Link Copied

Meet WWE billionaire Vincent McMahon, who lost billions during the coronavirus crisis and once wrestled with Trump

Meet WWE billionaire Vincent McMahon, who lost billions during the coronavirus crisis and once wrestled with Trump
  • WWE CEO Vince McMahon has been one the billionaires hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • After the pandemic forced WWE into bankruptcy, McMahon's net worth plummeted so much that he lost his place in the Forbes 400 and struck a deal with Morgan Stanley that effectively functioned as an $80 million cash advance.
  • McMahon is a friend and donor to President Trump, and his wife Linda worked in the Trump administration for two years.
  • Trump casinos have hosted major WWE events dating back to the 1980s, at times with Trump himself appearing as a wrestler.
  • McMahon has faced criticism for not providing WWE stars with health insurance and requiring them to work during the pandemic.

WWE billionaire Vince McMahon is having a tough year.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the live wrestling matches that are the bread and butter of his company's business, the league's ticket sales and subscriber base had been plummeting amid concerns over the brand's creative direction under McMahon's leadership.

McMahon built WWE, a tightly scripted wrestling league, into an entertainment powerhouse after acquiring the brand from his father in 1982. Along the way, McMahon became one of the richest people in America and struck up friendships with other billionaires, including President Trump.

A representative of McMahon at WWE did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment on the CEO's personal history, career at WWE, or net worth.

Keep reading to learn more about WWE billionaire Vince McMahon.

Vincent McMahon, 75, was practically born into the wrestling business.

Vincent McMahon, 75, was practically born into the wrestling business.
Vince McMahon attends a press conference to announce that WWE Wrestlemania 29 would be held at MetLife Stadium in 2013 at MetLife Stadium on February 16, 2012, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Eugene Gologursky/WireImage

McMahon was raised in North Carolina by a wrestling promoter, per Forbes. His father, also named Vincent McMahon, founded WWE (then a regional league called Capitol Wrestling Co.). McMahon's grandfather Jesse also worked in wrestling.

Before joining the family business full-time, McMahon graduated from East Carolina University, per Forbes.

Advertisement

McMahon took over the business that would eventually become WWE from his father in 1982.

McMahon took over the business that would eventually become WWE from his father in 1982.
Vince McMahon addresses the media in 2000. Tim Boyle /Newsmakers / Getty

With McMahon at the helm, WWE went "from a regional operation into a global phenomenon" with events broadcast in 150 countries, according to Forbes.

WWE used heavily scripted matches featuring a revolving cast of characters to build a base of loyal fans willing to pay monthly for access to WWE's streaming service. Bloomberg reported in 2018 that the WWE Network was the 11th most popular streaming service in the nation, with 1.5 million subscribers.

"There was a time when it came across as seedy, kind of playing to barroom brawls," McMahon's daughter Stephanie told Bloomberg in 2018. "Our lines of business are really more akin to Disney than they are to anything else."

Advertisement

McMahon controls nearly every detail of WWE's business.

McMahon controls nearly every detail of WWE's business.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vince McMahon and John Cena attend the WrestleMania 29 Press Conference at Radio City Music Hall in 2013. Eugene Gologursky/WireImage

McMahon "encapsulate[s] a thuggish old-school CEO," Benchmark analyst Mike Hickey told Bloomberg in February.

He even gets involved in the league's various storylines. McMahon often appears in the ring as "Mr. McMahon," a persona very similar to his real-life one, per The Washington Post. McMahon's character in the ring was once described by Bleacher Report's Mike Chiara as a "jerk boss persona" who "had a ton of power, and he abused for the sole purpose of making people's lives miserable."

LightShed Partners analyst Brandon Ross wrote in early 2020, before the onset of the pandemic, that McMahon needed to loosen "his creative grip" because "WWE's creative process required significant overhaul," according to Bloomberg.

Advertisement
Advertisement

McMahon has also been criticized for how WWE treats its stars, including by former presidential candidate Andrew Wang.

McMahon has also been criticized for how WWE treats its stars, including by former presidential candidate Andrew Wang.
Wrestling star Chris Benoit and Vince McMahon in 2003. REUTERS/Patrick Price

In a critical segment on WWE on "Last Week Tonight" in 2019, John Oliver reported that WWE athletes have higher premature death rates than even NFL players, who studies suggest often suffer high rates of brain injuries.

Oliver called McMahon "morally subterranean" for not guaranteeing WWE talent health insurance, retirement accounts, or paid leave and worker's compensation if they get injured, and aired interviews with athletes who said they continued to work while injured because they could not afford to take time off.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang echoed Oliver's critiques on Twitter in September, adding that WWE prevents wrestlers from using their likenesses to profit through third parties.

