Two weeks ago, Vince McMahon, the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., stepped into a limousine outside Wachovia Arena in WilkesBarre, Penn. Moments later, before millions of TV viewers, the car exploded. McMahon was killed. Or at least, the dislikable character he plays on TV was killed. The staged explosion was simply the latest big storyline in the ongoing, billion-dollar soap opera for teenage boys that is professional wrestling.
But McMahon’s staged death raised a few troubling questions for real-life investors of the publicly traded WWE. Given the very fine line McMahon treads between the character he plays on TV and his actual role as head of the US$1.2-billion company, the incident left plenty of room for the kind of speculation that could easily send stock prices into a free fall. Luckily for shareholders, it didn’t (the stock has bounced between US$16 and $17 for much of the past year). But WWE did nothing to prevent it. In fact, the company invited confusion, issuing a press release after the incident stating that “initial reports indicate that Mr. McMahon is presumed dead.”
WWE has been unapologetic about its hijinks. When Darren Rovell, a journalist with CNBC, wrote the company asking if it had been irresponsible in issuing the press release, the company responded that it had not received any inquiries from shareholders about McMahon’s death. “It is well-known to our shareholders and our viewers that ‘Mr. McMahon’ is a character portrayed by Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the founder and chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.”
And lest anyone forget that the WWE’s business is the theatre of pro wrestling, it added: “As far as speculation as to who may have committed this heinous act against ‘Mr. McMahon,’ the WWE has not ruled out any suspects, including CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell.” M
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