World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., d/b/a WWE, is an American integrated media and entertainment company that is primarily known for professional wrestling. WWE has also branched out into other fields, including movies, football, and various other business ventures.
The WWE name also refers to the professional wrestling promotion itself, founded by Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt in 1952 as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. As of 2019, it is the largest wrestling promotion in the world, holding over 500 events a year, with the roster divided up into various globally traveling brands, and is available to about 36 million viewers in more than 150 countries. The company's global headquarters is located in Stamford, Connecticut, with offices in major cities across the world.
As in other professional wrestling promotions, WWE shows are not legitimate contests, but purely entertainment-based, featuring storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed matches, though matches often include moves that can put performers at risk of injury, even death, if not performed correctly. This was first publicly acknowledged by WWE's owner Vince McMahon in 1989 to avoid taxes from athletic commissions. Since the 1980s, WWE publicly has branded their product as sports entertainment, acknowledging the product's roots in competitive sport and dramatic theater.
The company's majority owner is its chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, who retains a 42% ownership of the company's outstanding stock and 83% of the voting power.
The current entity, incorporated on February 21, 1980, was previously known as Titan Sports, Inc., which was founded that same year in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. It acquired Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd., the holding company for the World Wrestling Federation, in 1982. Titan was renamed World Wrestling Federation, Inc. in 1998, then World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. in 1999, and finally the current World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. in 2002. Since 2011, the company has officially branded itself solely as WWE though the company's legal name was not changed.
WWE's origins can be traced back as far as 1952 when Roderick James "Jess" McMahon and Toots Mondt created the Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd. (CWC), which joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1953. McMahon, who was a successful boxing promoter, began working with Tex Rickard in 1926. With the help of Rickard, he began promoting boxing and wrestling at the third Madison Square Garden.
In November 1954, McMahon died and Ray Fabiani, one of Mondt's associates, brought in McMahon's son Vincent James. The younger McMahon and Mondt were very successful and soon controlled approximately 70% of the NWA's booking, largely due to their dominance in the heavily populated Northeastern United States. In 1963, McMahon and Mondt had a dispute with the NWA over "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers being booked to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Both men left the company in protest and formed the WWWF in the process. Mondt left Capitol in the late 1960s and although the WWWF had withdrawn from the NWA, Vince McMahon, Sr. quietly re-joined in 1971. Capitol renamed the World Wide Wrestling Federation to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979.
Vincent J. McMahon's son, Vincent K. McMahon, and his wife Linda, established Titan Sports, Inc., in 1980 in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. The company was incorporated on February 21, 1980, in the Cape Cod Coliseum offices. The younger McMahon bought Capitol from his father in 1982, effectively seizing control of the company. Seeking to make the WWF the premier wrestling promotion in the country, and eventually, the world, he began an expansion process that fundamentally changed the wrestling business.
At the annual meeting of the NWA in 1983, the McMahons and former Capitol employee Jim Barnett all withdrew from the organization. McMahon also worked to get WWF programming on syndicated television all across the United States. This angered other promoters and disrupted the well-established boundaries of the different wrestling promotions, eventually ending the territory system, which was in use since the founding of the NWA in the 1940s. In addition, the company used income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to secure talent from rival promoters.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, McMahon noted:
McMahon gained significant traction when he hired American Wrestling Association (AWA) talent Hulk Hogan, who had achieved popularity outside of wrestling, notably for his appearance in the film Rocky III. McMahon signed Roddy Piper as Hogan's rival, and then shortly afterward Jesse Ventura as an announcer. Other wrestlers joined the roster, such as Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Junkyard Dog, Paul Orndorff, Greg Valentine, and Ricky Steamboat. Many of the wrestlers who would later join the WWF were former AWA or NWA talent.
The WWF would tour nationally in a venture that would require a huge capital investment, one that placed the WWF on the verge of financial collapse. The future of McMahon's experiment came down to the success or failure of McMahon's groundbreaking concept, WrestleMania. WrestleMania was a major success, and was (and still is) marketed as the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. The concept of a wrestling supercard was nothing new in North America; the NWA had begun running Starrcade a few years prior. In McMahon's eyes, however, what separated WrestleMania from other supercards was that it was intended to be accessible to those who did not watch wrestling. He invited celebrities such as Mr. T, Muhammad Ali, and Cyndi Lauper to participate in the event, as well as securing a deal with MTV to provide coverage. The event and hype surrounding it led to the term Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection, due to the cross-promotion of popular culture and professional wrestling.
The WWF business expanded significantly on the shoulders of McMahon and his babyface hero Hulk Hogan for the next several years. The introduction of Saturday Night's Main Event on NBC in 1985 marked the first time that professional wrestling had been broadcast on network television since the 1950s, when the now-defunct DuMont Television Network broadcast matches of Vince McMahon Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling Corporation. The 1980s "Wrestling Boom" peaked with the WrestleMania III pay-per-view at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987, which set an attendance record of 93,173, a record that stood for 29 years until WrestleMania 32. A rematch of the WrestleMania III main event between WWF champion Hulk Hogan and André the Giant took place on The Main Event I in 1988 and was seen by 33 million people, the most-watched wrestling match in North American television history.