"Come on, Vince — you've already deprived the folks breaking their backs for you of healthcare, security, recovery time, retirement benefits and fair treatment re: licenses and royalties," Yang tweeted. "At least let them make a living off their own names. Many of them need it."

The criticism has only escalated during the pandemic. In April, early in the pandemic, while other professional sports shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, WWE went ahead with its signature WrestleMania event without a live audience, the AP reported. WWE said it modified its production process to film with only essential staff, but the BBC reported that the league could have done more to limit interpersonal contact on set, including limiting matches to two wrestlers and using static cameras instead of manually operated ones.

Despite mounting criticism, WWE executives said the show had to go on because "people need to be entertained," according to the BBC.

Multiple WWE employees eventually tested positive for COVID-19, including announcers Renee Young and Kayla Braxton and producers Adam Pearce and Jamie Noble, per Forbes.

Advertisement

WWE has made McMahon extremely wealthy, but he has filed for personal bankruptcy before.

WWE has made McMahon extremely wealthy, but he has filed for personal bankruptcy before.
World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chairman Vince McMahon in 2009. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before WWE, McMahon and his wife Linda invested in a struggling construction company in the 1970s on the advice of their then-accountant, she said during a Small Business Week event livestreamed on Facebook in 2017, according to CNBC

"We signed personally on some loans from the bank to float that business for a while, and we didn't understand [the industry]," McMahon said, according to CNBC. "It went belly up. … We tried for over a year to pay off the loans and we just couldn't do it anymore, so we had to declare bankruptcy."

The couple lost their home and Linda's car during the bankruptcy proceedings, per CNBC.

Advertisement

McMahon is also friends with President Trump.

McMahon is also friends with President Trump.
Donald Trump (R) and WWE owner Vince McMahon talk during a segment of NBC's "Today" show in New York April 2, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

McMahon has known the president for years, according to NPR. Trump even appeared at a WWE event in 2007, where he tackled McMahon to the ground and shaved his head.

The billionaires' relationship isn't just personal, however. McMahon and his wife gave millions to both Trump's 2016 campaign and his now-defunct foundation, according to Politico.

Advertisement

McMahon's wife, Linda, is a former Trump Administration official.

McMahon's wife, Linda, is a former Trump Administration official.
President Donald Trump with major donor and former Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

After Trump took office in 2017, Linda was appointed to the top spot at the Small Business Administration, where she served until April 2019, NPR reported.

"Linda McMahon has done an incredible job," Trump said after her resignation, per NPR. "She has been a superstar."

Linda McMahon now runs the pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action, The Washington Post reported.

Before launching her career in politics, Linda McMahon was a WWE executive and ran two failed campaigns for a Connecticut Senate seat, according to Politico.

Advertisement

The McMahons have two children.

The McMahons have two children.
Vince McMahon kisses his wife as he poses with his plaque after his Hollywood Walk of Fame star was unveiled in California on March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The McMahons have two children, per Forbes. Daughter Stephanie is WWE's chief brand officer and is married to wrestler Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Bloomberg reported. Son Shane also works for WWE.

Advertisement

McMahon once spent $200 million to launch a new football league to rival the NFL.

McMahon once spent $200 million to launch a new football league to rival the NFL.
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon speaks to the media to announce the creation of the XFL, a new professional football league in 2000. Robert Rosamilio /NY Daily News Archive / Getty

McMahon's upstart football league, called the XFL, played a single season in 2001 that Business Insider's James Pasley described as "a violent and sexualized version of the NFL.

The league made its big comeback this past February but was forced it to cancel its season just five weeks in because of the pandemic. The company filed for bankruptcy in March, and laid off nearly all of its employees.

Dwayne Johnson, along with his ex-wife and business partner, Dany Garcia, and private investment firm RedBird Capital, bought the league ahead of its scheduled bankruptcy auction in August for a reported $15 million.

Advertisement

The coronavirus pandemic brought hard times for WWE, and sunk McMahon's net worth.

The coronavirus pandemic brought hard times for WWE, and sunk McMahon's net worth.
WWE

WWE shares plunged more than 40% between December and when the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the United States in March, Bloomberg reported.

Certainly, the pandemic didn't help, cutting into ticket sales from live events, but WWE had troubles coming into 2020.

Bloomberg reported in February that the wrestling league's ticket sales and share price were both in freefall because it had oversaturated its audience with seven hours of programming each week, and McMahon was hindering WWE's recovery by refusing to switch up the company's business model.

WWE's struggles put McMahon in such a financial bind that the billionaire signed a prepaid variable forward contract with Morgan Stanley in March, allowing him to receive cash in exchange for agreeing to sell shares in March 2024, per Bloomberg. McMahon's net worth dropped so much that he lost his spot on the Forbes 400 ranking of the wealthiest Americans. Forbes now estimates his fortune at $1.7 billion.

Advertisement