“Until Saturday, I didn’t even know we had this deal,” Mark Shapiro, the president and C.O.O. of Endeavor, told me today. Three weeks earlier, Shapiro and C.E.O. Ari Emanuel had placed a bid to acquire a majority stake in World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, the coveted live pseudo-sports asset that seemed like it could fit nicely into Endeavor’s portfolio, alongside its lucrative Ultimate Fighting business.
Not long ago, the markets derided Shapiro and Emanuel for their interest in red state sports-ish leagues, like UFC and Professional Bull Riders, which Endeavor (then WME-IMG) bought in 2015. But as more streamers have begun dabbling in live sports broadcasting, media rights deals have escalated across the landscape, making even niche sports leagues more valuable. In retrospect, the moves look borderline prescient. And, in this world of so-called combat sports, WWE was undeniably a crown jewel.
The pair outlined their proposal during a meeting with WWE chairman Vince McMahon and C.E.O. Nick Khan at Raine Group offices, in New York, in mid-March, sources involved with the deal told me, and made a more emotional pitch one week later at WWE headquarters in Stamford. Still, they faced stiff competition from at least one rival bidder—John Malone’s Liberty Media, the owner of Formula One—until the very end, and it wasn’t until Saturday night that they signed the term sheet. As Shapiro described it, “it was nip and tuck all the way.”