TKO Group Holdings

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TKO Group Holdings, Inc.
TKO
Company typePublic
Industry
PredecessorsWorld Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
Zuffa
FoundedSeptember 12, 2023; 7 months ago (2023-09-12)
Founders
Headquarters200 Fifth Avenue, ,
U.S.
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
Products
  • Broadcasting
  • Films
  • Finance
  • Home video
  • Live events
  • Merchandise
  • Music
  • Publishing
  • Streaming network service
  • Television
ServicesLicensing
RevenueIncrease US$1.67 billion (2023)[1]
Decrease US$447 million (2023)[1]
Decrease US$176 million (2023)[1]
Total assetsIncrease US$12.7 billion (2023)[1]
Total equityIncrease US$8.84 billion (2023)[1]
OwnerEndeavor (51%)
WWE shareholders (49%)[a]
Number of employees
c. 1,250 (2023)
Subsidiaries
Websitetkogrp.com
Footnotes / references
[7]

TKO Group Holdings, Inc. (TKO) is an American media conglomerate created by Endeavor as part of a merger between World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) and Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).[8] Following the completion of the merger on September 12, 2023, both WWE and UFC operate as divisions under the banner of TKO.[9]

The merger marked the first time that WWE has not been solely and primarily majority-controlled by the McMahon family, which has founded the company and owned it for over 70 years.[10] This marked the third time that the UFC has changed ownership as its parent company Zuffa had been sold to Endeavor in 2016.[11] Zuffa had previously purchased the UFC from the Semaphore Entertainment Group in 2001.

Endeavor chief executive officer (CEO) Ari Emanuel is the new company's CEO, while Mark Shapiro serves as president and chief operating officer. Emanuel did not take on any creative roles in WWE or the UFC, with Nick Khan becoming president of WWE post-merger and Dana White serving as CEO of the UFC.[12][13]

Background[edit]

Vince McMahon (right), a third-generation wrestling promoter and co-founder of Titan Sports, Inc., originally served as Executive Chairman of TKO Group Holdings.

WWE was founded in 1953 as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC), a Northeastern territory of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). The CWC was run by Vincent J. McMahon, son of boxing and wrestling promoter Jess McMahon. Following a dispute over CWC wrestler Buddy Rogers being booked to lose the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to Lou Thesz, the CWC left the NWA and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in January 1963, and, by April 25, 1963, Rogers was declared the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion. The WWWF was renamed to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979; the WWF made its final departure from the NWA in 1983. The current legal entity, which was originally named Titan Sports, Inc., was incorporated on February 21, 1980, in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, but reincorporated under Delaware General Corporation Law in 1987. Titan Sports was co-founded by Vince McMahon, Vincent J.'s son, and his wife Linda. It acquired Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd., the holding company for the WWF, in 1982. After buying the WWF, Vince McMahon expanded the promotion by overturning the NWA's territory system and holding events around the United States and the world which were televised on a global basis. Throughout the 1980s WWF begun to capitalize on the popularity of rising star Hulk Hogan after he defeated The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden on January 23, 1984 to capture the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. On March 31, 1985 WWF held the first WrestleMania, which would go on to become WWF's flagship event. The company's status as the world's premier professional wrestling organization was cemented by its acquisition of the assets of World Championship Wrestling in 2001 following the Monday Night War. Titan Sports was renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. in 1999, and then World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. in 2002 after a legal dispute with the World Wildlife Fund. Since 2011, the company has branded itself solely with the initials WWE, though the legal name did not change at the time.[14] WWE's majority owner was its executive chairman, third-generation wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, who retained a 38.6% ownership of the company's outstanding stock and 81.1% of the voting power before the merger. The closure of the merger saw McMahon's voting power and stock ownership dramatically decrease.

