Lowell Weicker, the McMahons’ Most Powerful Pal, Leaves WWE Board

The McMahons of Greenwich suffer fools but not dissidents. Lowell Weicker, the former Connecticut senator and governor who helped buff the image of the then World Wrestling Federation in its hour of greatest need in the 1990s, and was a charter board member of the publicly traded World Wrestling Entertainment, has parted ways with WWE.

See the report by Hearst’s Neil Vigdor, “The breakup: Weicker to leave the board of WWE,” http://www.greenwichtime.com/default/article/The-break-up-Weicker-to-leave-the-board-of-WWE-1342526.php.

Weicker’s association with Vince and Linda McMahon, originally through the Connecticut branch of the Special Olympics, was of no small importance when the wrestling company was reeling from sex and drug scandals, which culminated in Vince’s acquittal at a 1994 federal trial on charges of conspiracy to distribute steroids to his performers.

But Weicker, a quirky Republican-Independent and a friend of fellow ex-Senator Chris Dodd, refused to endorse Linda McMahon in her own Senate run last year, either before or after Dodd announced he was standing down. In a New York Times Magazine article about the Richard Blumenthal-McMahon Senate race, Weicker was quoted as brutally, if accurately, dismissing the state Republican Party as a “non-entity.”

I do not yet have inside information on what precipitated Weicker’s departure from the WWE board, but I do know that this is a corporation that, more than most, likes to speak with a single voice. Several years ago another highly respected board member, Bob Bowman – who is credited with building Major League Baseball’s new media operations – left the WWE board shortly after public comments critical of the company’s drug-testing policies.

The Weicker resignation comes at a moment of unusual volatility for WWE even by its standards. In January the chief operating officer, Donna Goldsmith, resigned; she was seen as a steadying balance to the mercurial ways of Vince, who has been CEO as well as chairman since Linda relinquished the former post to pursue her political career.

WWE, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, also has taken a hit in its stock price in the face of evidence that pay-per-view business, in particular, is declining. (Numbers aren’t yet in for the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania, which took place two weeks ago.) Wall Street analysts grumble that the property was propped up by artificially high and unsustainable dividends.

Most recently, Vince announced the rebranding of World Wrestling Entertainment as “WWE,” an all-purpose entertainment and media conglomerate. He has banned the utterance of the word “wrestling” even by his wrestlers, and had the PR department badger journalists who didn’t go along with the program.

McMahon’s new vision for WWE includes taking on debt to buy other entertainment companies and leverage WWE’s presence on Madison Avenue and in Hollywood – which is substantial but, mostly because of perceived downscale demographics, not commensurate with its success as the USA cable network’s flagship producer of original programming.

The Weicker-McMahon split figures in some way in the general turmoil these days at Titan Tower in Stamford. Exactly how is a question I can’t yet answer.

 

Irv Muchnick

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