By Chuck Carroll
Following weeks of uncertainty, WWE is planning to hold the controversial Crown Jewel event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as originally planned.
The announcement came just hours after Saudi officials confessed that the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Turkey was premeditated. The country originally claimed that Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed and then later changed their narrative to state that he died during a scuffle with officials inside the building.
The decision by WWE to move forward with the event was likely made prior to the admission.
“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base,” the company stated in an earnings announcement Thursday morning. “Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh. Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.”
It is believed that WWE will receive a windfall in the ballpark of $45 million annually for the duration of a decade-long partnership with the GSA. The cash influx is a major reason why the wresting giant is projecting record revenue this year.
WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon declined to detail the company’s decision-making process for proceeding with the show during an earnings conference call with investors Thursday.
“We’re not going to talk a lot about that,” McMahon said. “It’s a very sensitive subject these days, naturally. I think our statement pretty much said all we want to say about that today.”
The company also declined to speculate on the number of events that will originate from Saudi Arabia next year. However, Co-President George Barrios said they may have that information by the next investor earnings call which will take place in early 2019.
When asked about the potential for the company to face federal economic sanctions for proceeding with the event and its controversial relationship with the country, Barrios declined to elaborate, citing the “complexity of the situation.”
Meanwhile, WWE is tapping into additional revenue streams with separate large-scale shows in other international markets. For example, this month’s WWE Super Show-Down in Melbourne, Australia featured what was billed as the last match ever between The Undertaker and Triple H. The contest also laid the groundwork for Shawn Michaels’ return to the ring at Crown Jewel. Interest in the Australian show, which was broadcast live on the company’s over-the-top streaming service, helped spur subscriptions to the WWE Network to an all-time high. There are currently 1.56 million subscribers paying a monthly fee of $9.99 to watch these events, according to Thursday’s press release.
Despite the strong earnings, WWE’s stock has taken a pounding since the Khashoggi saga began. As of mid-afternoon Thursday, it had tumbled nearly 25 percent from late September’s all-time high of 97.69.
NEWS & NOTES
Sadly, Roman Reigns is not the only member of his family battling cancer. His cousin, 55-year-old Samu Anoa’I, posted on Facebook that he is battling stage-four liver cancer and awaiting a transplant. He is the son of WWE Hall of Fame member Afa The Wild Samoan.
After being roasted on the mic by Ronda Rousey on Monday, Nikki Bella tells the New York Post that she’s grown thick-skinned to shots about her former relationship with John Cena. “I just can’t wait for the day it can stop and not every promo towards me brings up my ex,” she said in an interview to promote her title match against Rousey at WWE Evolution. “I think there will come a day for that, but maybe there won’t, but I do hope so.”
Alexa Bliss will definitely be at Sunday’s women’s exclusive pay-per-view, according to Mickie James. She tells SiriusXM’s Busted Open that Bliss is doing better every day following reports she suffered an undisclosed injury. Most believe that she had a concussion.
Wednesday wasn’t a very good Lana Day for the WWE Superstar. She noted that hackers gained control of her Instagram account for a few hours.
Oddsmakers have Braun Strowman favored to defeat Brock Lesnar at Crown Jewel.
Hulk Hogan claimed that he would be going to Saudi Arabia with WWE for Crown Jewel in an interview with The Orlando Sentinel. The recently reinstated Hall of Fame member also hinted at other future involvement with the company, including WrestleMania in some capacity.
Cody is emphatically stating that he is no longer a member of Bullet Club and is hinting strongly that he will not re-sign with Ring of Honor when his contract expires in a few months. In a lengthy Instagram post he stated that he is beginning to transition to a new role in pro wrestling. “As I continue my remaining dates with the good folks at ROH, I’d like to thank them and The NWA for allowing me to cross imaginary lines and give the fans something special,” he added. Remember, there had been reports that Cody, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Hangman Page had pledged to take their next steps together once their contracts expire.
Despite all of the hype surrounding that pledge, Page downplayed it somewhat during our conversation last month. “It’s not like we made a blood pact,” he told me. “We didn’t cut our hands and shake hands on anything. I think this is just something we’ve talked about as friends and something that maybe we wanna do.”
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Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.