In 1985, Titan moved its offices to Stamford, Connecticut, though the current building was built in 1981. Subsequently, a new Titan Sports, Inc. (originally WWF, Inc.) was established in Delaware in 1987 and was consolidated with the Massachusetts entity in February 1988.
The WWF was hit with allegations of steroid abuse and distribution in 1992. This was followed by allegations of sexual harassment by WWF employees the following year. McMahon was eventually exonerated, but the allegations brought bad public relations for the WWF, and an overall bad reputation. The steroid trial cost the company an estimated $5 million at a time of record low revenues. This helped drive many WWF wrestlers over to rival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW), including 1980s babyface hero Hulk Hogan. During this period, the WWF promoted wrestlers of a younger age comprising "The New Generation", featuring Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, and The Undertaker, in an effort to promote new talent into the spotlight.
In January 1993, the WWF debuted its flagship cable program Monday Night Raw. WCW countered in September 1995 with its own Monday night program, Monday Nitro, which aired in the same time slot as Raw. The two programs would trade wins in the ensuing ratings competition (known as the "Monday Night Wars") until mid-1996. At that point, Nitro began a nearly two-year ratings domination that was largely fueled by the introduction of the New World Order (nWo), a stable led by former WWF performers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall (the former Razor Ramon), and Kevin Nash (the former Diesel).
As the Monday Night Wars continued between Raw Is War and WCW's Nitro, the WWF would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult oriented product, known as the Attitude Era. The era was spearheaded by WWF VP Shane McMahon (son of owner Vince McMahon) and head writer Vince Russo.
1997 ended with McMahon facing real-life controversy following Bret Hart's controversial departure from the company, dubbed as the Montreal Screwjob. This proved to be one of several founding factors in the launch of the Attitude Era as well as the creation of McMahon's on-screen character, "Mr. McMahon".
Prior to the Montreal Screwjob, which took place at the 1997 Survivor Series, former WCW talent were being hired by the WWF, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind, and Vader. Austin was slowly brought in as the new face of the company despite being promoted as an antihero, starting with his "Austin 3:16" speech shortly after defeating Jake Roberts in the tournament finals at the King of the Ring pay-per-view in 1996.
On May 6, 1998, Titan Sports, Inc. was renamed World Wrestling Federation, Inc. It was renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. a year later.
On April 29, 1999, the WWF made its return to terrestrial television, airing a special program known as SmackDown! on the fledgling UPN network. The Thursday night show became a weekly series on August 26, 1999—competing directly with WCW's Thursday night program Thunder on TBS. In 2000, the WWF, in collaboration with television network NBC, announced the creation of the XFL, a new professional football league that debuted in 2001. The league had high ratings for the first few weeks, but initial interest waned and its ratings plunged to dismally low levels (one of its games was the lowest-rated prime-time show in the history of American television). NBC walked out on the venture after only one season, but McMahon intended to continue alone. However, after being unable to reach a deal with UPN, McMahon shut down the XFL.
On October 19, 1999, World Wrestling Federation, Inc. launched an initial public offering as a publicly traded company, trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with the issuance of stock then valued at $172.5 million. The company has traded on the NYSE since its launch under ticker symbol WWE.
By the fall of 1999, the Attitude Era had turned the tide of the Monday Night Wars into WWF's favor. After Time Warner merged with AOL, Ted Turner's control over WCW was considerably reduced, and the newly merged company announced a complete lack of interest in professional wrestling as a whole, and decided to sell WCW in its entirety. Although Eric Bischoff, whom Time Warner fired as WCW president in October 1999, was nearing a deal to purchase the company, in March 2001 McMahon acquired the rights to WCW's trademarks, tape library, contracts, and other properties from AOL Time Warner for a number reported to be around $7 million. Shortly after WrestleMania X-Seven, the WWF launched the Invasion storyline, integrating the incoming talent roster from WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). With this purchase, WWF now became by far the largest wrestling promotion in the world. The assets of ECW, which had folded after filing for bankruptcy protection in April 2001, were purchased by WWE in mid-2003.
On May 5, 2002, the World Wrestling Federation announced it was changing both its company name and the name of its wrestling promotion to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Although mainly caused by an unfavorable ruling in its dispute with the World Wildlife Fund regarding the "WWF" initialism, the company noted it provided an opportunity to emphasize its focus on entertainment.
On April 7, 2011, WWE, via the WWE Corporate website, announced that the company was ceasing use of the full name World Wrestling Entertainment and would henceforth refer to itself solely as WWE, making the latter an orphan initialism. This was said to reflect WWE's global entertainment expansion away from the ring with the ultimate goal of acquiring entertainment companies and putting a focus on television, live events, and film production. WWE noted that their new company model was put into effect with the relaunch of Tough Enough, being a non–scripted program (contrary to the scripted nature of professional wrestling) and with the launch of the WWE Network (at the time scheduled to launch in 2012; later pushed back to 2014). However, the legal name of the company remains as World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
In March 2002, WWE decided to create two separate rosters, with each group of wrestlers appearing on one of their main programs, Raw and SmackDown!, due to the overabundance of talent left over from the Invasion storyline. This was dubbed as the "brand extension".
Beginning in 2002 a draft lottery was held nearly every year to set the rosters, with the first draft to determine the inaugural split rosters, and subsequent drafts designed to refresh the rosters of each show. On May 26, 2006, WWE announced the relaunch of ECW as a third WWE brand. The new ECW program aired until February 16, 2010. All ECW wrestlers at that point became free agents that could sign either Raw or SmackDown.
