Vince McMahon is looking to get as much as $9 billion in a potential sale of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., the company he returned to run this year, according to people familiar with his thinking.
The company has already received offers, said the people, who requested that they not be identified because the discussions are private. WWE declined to comment.
Shares of WWE rose as much as 4.9% to $91.48 Friday in New York. As of the close Thursday, the asking price was 37% greater than the company’s $6.5 billion market value. The stock has risen 30% this year, in part due to takeover speculation.
The 77-year-old McMahon is the WWE’s controlling shareholder and reinstated himself as executive chairman in January to oversee a strategic review of the company.
McMahon left the firm last year following revelations that he had paid millions of dollars to settle sexual misconduct claims.
The list of potential buyers for the WWE includes Endeavor Group Holdings Inc., the owner of Ultimate Fighting Championship, as well as investors from the Middle East who have already made major investments in golf and soccer.
Endeavor would need financial help from a third party since its market capitalization of $10.4 billion is only a bit more than what McMahon wants, but the company has already shown it can integrate and grow a sports-media business with a divisive founder in the UFC.
Saudi Arabia is starting to make major investments in media and entertainment and has already expressed interest in buying Liberty Media Corp.’s Formula One. WWE Chief Executive Officer Nick Khan dismissed a report last month that the Saudis already had a deal to buy the company as “totally false.”
Larger strategic buyers, such as Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co., may be uneasy taking on a business controlled by McMahon that involves the sometimes messy personal lives of its wrestlers. McMahon learned the business from his father, an event promoter on the East Coast.
He built the WWE into an international entertainment powerhouse that packs arenas and airs programs regularly on Fox Corp. and Comcast Corp.’s USA network.
WWE is in the early stages of negotiations for its next TV deals, and could renew its current agreements with Fox and Comcast.
Any media company interested in airing the programs could also use this moment to buy the whole business. WWE has been one of the most popular draws for Comcast’s Peacock streaming service.
Yet McMahon may not find many buyers eager to pay his price considering the shaky global economy and rising interest rates.
A valuation of $9 billion amounts to about seven times the company’s $1.29 billion in sales last year, and 23 times its adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization, both at the high end for the entertainment industry.