Ari Emanuel, the CEO and Executive Chairman of Endeavor, serves as the CEO of TKO Group Holdings.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), initially under the ownership of the Semaphore Entertainment Group, was founded by American businessman Art Davie and Brazilian martial artist Rorion Gracie with their partners in WOW Promotions.[15][16] The first UFC event was held in November 12, 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.[17] The purpose of the early ultimate fighting competitions was to identify the most effective martial art in a contest with minimal rules and no weight classes between competitors of different fighting disciplines. In subsequent events, more rigorous rules were created and fighters began adopting effective techniques from more than one discipline, which indirectly helped create a separate style of fighting known as present-day mixed martial arts (MMA). In April 1995, following UFC 5, Davie and Gracie sold their remaining interest in the UFC to the Semaphore Entertainment Group and disbanded WOW Promotions.[18] Six years later in 2001, Zuffa, a sports promotion company headed by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, purchased the UFC from the Semaphore Entertainment Group. Zuffa's ownership led to a growth period for the company and the sport of MMA in general; the UFC's global leadership in the sport led to Zuffa buying the assets of the Pride Fighting Championships in 2007 and the Strikeforce promotion in 2011 (among other MMA promotions). In 2016, Zuffa was sold to a group led by Endeavor, then known as William Morris Endeavor (WME–IMG), including Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and MSD Capital[19] for US$4.025 billion.[20] In 2017, WME–IMG changed its holding name to Endeavor and four years later, in 2021, Endeavor bought out Zuffa's other owners at a valuation of $1.7 billion.

History[edit]

WWE's preparations for a sale[edit]

On June 17, 2022, amid allegations that he paid hush money to a former employee, Vince McMahon stepped down as the chairman and CEO of WWE, leaving the company to his daughter, Stephanie McMahon, and Nick Khan. In January 2023, Vince stated his intention to return to WWE ahead of media rights negotiations. WWE's media rights with Fox and USA Network are set to expire in 2024.[21] That same month, JPMorgan were hired to handle a possible sale of the company, with rumored suitors having included Comcast and Fox Corporation (owners of WWE's broadcast partners USA Network and Fox), The Walt Disney Company (owners of ESPN), Warner Bros. Discovery (media partners of rival All Elite Wrestling), Netflix, Amazon, Endeavor (WWE had an existing business relationship with its subsidiary Endeavor Streaming, which took over the technical operations of its streaming service WWE Network in 2019), Liberty Media, Creative Artists Agency, and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (WWE has a long-term agreement with Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Sport to promote events in the country).[22][23]

On January 10, 2023, Stephanie McMahon resigned as WWE's chairwoman and co-CEO, after which Vince McMahon assumed the role of executive chairman of WWE, and Nick Khan became the sole CEO.[24]

Formation[edit]

On April 3, 2023, WWE and Endeavor reached a deal under which WWE would merge with the UFC's parent company Zuffa to form a new company which would go public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the symbol "TKO".[25][26] Internally, the new company was initially named "New Whale Inc."; on May 16, an Endeavor spokesperson stated that the company would officially be known as TKO Group Holdings.[27]

Endeavor was expected to hold a 51% stake in TKO Group Holdings, with WWE's shareholders having a 49% stake, valuing WWE at $9.1 billion.[25][26] The merger would mark the first time that WWE has not been majority-controlled by members of the McMahon family.[28] Vince McMahon was expected to serve as executive chairman of the new entity, with Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel becoming CEO of the new company and Mark Shapiro serving as president and chief operating officer. The merger would see the UFC and WWE operate as separate divisions of the company, with Dana White set to become CEO of the UFC and Nick Khan becoming president of WWE post-merger.[13][29][30] Emanuel is not expected to take on any creative roles in WWE,[26][25][31][32] with WWE's head of creative Paul Levesque expected to remain in his role.[32] The deal granted McMahon life tenure as TKO executive chairman, the right to nominate five WWE representatives on the 11 member board, as well as veto rights over certain actions by the new company.[33] Vince's son Shane McMahon had attempted to purchase the UFC multiple times in the 2000s, but Vince talked him out of doing so.[34]

Emanuel stated that this merger would "bring together two leading pureplay sports and entertainment companies" and provide "significant operating synergies".[26] McMahon stated that "family businesses have to evolve for all the right reasons",[25] and that "given the incredible work that Ari and Endeavor have done to grow the UFC brand — nearly doubling its revenue over the past seven years — and the immense success we've already had in partnering with their team on a number of ventures, I believe that this is without a doubt the best outcome for our shareholders and other stakeholders."[26]

Hours after the merger agreement had been published in August 2023, the law firm Ademi LLP launched an investigation into the sale, looking for "possible breaches of fiduciary duty and other violations of law".[35] WWE's stock price additionally decreased following the announcement of the sale.[35] Later in August, the initial board of directors of TKO was revealed. Paul Levesque, the head of creative for WWE, and Dana White, the then president of the UFC, were not included on the board of directors but maintained roles in their respective divisions of TKO.[36][37]

The merger closed on September 12, 2023;[38][26] with Vince McMahon personally owning 34% of the newly formed TKO Group.[39] The first television show produced under the TKO banner was the September 12 episode of WWE NXT.[40] Following the merger, Dana White was made CEO of the UFC.

On January 23, 2024, the TKO board of directors would be increased from 11 members to 13 members.[41] Following this, WWE underwent some changes, which included broadcast deals with different partners (including Netflix) and giving up ownership of Dwayne Johnson's trademarked name "The Rock" to Johnson, who would also join TKO's board of directors.[42][41]

In January 2024, a lawsuit was filed by Janel Grant, a former employee at WWE headquarters between 2019 and 2022 against WWE as well as TKO (by proxy of ownership). Grant alleged that the then current TKO Executive Chairman Vince McMahon, had coerced her into a sexual relationship, and, along with WWE executive John Laurinaitis and a WWE wrestler who was also a former UFC fighter,[b] sexually trafficked her and repeatedly sexually assaulted her between 2020–2021. Grant alleged that she was subjected to "extreme cruelty and degradation" by McMahon, including being defecated upon during a sexual encounter. Grant stated that McMahon had agreed to pay her $3 million in 2022 in return for a NDA, but stopped paying after only $1 million had been paid following the initial public emergence of the sexual misconduct allegations the same year.[43] Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed McMahon, and have taken up the filing in question. One day after the report – on January 26, 2024 – Vince McMahon resigned from TKO. In a statement, McMahon said the decision was made "out of respect for the WWE Universe, the extraordinary TKO business and its board members and shareholders, partners and constituents, and all of the employees".[44][45][46][47]

Corporate governance[edit]

The board of directors of TKO Group Holdings consists of twelve members, five representing WWE and seven representing Endeavor. There is currently one vacancy due to former Executive Chairman Vince McMahon’s resignation on January 26, 2024 following sex trafficking and sexual assault allegations involving a former WWE employee.[48][41][49]

Board of Directors
Name Representative Role
Ari Emanuel Endeavor CEO and Executive Chairman of TKO Group Holdings
Egon Durban Endeavor Co-CEO of Silver Lake Management
Nick Khan WWE President of WWE
Steve Koonin WWE Lead Independent Director
CEO of Atlanta Hawks
Jonathan Kraft Endeavor President of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots
Sonya Medina Williams Endeavor President and Executive Director for Reach Resilience
Mark Shapiro Endeavor President and COO of TKO Group Holdings
Carrie A. Wheeler WWE CEO of Opendoor
Nancy Tellem Endeavor Chief Media Officer of Eko
Peter Bynoe WWE Senior Advisor of DLA Piper
Dwayne Johnson WWE Co-owner of United Football League
Part-time WWE wrestler
Brad Keywell Endeavor Executive Chairman of Uptake Technologies

Assets[edit]

Drug testing policy[edit]

TKO maintains the drug testing policies of its predecessors. The WWE Talent Wellness Program is a comprehensive drug, alcohol, and cardiac screening program initiated in February 2006, three months after the sudden death of one of their highest-profile and most popular wrestlers, Eddie Guerrero, who died at 38 years old.[50] Prior to the creation of the Talent Wellness Program, WWE's (then the World Wrestling Federation) parent company Titan Sports had an in-house drug testing policy that existed from 1987 until it was scrapped in 1996.[51] The Wellness Program, under the guidelines of its Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy, tests for recreational drug use and abuse of prescription medication, including anabolic steroids.[50] Through the Wellness Program, WWE wrestlers are also tested annually for pre-existing or developing cardiac issues. The drug testing is handled by Aegis Sciences Corporation; the cardiac evaluations are handled by New York Cardiology Associates P.C.[50] The Wellness Program requires that all talent "under contract to WWE who regularly perform in-ring services as a professional sports entertainer" undergo testing; however, part-time performers are exempt from testing.[52] In 2010, muscle relaxers were banned from use.[53]

In 2015, the UFC entered a partnership with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), an independent anti-doping agency, who subsequently served as UFC's official drug testers. The partnership saw USADA carry out a minimum of 2,750 drug tests per year with an average of five tests per UFC fighter, and punishments for fighters who fail the tests.[54] Under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, fighters are subject to random tests at any time and place on all in- and out-of-competition blood and urine samples collected by USADA. Fighters must participate in the testing pool for at least six months prior to a fight in order to qualify for a UFC event.[54] In February 2017, UFC made changes to the Anti-Doping Policy, effective April 1, 2017, as follows: (1) Fighters who are new to the UFC with no previous contract would be subject to a one-month testing rule. The same rule applies to returning fighters who were terminated or whose contracts were not renewed at the decision of the UFC. Previously, returning or terminated fighters were required to undergo four months of testings prior to competing in a fight. (2) Returning fighters who have chosen to retire, go on hiatus, or had a non-renewal of their contract, are required to be in a six-month testing pool prior to competition. (3) No doping violation is handed down to newly signed UFC fighters who voluntarily disclose the use of a prohibited substance prior to testing. (4) "In-competition" testing begins at noon on the weigh-in day and ends one hour after a fighter clears a post-fight medical for non-selected post-fight testing. For fighters who are subjected to post-fight testing the in-competition testing ends after any post-fight testing is done.[55][56][57]

USADA ended its partnership with the UFC on January 1, 2024.[58] In place of USADA, the UFC partnered with Drug Free Sport International to handle its anti-doping program.[59] Former FBI agent George Piro serves as the independent administrator of the Drug Free Sport–UFC anti-doping program.[59]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ At the close of the deal, WWE's shareholders owned 49% of the company. Vince McMahon owns 34% of the company, with a 4.7% voting interest.[2][3][4][5][6]
  2. ^ The WWE/UFC talent in question was not named in the lawsuit, but was identified by The Wall Street Journal as Brock Lesnar.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "TKO Reports Full Year 2023 Results" (PDF). TKO Group Holdings, Inc. February 27, 2024. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  2. ^ "SCHEDULE 14C INFORMATION". NASDAQ. August 22, 2023. p. 248. Retrieved August 25, 2023. Mr. McMahon is expected to have beneficial ownership of approximately 28,752,105 shares of New PubCo Class A common stock representing approximately... 17% of the voting power...and approximately 34% of the economic interests...
  3. ^ "STATEMENT OF CHANGES IN BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP OF SECURITIES" (PDF). United States Securities and Exchange Commission. November 9, 2023. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  4. ^ "STATEMENT OF CHANGES IN BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP OF SECURITIES" (PDF). United States Securities and Exchange Commission. March 7, 2024. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  5. ^ "STATEMENT OF CHANGES IN BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP" (PDF). United States Securities and Exchange Commission. March 28, 2024. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  6. ^ "STATEMENT OF CHANGES IN BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP" (PDF). United States Securities and Exchange Commission. April 9, 2024. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  7. ^ "2023 Annual Report (Form 10-K)". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. February 27, 2024.
  8. ^ "SEC-Show". otp.tools.investis.com. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
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  37. ^ "Triple H to Remain Head of Creative in WWE-Endeavor Era (Report)".
  38. ^ "NEW WHALE INC.* WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT, INC". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Retrieved August 16, 2023.
  39. ^ "SCHEDULE 14C INFORMATION". NASDAQ. August 22, 2023. p. 248. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
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  43. ^ Safdar, Khadeeja (January 25, 2024). "Vince McMahon Accused of Sex Trafficking by WWE Staffer He Paid to Keep Quiet". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on January 25, 2024. Retrieved January 25, 2024.
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External links[edit]