Beginning with the August 29, 2011 episode of Raw, it was announced that Raw would feature talent from both Raw and SmackDown, and would be known as Raw Supershow (the "Supershow" suffix would be dropped on July 23, 2012). Championships previously exclusive to one show or the other were available for wrestlers from any show to compete for; the "Supershow" format would mark the end of the brand extension, as all programming and live events from when the original announcement was made until July 2016 featured the full WWE roster.
In 2013, the company built the sports medicine and training facility WWE Performance Center in east Orange County, Florida in partnership with Full Sail University from Winter Park, Florida. The training facility is targeted at career and athletic development for the company's wrestlers. Full Sail is also home base to WWE's NXT brand, which over the years has grown and expanded from a small developmental territory into a globally touring brand in its own right. On August 20, 2019, it was announced that NXT would have a weekly, live, two-hour show Wednesday nights on the USA Network (which began September 18), whereby NXT's designation as a third main roster brand became official.
Second brand split
On May 25, 2016, WWE announced a relaunch of the brand extension, billed as the "New Era". Following that announcement, Raw and SmackDown now each feature their own unique rosters, announcers, ring sets/ropes, and championships. A draft took place to determine which wrestlers would appear on what show. SmackDown also moved from Thursdays to Tuesday nights, which began on July 19 (the night of the aforementioned draft), and airs live instead of the previous pre-recorded format.
On November 29, 2016, WWE introduced a new program specifically for their cruiserweight division (wrestlers 205 lbs. and under) called WWE 205 Live. The program focuses exclusively on those wrestlers who qualify for the division. The cruiserweights – who first became a fixture in WWE with the Cruiserweight Classic tournament – were originally exclusive to the Raw brand at the onset of the 2016 brand extension, before landing their own brand (though select cruiserweights still also appear on Raw, as well as working on the NXT and SmackDown brands).
On December 15, 2016, it was announced that WWE was establishing a new WWE United Kingdom Championship, with the winner being decided by a 16-man tournament to air on WWE Network featuring wrestlers from the UK and Ireland during January 2017. WWE executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque said the eventual plan with the new title and tournament was to establish a UK-based brand with its own weekly TV show. The UK based brand - officially known as NXT UK - also has its own Women's Championship, and Tag Team Championship.
WWE currently has over 140 wrestlers (both male and female) under various forms of contract, and stages over 500 events a year around the world.
WWE uses a variety of special terms in promoting their product, such as describing the wrestling industry as sports entertainment. The fan base is referred to as "the WWE Universe". A wrestler is designated a "WWE Superstar", while retired wrestlers are described as "WWE Legends" (or "Hall of Famers" if they have been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame).
WWE Network and distribution deals
On February 24, 2014, WWE launched a 24/7 streaming network. The network includes past and present WWE shows, pay-per-views, and shows from the WWE Library. The network reached 1,000,000 subscribers on January 27, 2015 in less than one year of its launch, with WWE claiming that it was thus "the fastest-growing digital subscription service ever".
In May 2014, WWE and NBCUniversal agreed to a new contract that would see both Raw and SmackDown continue on NBC owned networks the USA Network and Syfy. In January 2016, SmackDown would change networks to the USA Network. The contract with NBCUniversal expires in 2019. On November 17, 2016, WWE and Sky Deutschland signed a multi-year agreement to distribute WWE's premier pay-per-view events and broadcast Raw and SmackDown Live on SKY Sports starting in April 2017. On April 10, 2017, WWE and DAZN, announced that Raw and SmackDown would be available live in Japan with Japanese commentary for the first time ever. On April 27, 2017, WWE and TV5, announced a new agreement to broadcast one-hour editions of SmackDown. On May 12, 2017, WWE and Saran Media, announced a new multi-year agreement to televise Raw and SmackDown. On July 10, 2017, WWE and AB 1, extended their partnership into its 18th year with a new, multi-year agreement to broadcast WWE programming. On July 20, 2017, WWE and SuperSport, announced a new, multi-year agreement to broadcast WWE programming live for the first time in more than 50 countries. On August 1, 2017, WWE and FOXTEL, extend their partnership into its 18th year with a new agreement to broadcast WWE programming. On August 8, 2017, WWE and Canal 1, a new agreement to broadcast One-hour editions of Raw and SmackDown. On August 16, 2017, WWE and Nine Network announced a broadcast agreement to air weekly one-hour versions of Raw and SmackDown. On August 24, 2017, WWE and Flow announced a multi-year agreement to televise WWE's flagship programmes Raw and SmackDown. On September 7, 2017, WWE and TVA Sports announced a multi-year agreement to air a weekly, one-hour only edition of Raw, in French in Canada. On October 24, 2017, WWE and Sport TV announced a multi-year agreement to air Raw and SmackDown. On December 15, 2017, WWE and IB SPORTS, they will extend their partnership with a new agreement to broadcast WWE programming live for the first time in South Korea. On December 18, 2017, WWE and SPS HD, announced an agreement to broadcast Raw and SmackDown on SPS Sports for the first time in Mongolia.
On December 13, 2017, WWE and Facebook announced a new Internet in-ring series called WWE Mixed Match Challenge that will stream live in the U.S. exclusively on Facebook Watch. Premiering on January 16, 2018, the 12-episode series will feature wrestlers from both the Raw and SmackDown rosters competing in a single-elimination mixed tag-team tournament to win $100,000 to support the charity of their choice. Each episode will be 20 minutes long and will air at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
WWE stock and corporate governance
On October 19, 1999, WWF, which had been owned previously by parent company Titan Sports, launched an initial public offering as a publicly traded company, trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with the issuance of stock then valued at $172.5 million. The company has traded on the NYSE since its launch under ticker symbol WWE.
The company has actively marketed itself as a publicly traded company through presentations at investor conferences and other investor relations initiatives. In June 2003, the company began paying a dividend on its shares of $0.04 per share. In June 2011, the company cut its dividend from $0.36 to $0.12. In 2014, concerns about the company's viability caused wide fluctuations in its share price.
As of 2018, the company's Board of Directors has nine members: Vince McMahon, the company's Chairman of the Board and CEO; Stuart U. Goldfarb, President of Fullbridge, Inc.; Patricia A. Gottesman, former President and CEO of Crimson Hexagon; Frank A. Riddick, III, CEO of Shale-Inland Group, Inc.; Jeffrey R. Speed, former Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Six Flags; Laureen Ong, former President of Travel Channel; Robyn W. Peterson, Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product, Mashable; Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer of WWE; and Paul "Triple H" Levesque, WWE's Executive Vice President of talent, live events, and creative.
WWE signs most of their talent to exclusive contracts, meaning talent can appear or perform only on WWE programming and events. They are not permitted to appear or perform for another promotion, unless special arrangements are made beforehand. WWE keeps all wrestlers' salary, employment length, benefits, and all other contract details strictly private.
WWE classifies its professional wrestlers as independent contractors and not as employees. A study by the University of Louisville Law Review found that after applying the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 20-factor test, 16 factors "clearly indicate that wrestlers are employees". However, as a result of WWE terming them as independent contractors, "the wrestlers are denied countless benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled".
The World Wrestling Federation had a drug-testing policy in place as early as 1987, initially run by an in-house administrator. In 1991, wrestlers were subjected to independent testing for anabolic steroids for the first time. The independent testing was ceased in 1996, being deemed too expensive as the company was going through financial duress at the time as a result of their competitors, World Championship Wrestling, being so overwhelmingly more popular and hurting the federation's business.
The Talent Wellness Program is a comprehensive drug, alcohol, and cardiac screening program initiated in February 2006, two months after the sudden death of one of their highest profile and most popular talents, Eddie Guerrero, who died at 38-years-old. The policy tests for recreational drug use and abuse of prescription medication, including anabolic steroids. Under the guidelines of the policy, talent is also tested annually for pre-existing or developing cardiac issues. The drug testing is handled by Aegis Sciences Corporation; the cardiac evaluations are handled by New York Cardiology Associates P.C. The Wellness Policy requires that all talent "under contract to WWE who regularly perform in-ring services as a professional sports entertainer" undergo testing; however, part-time competitors are exempt from testing.
After the double-murder and suicide committed by one of its performers, Chris Benoit, with a possible link to steroid abuse encouraged by WWE, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested that WWE turn over any material regarding its talent wellness policy.
In August 2007, WWE and its employees defended the program in the wake of several busts of illegal pharmacy that linked WWE performers to steroid purchases even after the policy was put into place. Ten professional wrestlers were suspended for violating the Wellness Policy after reports emerged they were all customers of Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Florida. According to a statement attributed to WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt, an eleventh wrestler was later added to the suspension list.
Because of the Wellness Policy, physicians were able to diagnose one of its performers with a heart ailment that would otherwise likely have gone unnoticed until it was too late. In August 2007, then-reigning United States Champion Montel Vontavious Porter (real name: Hassan Assad) was diagnosed with Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome, which can be potentially fatal if gone undiagnosed. The ailment was discovered while Assad was going through a routine Wellness Policy checkup.
Legal disputes and controversies
During the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. George Zahorian was thought to have routinely distributed steroids and other drugs to WWF wrestlers, supposedly with the approval of WWF owner Vince McMahon. In 1993, McMahon was indicted in federal court after the steroid controversy engulfed the promotion, forcing him to temporarily cede control of the WWF to his wife Linda. The case went to trial in 1994, where McMahon himself was accused of distributing steroids to his wrestlers. One notable prosecution witness was Nailz (real name: Kevin Wacholz), a former WWF performer who had been fired after a violent confrontation with McMahon. Nailz testified that McMahon had ordered him to use steroids, but his credibility was called into question during his testimony as he repeatedly stated that he "hated" McMahon. The jury would later acquit McMahon of the charges and he resumed his role in the day-to day operations of the WWF.
In 1996, Titan Sports, the parent company of the World Wrestling Federation, sued World Championship Wrestling (WCW) over WCW implying that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (Razor Ramon and Diesel) were invading WCW on the WWF's behalf. This led to a series of lawsuits filed by both companies as the Monday Night War heated up. The lawsuit went on for years, ending with a settlement in 2000. One of the terms gave then WWF the right to bid on WCW's assets if the company was liquidated. AOL Time Warner, the then parent company of WCW, cancelled WCW's television shows in March 2001 and sold the company assets to the WWF.
