the sports world’s top broadcasters, puts a name and face to one of the most important positions vacated earlier this year by WWE’s then co-presidents, Michelle Wilson and George Barrios.
At first glance, Khan brings youth, diverse and pertinent experience, familiarity with the WWE business model, and an enthusiasm for WWE in general that looks to be a great match for what WWE needs to move ahead successfully into what could be tumultuous and challenging times.
WWE in 2024 could be a largely different business in many ways than it was in 2019. Some of that change could have been anticipated in 2019 looking ahead to the next five years, but 2020 has thrown some curveballs that could shake things up in ways no one imagined.
What would have been anticipated in 2019, looking ahead to the next five years:
- Vince McMahon turns 75 this month. How much longer will he be the driving force and deciding vote in all important creative and business matters?
- Will WWE be sold to a media conglomerate such as Comcast, and how would that affect the company from top to bottom?
- As more customers shift from traditional cable and satellite subscriptions to a la carte app-based distribution models, how does that change WWE reaching current fans and attracting new ones?
- Can WWE’s vast social media reach be monetized better either directly or in terms of converting people more effectively to revenue-generating sources such as WWE Network?
- Will WWE sell off rights to either all or some of the major PPV titles, and how will fans react to having to pay a premium price on a per-event-basis again if WWE does so?
- How will WWE Network subscriptions, a reliable current source of revenue, be affected if PPV titles are peeled away from the Network? Can WWE produce enough original content on the WWE Network without PPVs in the line-up to retain a high percentage of current WWE Network subscribers?
- Will WWE encounter more or less TV rights fees on the next round of contract negotiations with major networks? Will declining WWE ratings for the flagship shows lead to a sharp decrease in rights fees, or will traditional TV networks’ desperation for weekly original programming that does relatively well in key demos lead to a similar rights-fee deal to sustain WWE for at least several more year beyond the current TV deals?
- Will pro wrestlers ever unify and demand to be classified as employees and get retirement benefits and medical insurance? (Will Khan’s experience representing talent affect his approach from the other side going forward?)
What are changes in WWE’s business model that maybe weren’t anticipated just one year ago?
- Will pro wrestling fans return to arenas, once it’s deemed safe, in the same numbers as before?
- Will WWE have to alter its approach during an intermediate phase-in of having fans back at venues, such as a further set-back from the ring, plexiglass protection between wrestlers and fans, and social spacing at arenas?
- Will WWE talent eagerly embrace a return to a heavier travel schedule once the pandemic is under control and a vaccine is available and widely utilized by the population? Will wrestlers feel comfortable traveling more often even if COVID-19 is still a risk?
- Will “Cinematic” non-live heavily-post-produced matches be an integral part of WWE’s presentation for years to come, post-pandemic, and if so, how will fans attending live shows feel about watching featured stars in a heavily-hyped matches broadcast on a big screen in the arena instead of in the ring in front of them?
- Does WWE’s roster feature enough top stars developed during this time without crowds to draw big crowds and ratings and subscriptions/PPV purchases post-pandemic era? Is the absence of instant crowd feedback affecting WWE’s ability to gauge the direction of booking during this pandemic era?
- In light of NXT being consistently behind AEW in the younger key demos, is Triple H still the de facto heir apparent to Vince McMahon, at age 51, to operate the WWE creative department, and if not, what is being done to groom someone else, perhaps younger, to step into that position instead?
The fact that Nick Khan (yes, Khans are taking over the wrestling industry, although Nick is not related to AEW’s Khan family) has a good relationship with WWE already and a thorough understanding of the pro wrestling business (or at least WWE) makes this hire feel more substantial than someone else coming in from the corporate world with business knowledge, but not WWE-specific knowledge. That he attended Levesque’s birthday party last summer could indicate an existing chemistry with Levesque that could be the start of a power-duo to run the wrestling industry’s biggest company for years, if not decades, to come. Of course, a sale to a media conglomerate could shake up everything, as happened when Turner bought Jim Crockett Promotions, which led to a series of questionable V.P. hires by corporate-types without knowledge of the unique culture of the wrestling business at the time.