World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) recently signed a 10-year $450 million deal to host events within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The deal initially received tepid critique from those questioning the company doing business with a nation known for committing a slew of human rights violations, especially when they did not need the extra revenue. The company posted strong financials during the first quarter of 2018.
Second quarter financials were stronger with WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble event held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia providing the company a significant boost. WWE Chief Executive Officer and Chairmen made mention of the deal when commenting on the quarterly report:
We’re pleased with our continued success in increasing the monetization of WWE content globally. This success is evidenced by the completion of our new U.S. distribution agreements with USA Network and Fox Sports, the staging of another record-breaking WrestleMania, and the development of a 10-year strategic partnership with the Saudi General Sports Authority.
None of the sports entertainment companies female wrestlers were allowed to perform on the card, directly leading company officials to book the first ever all-women WWE show entitled WWE Evolution. While Paul Levesque, Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative defended the decision; several fans were upset with what many saw to be a Saudi Arabia propaganda airing during the Greatest Royal Rumble. Dan McQuade of Deadspin reports, “The most depressing part of the show was the amount of Saudi propaganda sprinkled throughout. WWE has never been able to be subtle, and Michael Cole and the announcing crew spent the entire card talking up Mohammed Bin Salman, who is far from the progressive reformer he makes himself out to be, and the great Saudi government. The show was essentially a five-hour propaganda tribute to the House of Saud.”
The disappearance and expected murder of Saudi Arabian Washington Post columnist, journalist and United States resident, Jamal Khashoggi prior to WWE returning to Saudi Arabia on November 2nd for WWE Crown Jewel, has garnered the company negative publicity. Currently, available evidence suggests Saudi Arabian officials murdered Khashoggi while he was inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
While the Saudi ruling family denies harming Khashoggi; Turkish newspaper Sabah report of Khashoggi’s disappearance, “…interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud,” Turkish sources told Reuters they believe Khashoggi was lost his life due to his critique of the Saudi government, especially Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Some question the manner in which Turkey came about this information, disbelieving the technology Khashoggi had in his possession had the capability to record such an attack.
Sounds fishy to me. Bluetooth doesn’t work over that distance and Apple Watches don’t have fingerprint identification. This looks like a plausible-sounding cover story put out by the Turks so they don’t have to admit that they bugged the Saudi consulate! https://t.co/hoqGvcOznF
— Tom Standage (@tomstandage) October 13, 2018
Such bug would explain why Turkish authorities specifically state the journalist was dismembered. However, despite mounting evidence of wrongdoing by the Saudi government, WWE has claimed they are ‘monitoring the situation’ in response to calls to cancel the Crown Jewel event.
Khashoggi was banned from Saudi Arabia several years ago after being an outspoken critic of US President Donald Trump. A Middle East Eye, December 2016 report reads:
Saudi authorities banned journalist Jamal Khashoggi from writing in newspapers, appearing on TV and attending conferences, the Alkhalij Aljadid reported in Arabic. This came after Khashoggi’s remarks during a presentation he made at a Washington think-tank on 10 November in which he was critical of Donald Trump’s ascension to the US presidency.
According to Bloomberg, US intelligent services intercepted communication from Saudi Arabia discussing plans to kidnap Khashoggi, yet there is no confirmation of Khashoggi ever being made aware of the plot against him — adding another layer of controversy to the international incident. President Trump’s current refusal to cease selling weapons to Saudi Arabia brings the role of Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration and former CEO of WWE into question, as she could facilitate communication between the President and WWE officials. It’s likely due to the President’s public statements that WWE will not receive pressure from the White House to cancel business dealings with Saudi Arabia, despite bipartisan outcry from US Senators.
According to Bryan Alvarez of Wrestling Observer, “I can’t speak for everybody on the WWE roster. I haven’t talked to everybody on the WWE roster but I can tell you that a lot of the people that are scheduled to go to Saudi Arabia, they don’t want to go to Saudi Arabia. In fact, the majority of the talent doesn’t want to go to Saudi Arabia but the office wants to go to Saudi Arabia and they have shareholders that they want to please with all of these big money deals that they’re getting. We’ll see what happens.”
A vocal portion of WWE’s fanbase are also upset with the companies handling of the situation, many questioning the multiple human rights atrocities carried out by the kingdom: including beheading and stoning individuals for little to no cause. Blogger and journalist Mark Aldrich has covered Saudi Arabia for several years, highlighting human rights abuses.
WWE and general fan of professional wrestling Denny Hart gave the following statement when asked about the relationship between WWE and Saudi Arabia:
If WWE were to cancel Crown Jewel and continue their business relationship with Saudi Arabia in upcoming years, they would likely continue receiving critique from their fanbase. The company would likely face an international public relations disaster by holding the show in November, especially if they choose to praise the royal family as they did earlier in the year.