If World Wrestling Entertainment were to abandon its long-term deal with Saudi Arabia, that move could dent the company’s 2019 operating income by between $12 million and $16 million, according to a report from a Wall Street analyst.
Eric Handler of MKM Partners maintains a buy rating on the stock, with a 12-month price target of $95. It closed today’s trading session at $83.98, down a fraction. Handler estimates a decision to delay or cancel the wrestling circuit’s November 2 “Crown Jewel” event in Saudi Arabia, or move it out of the country, could cause a $2 million-$3 million hit to fourth-quarter cash flow.
One option could be to hold the event under the same name but not in Saudi Arabia, which remains under the international microscope after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Handler says that scenario gained credence after ads aired on the WWE’s Monday Night Raw telecast touting the upcoming event but not specifying a location.
The WWE has said only that it is monitoring the situation, which Handler calls a “conundrum” despite his overall bull view of the stock. It is one of many media entities re-evaluating ties to Saudi Arabia. Several media and finance figures have withdrawn from a conference scheduled for next week in the country, a gathering nicknamed Davos in the Desert.
“WWE has been quiet,” Handler wrote. The Raw promotional tactic “leads us to believe management is exploring the possibility of moving the event outside the country,” he added.
Were the company to go beyond the Crown Jewel event and walk away from its 10-year, multi-platform partnership, the hit to 2019 operating income would range from $12 million-$16 million, Handler estimates. He called that “not an inconsequential number, but far less impactful than WWE’s new TV contracts” with networks including Fox.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund took a minority stake in Deadline and Variety owner PMC earlier this year for a reported $200 million.