On May 23, 2012, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA, now Impact Wrestling) sued former employee Brian Wittenstein and WWE. The suit alleged that Wittenstein violated a non-disclosure agreement and shared confidential information with the WWE which represented a comparative advantage in negotiating with wrestling talent under contract with TNA. He was subsequently hired by WWE after which, TNA asserted that Wittenstein violated the agreement by downloading confidential TNA trade secrets and providing that information to WWE. Although WWE fired Wittenstein and alerted TNA officials as to the disclosure of the information, TNA claimed that WWE had access to the information for three weeks prior to disclosure and in this time, the WWE used secret contract information and attempted to poach their talent in violation of Tennessee's Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The lawsuit was formally withdrawn without prejudice, by the plaintiff, TNA, on January 15, 2013 under a "Notice of Voluntary Nonsuit" which offers no ruling on the merits of the suit and allows TNA to potentially refile at a later date.
On May 23, 1999, Owen Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event in a stunt that went wrong. WWF broke kayfabe by having television commentator Jim Ross repeatedly tell those watching live on pay-per-view that what had just transpired was not a wrestling angle or storyline and that Hart was hurt badly, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. While several attempts to revive him were made, he died from his injuries. The cause of death was later revealed to be internal bleeding from blunt force trauma. The WWF management controversially chose to continue the event. Later, Jim Ross announced the death of Hart to the home viewers during the pay-per-view, but not to the crowd in the arena. While the show did go on, it has never been released commercially by WWF Home Video. In 2014, fifteen years after his death, the WWE Network aired the event for the first time. A small photo tribute is shown before the start informing fans that Hart died during the original broadcast. All footage of Hart was edited out of the event. The statement reads: "In Memory of Owen Hart May 7, 1965 – May 23, 1999 who accidentally passed away during this broadcast." Four weeks after the event, the Hart family sued the WWF over how dangerous and poorly planned the stunt was, and that the harness system was defective. After over a year and a half into the case, a settlement was reached on November 2, 2000, which saw the WWF give the Hart family US$18 million.
In April 2000, USA Networks had filed a lawsuit against World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. in a bid to keep Raw is War and all WWF programming after the WWFE opened up a bidding a month prior. Viacom's proposed bid included a $30-million to $50-million equity investment in the company and carriage on broadcast, billboards and radio of both wrestling matches along with the then-launched XFL.
On June 27, 2000, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WWFE. The next day, Viacom won the rights to all WWF programming for $12.6 million including Raw is War on TNN/Spike TV, a revamped Sunday Night Heat on MTV and retained SmackDown! on UPN after the merger with CBS in 1999. The lawsuit centered on USA's contention that it did not have to match every aspect of a Viacom offer to satisfy a right of first refusal clause in its contract that allowed its deal with the WWFE to continue. In 2005, WWE's programming (excluding SmackDown!) moved back to USA Network (now owned by NBCUniversal) and maintains its relationship to this day.
In 1994, Titan Sports had entered into an agreement with the World Wide Fund for Nature (also trademarked WWF), an environmental organization, regarding Titan's use of the "WWF" acronym, which both organizations had been using since at least March 1979. Under the agreement, Titan had agreed to cease using the written acronym "WWF" in connection with its wrestling promotion, and to minimize (though not eliminate) spoken uses of "WWF" on its broadcasts, particularly in scripted comments. In exchange, the environmental group (and its national affiliates) agreed to drop any pending litigation against Titan, and furthermore agreed not to challenge Titan's use of the full "World Wrestling Federation" name or the promotion's then-current logo.
In 2000, the World Wide Fund for Nature sued World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. in the United Kingdom, alleging various violations of the 1994 agreement. The Court of Appeal agreed that the promotion company had violated the 1994 agreement, particularly in regards to merchandising. The last televised event to market the WWF logo was the UK-based pay-per-view Insurrextion 2002. On May 5, 2002, the company launched its "Get The F Out" marketing campaign and changed all references on its website from "WWF" to "WWE", while switching the URL from WWF.com to WWE.com. The next day, a press release announced the official name change from World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. to World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., or WWE, and the change was publicized later that day during a telecast of Raw, which was broadcast from the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
Following the name change, the use of the WWF "scratch" logo became prohibited on all WWE properties. Additionally, past references to the WWF trademark and initials in 'specified circumstances' became censored. Despite the litigation, WWE was still permitted use of the original WWF logo, which was used from 1979 through 1994 and had been explicitly exempted under the 1994 agreement, as well as the similar "New WWF Generation" logo, which was used from 1994 through 1998. Furthermore, the company could still make use of the full "World Wrestling Federation" and "World Wrestling Federation Entertainment" names without consequence. In 2003, WWE won a limited decision to continue marketing certain classic video games from THQ and Jakks Pacific that contained the WWF "scratch" logo. However, the packaging on those games had all WWF references replaced with WWE.
Starting with the 1,000th episode of Raw in July 2012, the WWF "scratch" logo is no longer censored in archival footage due to WWE reaching a new settlement with the World Wide Fund for Nature. In addition, the WWF initials are no longer censored when spoken or when written in plain text in archival footage. Since then, full-length matches and other segments featuring the WWF initials and "scratch" logo have been added to the WWE website and the WWE Classics on Demand service. This also includes WWE Home Video releases since October 2012, starting with the re-release of Brock Lesnar: Here Comes The Pain. Although the WWF initials and logo are no longer censored in archival footage, WWE cannot use the WWF initials or logo in any new, original footage, packaging, or advertising.
Harry "Slash" Grivas and Roderick Kohn filed a lawsuit against WWE in June 2003 due to the music being used for its programming and DVDs without consent or payment. It also asserted violation of the rights to original music used by ECW that WWE had been using during the Invasion storyline of 2001. The case was resolved on both sides with a settlement that saw WWE purchase the catalogue outright in January 2005.
In 1993, Jim Hellwig, known in the WWF as "The Ultimate Warrior", legally changed his name to the mononym Warrior. This one-word name appears on all legal documents pertaining to Warrior, and his children carry the Warrior name as their legal surname.
Warrior and the WWF engaged in a series of lawsuits and legal actions in 1996 and 1998, where both parties sought a declaration that they owned the characters, Warrior and Ultimate Warrior, under both contract and copyright law. The court ruled that Warrior was legally entitled to use the gimmick, costuming, face paint designs, and mannerisms of the "Warrior" character.
On September 27, 2005, WWE released a DVD documentary focusing on Warrior's retrospective wrestling career, titled The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior. The DVD featured clips of his more notable feuds and matches along with commentary from WWE stars past and present (most of which are unflattering). The DVD has provoked some controversy due to Warrior's own allegations of libel by WWE against him. Originally, Warrior was asked to help with the production of the DVD, but as he refused to work with WWE, there had been some resulting animosity between Warrior and WWE over the Warrior claiming bias on the part of WWE. In January 2006, Warrior filed another lawsuit against WWE in an Arizona court over the depiction of his wrestling career in The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD. On September 18, 2009, Warrior's lawsuit in Arizona was dismissed.
During Warrior's falling out with WWE, Warrior made comments that WWE has decided to not acknowledge. In 2005, Warrior went on a rant calling now former WWE announcer Todd Grisham a "queer". Warrior referred to Droz, a former WWF wrestler who fractured two discs in his neck and is quadriplegic, as a "cripple". He made comments about the victims of Hurricane Katrina referring to them as "poor, mostly black New Orleanians without cars." He condemned Martin Luther King Jr. Day, made disparaging remarks towards gays and lesbians, criticized Heath Ledger's parenting style after Ledger's death, and expressed rejoicing when Bobby Heenan was diagnosed with cancer.
Warrior returned to WWE to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. During his induction, he mentioned that WWE should create an award to honor those behind the scenes called the Jimmy Miranda Award, named after a long time WWE employee who died. Warrior died several days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. WWE decided to create the Warrior Award, an award for people "who embodied the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior." The award was later given to Connor Michalek (a child who died from cancer), Joan Lunden (a journalist who was diagnosed with cancer), and Eric LeGrand (a former college football player who became a quadriplegic after an in-game injury). In October 2017, WWE used the tagline "Unleash Your Warrior" when promoting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since Warrior's death, WWE has been accused of whitewashing and ignoring Warrior's bigoted and controversial past comments. Pro Wrestling Torch described Warrior in real-life having made public "vile, bigoted, hateful, judgmental comments", citing as an example that regarding Bobby Heenan's cancer diagnosis, Warrior said, "Karma is just a beautiful thing to behold." Vice wrote that "completely whitewashing his past and elevating his likeness to a bland symbol of corporate altruism is shockingly tone-deaf, especially for a company that's at least outwardly trying to appear progressive, inclusive and diverse."
Under Section 9.13(a) of WWE's booking contract, commonly known as the “morals clause”, the company has a zero-tolerance policy involving domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Upon arrest and conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent shall be immediately suspended and its contract terminated.
- On May 10, 1983, Jimmy Snuka, then 39 years old, girlfriend Nancy Argentino died in their hotel room, hours after Snuka defeating José Estrada at a WWF TV taping at the Lehigh County Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Snuka was arrested 32 years later on September 1, 2015, and charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for Argentino's death. This eventually led the WWE to suspend his Legends contract (a long-term deal to make infrequent, non-wrestling appearances) and removed his Hall of Fame page from its website. However, Snuka never stood trial due to his poor health, and he died on January 15, 2017.
- In June 2003, Eddie Fatu (then known as "Jamal" and later "Umaga") was released after his involvement in a bar fight.
- In the aftermath of Chris Benoit's murder of his wife, Nancy and his son, Daniel along with his suicide in June 2007, the WWE removed mentions of Benoit in its broadcasts and its merchandise.
- On November 30, 2012 Thomas Latimer, then known as Kenneth Cameron, was charged with battery of a law enforcement officer and disorderly intoxication in St. Petersburg, Florida which led him being released from his NXT contract by the WWE. Latimer had previously been arrested in January 2011 for driving under the influence.
- On December 10, 2017, Rich Swann was arrested in Gainesville, Florida on charges of battery and kidnapping/false imprisonment. The victim was identified as his wife. According to the arrest report, Swann and Riggs had gotten into an argument over Swann critiquing Riggs' performance at a show that night. When Riggs tried to get away from Swann, witnesses state that he grabbed her in a headlock and dragged her back into his car. WWE suspended Swann indefinitely and was released on February 15, 2018. He was originally scheduled to face Drew Gulak in a match to determine the number one contender to the Cruiserweight Championship, Enzo Amore, the following night on Raw, but the match was cancelled in light of his domestic violence arrest.
- On January 22, 2018, the Phoenix Police Department confirmed that Eric Arndt (Enzo Amore) was under investigation for an alleged sexual assault that was reported to authorities in October 2017. Later that day, Arndt was suspended by WWE due to violating their zero tolerance policy for matters involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. WWE released a statement indicating that he would remain suspended until the matter was resolved. In an interview on January 23, a woman accused Arndt of raping her in a Phoenix, Arizona, hotel room on October 19, 2017. As a result, his scheduled title defense against Cedric Alexander at the Royal Rumble was cancelled. Amore was fired from WWE the next day and the title was vacated. On Twitter, Arndt "fully and unequivocally" denied the allegations against him. On May 16, 2018, the Phoenix Police Department ceased their investigation due to insufficient evidence.
Expansion beyond wrestling
In addition to licensing wrestling and performers' likenesses to companies such as Acclaim, THQ, 2K Sports, and Mattel to produce video games and action figures, WWE has branched out into other areas of interest in order to market their product.
- WCW Inc.: created in 2000 as W. Acquisition Company – owns the rights to the video library and intellectual property for World Championship Wrestling.
- WWE Archives: Warehouses where WWE holds classic wrestling gears, props, and equipment.
- WWE Books: publishes biographies of and on WWE personalities, behind-the-scenes guides to WWE, illustrated books, calendars, young adult books, and other general nonfiction books.
- WWE Home Video: specializes in distributing compilation VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray Disc copies of WWE pay-per-view events, compilations of WWE wrestlers' performances, and biographies of WWE performers.
- WWE Jet Services, Inc.: formed in 2013 to manage the financing and operations of the company's fleet of private jets.
- WWE Legacy Department: a collection of professional wrestling videos and copyrights for other promotions.
- WWE Music Group: specializes in compilation albums of WWE wrestlers' entrance themes. The group also releases titles that have been performed by WWE wrestlers.
- WWE Magazine: the magazine is released for special issues. It was originally released monthly until 2014.
- WWE Network: a subscription-based video streaming service launched in 2014 using the infrastructure of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
- WWE Performance Center: serves as the training and performance center for future employees.
- WWE Podcast Network: a podcast network that will feature several WWE Superstars hosting their own podcast. WWE is partnering with Endeavor Audio.
- WWE UK Performance Center: serves as the training center for future employees located in the United Kingdom.
- WWEShop.com: a website established as the place to buy officially licensed WWE related apparel, gear, and other merchandise.
- WWE Studios: created in 2002 to create and develop feature film properties. In November 2017, WWE announced WWE Studios will now include scripted, non-scripted, family and animated television and digital content. Formerly known as WWE Films.
- World Bodybuilding Federation: a subsidiary of Titan Sports launched in 1990 which promoted professional bodybuilding through a television show, magazine, and annual pay-per-view events. It was closed in 1992.
- Radio WWF: a syndicated radio station that began in 1993. The main hosts were Jim Ross and Johnny Polo until Ross' firing. The station featured shows that would speak about on different topics in the then WWF and beyond the scenes incidents. Radio WWF would feature commentary from two pay-per-views. Radio WWF would not last that long after 1993.
- Wrestle Vessel: a WWF theme cruise. Wrestlers were on the cruise to entertain the guests with many activities. The cruise ran from 1996 to 1999.
- XFL: folded in 2001, was a partially owned subsidiary of WWF launched in 2000 which comprised eight league-owned professional football teams. The league included television broadcasts on NBC (the other co-owners of the league), UPN, and TNN.
- The World Entertainment: a subsidiary of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment that operated a restaurant, night club, and memorabilia shop in New York City. It opened as "WWF New York" in 1999, was renamed as "The World", and closed in 2003. Hard Rock Cafe took over the location in 2005.
- WWE Niagara Falls: was a retail store located in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. The store featured autograph signings and appearances by WWE Superstars, legends, and Hall of Famers. It opened in 2002 and closed in 2011.
- WWE Classics on Demand: a subscription video on demand television service provided by WWE. It had footage from WWE's archive footage, including World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, and more. It offered around 40 hours of rotating programming per month, arranged into four programming buckets, often centered on a specific theme. It premiered in 2004 and lasted until 2014 when WWE Network was launched.
- WWE Kids: a website and comic set aimed at the children's end of the wrestling market, comics were produced bi-monthly. It was launched on April 15, 2008 and discontinued in 2014, the same year WWE Magazine discontinued as a monthly publication.
- WWE Universe (WWE Fan Nation): a social media website managed and operated by WWE. The original name was WWE Fan Nation. It lasted from November 2008 to January 2011.
In March 2015, WWE announced a partnership with Authentic Brands Group to relaunch Tapout, formerly a major MMA-related clothing line, as a more general "lifestyle fitness" brand. The apparel, for men and women, was first released in spring of 2016. WWE markets the brand through various products, including beverages, supplements, and gyms. WWE will hold a 50% stake in the brand, and so will advertise it regularly across all its platforms, hoping to give it one billion impressions a month, and take some of the fitness market from Under Armour. WWE wrestlers and staff have been shown wearing various Tapout gear since the venture began.
