Executives from Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment decided to give their new publicly traded company a name TKO to honor the companies’ fighting prowess, but they have broader ambitions than just owning martial arts.
TKO began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, culminating the merger of two live entertainment giants announced in April. The combined company is 51% owned by Investments of the Endeavor Groupwhich owns assets such as UFC and Hollywood talent agency WME and is 49% owned by WWE shareholders.
Shares rose 2.4% on Tuesday.
The first 18 months of the company’s existence will revolve around the integration of UFC and WWE, said Mark Shapiro, president and chief operating officer of TKO, in an interview with CNBC. That includes eventually jointly marketing international media rights and merging the company’s production efforts and back offices, Shapiro said.
After that, TKO plans to move into acquisition mode to grow the company, he said.
“Ultimately, we will be looking in the market for other sports properties that we can add to the flywheel enhanced by Endeavor,” Shapiro said, adding that the company has a strong desire to expand internationally.
Endeavor also owns Professional Bull Riders and two tennis tournaments – the Mutua Madrid Open and the Miami Open. The “flywheel” includes Endeavor’s representation of professional athletes through WME, its expertise in negotiating media rights, product licensing and improving live events to increase venue fees. With TKO, Shapiro also envisions direct-to-consumer options that don’t yet exist.
WWE currently streams on NBCUniversal’s Peacock under a deal that ends in 2026. Shapiro said other streaming companies have already expressed interest in bidding for the rights after that contract expires.
TKO leaders will also conduct new negotiations in the coming months Media deals for WWE “Raw” and “SmackDown” in classic pay TV. NBCUniversal and Fox currently own these rights.
Vince McMahon, 78, is chairman of TKO and Ari Emanuel is CEO. Shapiro made it clear who will take over the leadership of the company.
“Ari Emanuel runs the company,” Shapiro said. “Vince will play a role. He has experience and influence. But he understands that Ari has the role of CEO. This is not a shared position.”
McMahon has earned a reputation as a strong personality in the more than 40 years he has led WWE, both as a WWE character and behind the scenes. He has also had some legal problems recently. On July 17, according to a current submissionFederal law enforcement officials served McMahon with a federal grand jury subpoena Allegations of sexual misconduct. No charges were filed as part of the investigation.
Shapiro noted that Emanuel has already proven he can run a company alongside a sports league co-founder with a big personality and storied past. Dana White, UFC President, has faced a number of controversies in his personal life including Slapping his wife in a recorded videowhile remaining brash and uncompromising in his job.
“My leaving is damaging to the company. Hurts my employees. Hurts the fighters. Don’t hurt me,” White said during a media event earlier this year. “Do I have to think? No, I don’t have to think…” . That belongs to me. I’m telling you I’m wrong.”
Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.
WATCH: Vince McMahon explains why he sold WWE to Endeavor
https://www.cnbc.com/2023/09/12/tko-wwe-ufc-acquisitions.html TKO, the UFC-WWE merged, aims to expand beyond fighting