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WWE’s smaller rival AEW interested in merger, sources say

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WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon speaks at a news conference announcing the WWE Network at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas.
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All Elite Wrestling, a professional wrestling league owned by the Khan family, is interested in merging with World Wrestling Entertainment, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Khans, who also own the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the Premier League’s Fulham F.C., could partner with a strategic media company to share the intellectual property while merging the wrestling leagues, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. AEW has a TV carriage rights agreement with Warner Bros. Discovery‘s TNT and TBS.

The idea that Vince McMahon, the controlling shareholder of WWE, would merge his company with the much smaller AEW is a long shot. AEW hasn’t had talks with McMahon or Nick Khan, the company’s chief executive, said the people. McMahon may view selling to the Khans as a non-starter.

The Khans are open to discussing a potential role for McMahon, 77, after a sale but haven’t yet had those talks, one of the people said. It’s unclear what type of job McMahon would want with WWE after a sale, but WWE is a much larger and more established organization than AEW. McMahon, who was worth more than $3 billion as of July, is also known as the primary creative force behind WWE’s storylines.

Sports tycoon Shahid Khan, 72, is ranked 292 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a net worth of $7.56 billion. He also owns auto parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate.

Shahid Khan, the new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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WWE, whose shares are up 30% so far this year, has a market capitalization of more than $6.6 billion on $1.28 billion of revenue in the last 12 months. AEW president Tony Khan said in September the company was on pace to generate more than $100 million in revenue in 2022.

WWE’s sale process

There’s some precedent for rival wrestling leagues merging. WWE (then called WWF) acquired WCW from Turner Broadcasting in 2001.

WWE said Thursday it hired Raine Group as its lead financial advisor and Kirkland & Ellis as its legal advisor.

WWE is exploring a sale of the company before renewing its TV rights, which expire in 2024. Those rights discussions are set to begin later this year.

A number of prospective buyers, including Comcast, Endeavor and Netflix, may be interested in acquiring WWE if McMahon decides to move forward with a sale. He rejoined the company as its executive chairman last week after retiring in July amid sexual misconduct allegations, telling investors his presence on the board was needed to convince potential buyers he was serious about a deal.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns CNBC.

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