World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) - Get World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Class A Report spent roughly 20 years without any major national competition. Yes, lots of secondary and global players with minor network cable shows existed and a few global brands held sway in their native countries, but in the United States, WWE had the market to itself.
That's a position the company has long fought to protect. The company, which has been led by Vince MacMahon, since it went public (though his wife, Linda, held the CEO title for many years) has always been aggressive when it came to keeping potential rivals from growing.
That has included using its vast financial resources to lock up the best available talent sometimes just to keep them from rivals. It has also involved using its clout to keep rival promotions from having access to the top-tier buildings in markets where WWE runs live shows.
Now, one smaller promotion, Major League Wrestling (MLW) has filed an antitrust lawsuit against WWE citing WWE’s “ongoing attempts to undermine competition in and monopolize the professional wrestling market by interfering with MLW’s contracts and business prospects,” Sports Illustrated reports.
What Is MLW Suing WWE Over?
MLW alleges that WWE has pressured third parties to abandon contracts and not do business with the smaller pro wrestling group. That includes two specific deals, according to SI (which is also published by TheStreet parent company The Arena Group).
- MLW claims that WWE nixed a deal it had signed with streaming platform Tubi that “would have been transformative” for the promotion. Tubi is owned by Fox (FOXA) - Get Fox Corporation Class A Report, which is one of WWE’s major television partners.
Additionally, the company alleges that in early 2021, when MLW was in talks with Vice TV to air programming, a then-WWE executive warned Vice TV that Vince McMahon was “pissed” about Vice airing MLW programming and that Vice TV should stop working with MLW.
“WWE has been wrongfully depriving its competitors of critical opportunities for many years, but its latest conduct has been even more unconscionable,” said MLW CEO Court Bauer in a statement. “I think we speak for the rest of the professional wrestling world when we say that this anti-competitive behavior has to stop.”
WWE Faces a Rising Competitor in AEW
MLW exists on the fringes of the mainstream. It's in competition to be the number four pro wrestling brand behind WWE; AEW, which is owned by the Khan family that also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars; Sinclair Broadcasting's Ring of Honor (ROH); and Impact, which airs on AXS TV.
All Elite Wrestling (AEW), the Khan family's promotion, however, has emerged as true competition for WWE. That company has multiple shows airing on TBS and TNT, both top-tier cable stations owned by AT&T's (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report WarnerMedia.
WWE was aggressive in trying to thwart AEW's growth as well. McMahon's company greeted the launch of AEW a little over two years ago by signing up more talent than it couple possibly use and moving its NXT television show to Wednesday night on USA Network (a Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report property) so it would air head-to-head with AEW's "Dynamite" on TNT.
That move failed and AEW has become the first real rival to WWE since the collapse of WarnerMedia-owned World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 2001.
Now, WWE, which has delivered record profits, faces a real competitor in AEW and emboldened upstarts including MLW, which has sued because it wants a chance to compete.
McMahon's company has denied MLW's allegations.
"WWE believes these claims have no merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against them,” the company said in a statement to Wrestlenomics.
McMahon has also downplayed AEW's place in the business and has denied seeing the company as competition.
"Well, it certainly is not a situation where 'rising tides' because that was when [WCW owner] Ted Turner was coming after us with all of Time Warner's assets as well. That was a different situation. AEW is where they are. I don't really know what their plans are, all I know is what our plans are," he told WrestlingInc. "I don't consider them competition in the way that I would consider WCW back in the day, not anywhere near close to that."