Looking At Vince McMahon’s PR Stunt

It was announced on Friday that amid the Wall Street Journal report that Vince McMahon paid a former employee to stay quiet about an affair he had with her that the emperor of sports entertainment was “stepping aside” from his position as CEO until the conclusion of an independent investigation on behalf of the WWE Board of Directors. As I wrote in an article a few days ago, unless the money could be tied directly to funds specifically from the WWE, not Vince’s personal cash then besides the public embarrassment, there wasn’t necessarily anything that would prevent McMahon from continuing to run the company.

That said, when the news hit social media that Vince was stepping down, and Stephanie McMahon, who about a month ago announced she was going to take an extended hiatus from the company to spend time with her family, would return to become the CEO, I was stunned.

Could there really be a WWE without Vince McMahon?

However, as details emerged, including that Vince would appear live on Smackdown to kickoff the show, it became obvious that this announcement was nothing more than corporate lip service.

In fact, it was mentioned publicly that McMahon would still continue in his role as the head of creative and thus still make all the decisions about the content that makes it on-screen. It goes without saying that he will still wield the same power within the WWE decision-making process across the board. So, nothing changes, other than Stephanie, who was actually criticized prior to his departure as rumors swirled that her hiatus was a result of her lack of productivity within her corporate role and thus was not a voluntary hiatus, has the title of CEO in name-only.

Vince’s Smackdown appearance solidified just how much of a facade this transition of power was for the corporation.

The music hit and Vince casually strolled to the ring while Kevin Dunn was in the production truck, cutting to camera shots of the fans cheering and bowing to the eccentric billionaire. You could say that it’s one of the perks of being the boss, but this whole segment was nothing more than an ego trip for McMahon. He wanted to show everyone, including the WWE Board of Directors and the stockholders that he still has an adoring public. Within about 25 seconds, Vince mentioned the WWE tagline, said welcome to Smackdown, and left.

Aside from the optics of a cheering arena, which was probably something that was used to try to help his public image, this was McMahon’s way of letting everyone know, he’s still there and nothing has changed. Granted, there’s nothing criminal about this situation and no charges have been filed. As far as we know, Vince had a consensual relationship with a former employee and decided to pay her $3 million to sign a non-disclosure to prevent any negative publicity in the future. How public opinion interprets that is up to the individual, but the fact that it was a personal matter, not based upon any legal consequences, it gives him some leverage to try to tilt the public perception in his favor.

At the same time, the whole thing is sleazy and just sounds scummy because another wealthy businessman used his power to attempt to cover up an affair with an employee. That’s why the optics of the segment were terrible and said a lot about pro wrestling fans. As we know, there’s always a stereotype about wrestling that it’s low brow entertainment and hence why the ad rates for pro wrestling are usually lowered than the other types of shows on television. What does it say about the fan base that they were cheering and bowing to a guy that paid someone to stay quiet about an affair? On some level that visual reinforces the common negative stereotypes about pro wrestling fans. There’s a reason that the sport in Japan and Mexico is looked at more favorably within the culture than the genre in America. As misguided as it might be, the mainstream press and the general public will see that brief clip and assume that those bowing to McMahon on his way to the ring are rowdy, obnoxious barbarians that won’t draw the line in the name of moral decency.

Obviously, within his own world, Vince is teflon as far as the fans that buy tickets to his events, but what impact will this have outside of the WWE bubble?

Despite the facade of “stepping down,” I still think the investigation will yield that McMahon paid the former employee to sign the non-disclosure with his own cash and he will eventually resume his position at the top of the company. However, it’s very possible that it could have an effect on the stock price, the company’s negotiating power, and projects in the future.

As much as we’ve heard the speculation about Nick Khan being hired to eventually set up a sale of the company, Vince’s latest publicity stunt might confirm something that I wrote about when the sale rumors originally started, the WWE is what Vince dedicated his life to and it’s doubtful that he would want to see anyone else run the organization because the status of the WWE is so closely associated with his legacy. At some point, the money just becomes a number on the page, and Vince is already a billionaire. If McMahon was willing to even consider the company under someone else’s ownership, we wouldn’t have seen such a public display to let people know that he isn’t going anywhere.

On the other hand, this scandal could impact some of the projects in the future, more specifically the valuable sponsorships that generate major revenue for the company, considering that an association with the WWE is mostly negative at the moment. The bigger story could be that this scandal could potentially affect The Rock’s possible involvement in the company in the future. There was speculation for the past few years that Roman Reigns’ run as the “tribal chief” will eventually lead to a Samoan showdown with The Rock based on their family heritage, and when you take into account the star power The Rock has in Hollywood, a Roman/Rock bout would be at least some of the biggest business the company has done for a Wrestlemania. However, Dwayne Johnson is known for his kind and charitable acts in between movie roles, would he want to risk any negative press for a WWE return? The same could be said for John Cena, who was announced to return to Raw later this month before the scandal made headlines on main stream media outlets.

Finally, the billionaire owner of the company is in the news for paying to cover up an affair, and the fans are gleefully bowing to him so maybe there’s a reason for the stereotypes about the industry.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta