For weeks, WWE had only said it was “monitoring the situation” in Saudi Arabia ahead of its scheduled event in Riyadh on November 2. The “situation,” of course, is the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, on top of the kingdom’s plethora of human-rights violations, including but definitely not limited to its conduct in the war in Yemen. I guess they’re done monitoring.
In WWE’s Q3 earnings release this morning, there is what will apparently stand as the company’s official statement on Crown Jewel, as next week’s show is called.
WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base. Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh. Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event. Full year 2018 guidance is predicated on the staging of the Riyadh event as scheduled.
In other words, the Saudis are paying a shit-ton of money to host this show, and it’d be bad business to turn it down. (The WWE is in the first year of a 10-year deal with the kingdom, which kicked off with April’s Greatest Royal Rumble event in Jeddah. The details of the contract aren’t public, but reports are that WWE is paid as much as $50 million per show.)
In a conference call with investors today, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon declined to talk about the decision, and that the press release is the extent of what the company wants to say about it for now. To a follow-up question, WWE Co-President George Barrios said the company would not make any decisions on future events in Saudi Arabia until the next fiscal quarter, when the company will finalize its plans for 2019.
A whole host of individuals and businesses have distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder, though, of course, many more have not. Next Friday’s Crown Jewel event, along with the ongoing Future Investment Initiative conference, marks one of the most visible international events to take place in the kingdom. And it’s a big show, even by WWE standards: it’ll feature an eight-man “World Cup” tournament, a match for the vacant Universal Championship, and a return to the ring by Shawn Michaels, who retired from competition in 2010. And, of course, it’ll all be excellent international PR for Saudi Arabia, which must be relieved by today’s statement confirming that the kingdom will be getting what it paid for.