In 1997, WWE established a real estate brokerage and investment firm called TSI Realty Company.
- Tout: Tout is a social media 15-second video service. In 2012, WWE invested $5,000,000 and entered into a two-year partnership. Stephanie McMahon was named apart of the Tout Board of Directors. The agreement between the two companies ended in 2014.
- Marvel Experience: Marvel Experience was an interactive live event featuring Marvel characters. WWE invested in it in 2013.
- Phunware: creates mobile apps for businesses. WWE invested in it in 2014. WWE uses Phunware for their app.
- FloSports: FloSports is an over-the-top sport streaming service that WWE originally invested into it in 2016. In 2019, WWE once again invested into FloSports. The sports that are available include: amateur wrestling, professional wrestling, track, grappling, mixed martial arts, boxing, softball, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, volleyball, cheerleading, and eSports.
- Avid Technology: Avid Texchnology is a technology and multimedia company. It specializes in audio and video; specifically, digital non-linear editing systems, management and distribution services. WWE invested in it in 2016.
- Drone Racing League: Drone Racing League is a league that remote-controlled lightweight aircraft races as a spectator sport. WWE invested in it in 2017.
- Cloud9: is an eSports organization, which has teams compete in many different video games including a WWE sponsor, Rocket League. WWE invested in it in 2017.
- DraftKings: WWE is an investor in the fantasy sports site.
- Alpha Entertainment: is a limited liability company that was established in 2018 by Vince McMahon for the purpose of being the parent company and for funding the new XFL. McMahon stated that the XFL would remain as a separate company. It was revealed through WWE's 2018 10-K, that WWE holds a minority stake in the XFL's parent company.
- WWE has had a partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation that spans three decades. Multi-time WWE champion John Cena has granted more wishes than any other celebrity in history, having completed his 500th wish in August 2015.
- In 2011, WWE launched anti-bulling campaign, Be A S.T.A.R (Show Tolerance and Respect). The campaign targets children. The campaign consists of an interactive ceremony with WWE Superstars visits children at their schools and lecture the children on bullying.
- Since 2012, WWE has partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to raise awareness of breast cancer during the month of October. Their partnership includes offering special charity-related wrestler merchandise, as well as adding a pink color scheme to the sets and ring ropes; 20% of all October purchases of WWE merchandise go to the organization.
- Since 2012, WWE has partnered with Hire Heroes USA to donate and implement a veterans hiring initiatives through WWE's partners. Multiple times a year, WWE hosts a panel for companies and veterans to come together and discuss career opportunities.
- In June 2014, Connor's Cure – a non-profit charitable organization – was established by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who have personally funded it through the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation. It is named in honor of Pittsburgh native Connor Mason Michalek (October 17, 2005 – April 25, 2014) who had died two months earlier from medulloblastoma, a rare tumor that affects the brain and spinal cord. Beginning in 2015, WWE began recognizing September as Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, adding a gold color scheme to the sets and ring ropes, and offering special Connor's Cure merchandise, with the proceeds going to charity.
- In 2014, WWE entered into an international partnership with the Special Olympics.
- In 2016, WWE entered into a multiyear agreement with Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Though an infrequent occurrence, during its history WWE has worked with other wrestling promotions in collaborative efforts.
During the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, WWE had working relationships with the Japanese New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), Universal Lucha Libre (FULL), and the Mexican Universal Wrestling Association (UWA). These working relationships led to the creations of the WWF World Martial Arts, Light Heavyweight and Intercontinental Tag Team championships.
During the period of 1992–1996, WWE had talent exchange agreements with the United States and Japanese independent companies Smokey Mountain Wrestling (SMW), Super World of Sports (SWS), WAR, and the United States Wrestling Association (USWA).
In 1997, WWE would also do business with Japan's Michinoku Pro Wrestling (MPW), bringing in MPW talent to compete in the company's light heavyweight division and in their 1997 Light Heavyweight Championship tournament.
In 2016, WWE partnered with England's Progress Wrestling with Progress hosting qualifying matches for WWE's Cruiserweight Classic. In 2017, Progress talent would participate in the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament and at WWE's WrestleMania Axxess events.
In 2017, WWE partnered with Scotland's Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) with some ICW talent appearing in the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament and at WWE's WrestleMania Axxess events. WWE has also explored a deal to bring ICW programming onto the WWE Network.
Throughout the company's history, WWE has had past arrangements with independent companies from the contiguous United States (such as Ohio Valley Wrestling among others) and Puerto Rico (such as the International Wrestling Association) with the companies serving as developmental territories.
Championships and accomplishments
- Note – The WWE Women's Tag Team Championship and the WWE 24/7 Championship can also be defended on Raw as they are shared among the brands
- Note – The WWE Women's Tag Team Championship and the WWE 24/7 Championship can also be defended on SmackDown as they are shared among the brands
- Note – The WWE Women's Tag Team Championship and the WWE 24/7 Championship can also be defended on NXT as they are shared among the brands
- Note – The WWE 24/7 Championship can also be defended on 205 Live as it is shared among the brands
- Note – The WWE Women's Tag Team Championship and WWE 24/7 Championship can also be defended on NXT UK as they are shared among the brands
- Note – The WWE 24/7 Championship may change hands anywhere and anytime as long as a referee is present.