For over 70 years, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (under several names) was owned and controlled by various members of the McMahon family. The company was founded in 1953 by Vincent J. McMahon as the Capital Wrestling Corporation. In 1963 the CWC was rebranded as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. In 1979, the name was shortened to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). In 1982, Vincent’s son, Vincent K. McMahon, acquired WWF through his company, Titan Sports, Inc. In 1999, after a years-long battle with the World Wildlife Fund, Titan rebranded WWF as World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE). That same year, the WWE was taken public via IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Even as a public company, Vince and his family members always owned the majority of WWE’s equity and voting power.
In April 2023, WWE agreed to merge itself with the UFC. The deal, which was orchestrated by talent agency Endeavor, valued WWE at $9 billion. Endeavor had previously acquired the UFC in two transactions, first in 2016 and second in 2021, for just under $6 billion. In April of 2023, WWE agreed to merge with the UFC under a new company called TKO Group Holdings, Inc. TKO went public in September 2023. Today, TKO has a market cap of $15 billion. When the merger was finalized, it marked the first time that the WWE was not majority-owned by the McMahon family since 1953.
Vince McMahon owns 34% of TKO. He also sits on the company’s board of directors as Executive Chairman. The CEO and board Chairman is Endeavor co-founder Ari Emanuel, who was the inspiration for Jeremy Piven’s “Ari Gold” character in “Entourage,” (a reference I’m sure he is sick of hearing). The rest of TKO’s board are names you’ve never heard of, for example, Carrie A. Wheeler, the CEO of Opendoor, and Peter Bynoe, the Senior Advisor of something called DLA Piper.
But yesterday, the board added a name you certainly recognize: Dwayne Johnson.
In the summer of 1996, Dwayne Johnson signed a contract that made him a WWF wrestler. He debuted on Monday Night Raw on November 4, 1996, as a character named Rocky Maivia. In his second year with the WWF, he began referring to himself in the third person as “Rock.” The name soon morphed into “The Rock.” And a star was born. In 2000, WWE registered a trademark for “The Rock.”
Now we’re basically up to the present, and yesterday’s news is that Mr. Johnson has been appointed to TKO’s board of directors. But that’s not all. As you may have seen in lots of headlines splashed across the internet yesterday, with his appointment, The Rock was given two benefits:
- #1) $30 million worth of TKO stock.
- #2) The trademark rights to his name.
Those were the big headlines, but for my money, a very subtle paragraph in the SEC’s filing revealed something far more interesting…
The Rock’s WWE Royalties
Here is the paragraph from the TKO’s SEC filing that I’m talking about:
Prior to the Effective Date, Mr. Johnson received annual royalties from WWE in connection with his appearances in WWE-produced content, merchandise, and other services performed for WWE. For the year ended December 31, 2023, Mr. Johnson received royalties in an aggregate amount of approximately $491,000. Following the Effective Date, Mr. Johnson will continue to receive such annual royalties from WWE and will be entitled to receive royalties in connection with the sale of licensed products that utilize the Assigned IP and his name, likeness, and other intellectual property rights in accordance with the Services Agreement.
In other words, last year, The Rock earned $491,000 in royalties from the WWE. Furthermore, as a board member, he will continue to earn these royalties in future years. I find that extremely interesting because, while he is still likely the most famous WWE wrestler of all time, The Rock retired from wrestling in 2016. He has made some sporadic appearances over the years, but he hasn’t been a full-time WWE performer in eight years. And yet he’s still earning nearly half a million dollars every year in royalties in his mailbox every year.
Being on public company boards and making big royalty money is very cool. But if you really want to be impressed by The Rock’s business moves, you should check out his tequila company, Teremana. That’s what’s probably going to make him a billionaire someday soon.