Trump Economic Team Includes WWE’s Vince McMahon, Raising Conflict Of Interest Questions

KEY POINTS

  • Vince McMahon was one of several figures from the sports world named as part of President Trump’s coronavirus economic recovery team
  • The announcement followed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis naming professional sports, including the WWE, as essential businesses in the state
  • It was also reported that a pro-Trump super PAC run by Linda McMahon in Florida pledged over $18 million in the Tampa and Orlando areas after DeSantis’ announcement

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Vince McMahon was named as one of several figures in sports and live event businesses who will serve on President Trump’s Great American Economic Revival Industry Group. The White House issued an official statement on its website Monday, outlining who else will be serving on the group that will advise President Trump on when to reopen the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today, President Donald J. Trump announced many of the esteemed executives, economists, scholars, and industry leaders who together will form various Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups.  These bipartisan groups of American leaders will work together with the White House to chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity.  The health and wealth of America is the primary goal, and these groups will produce a more independent, self-sufficient, and resilient Nation,” the statement read.

McMahon, 74, was listed under the sports category that includes NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, UFC President Dana White, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

The decision to include McMahon may raise some red flags, considering the long business history between McMahon and Trump dating back to the 1980s and the influence the McMahon family has had with the Trump administration.

Trump’s business history with McMahon started in 1988 when the former was named the “sponsor” of Wrestlemania IV, which was held at the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall across the street from the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. The partnership continued into 1989 as Wrestlemania V was held at the same location; the first and only time WWE has held a Wrestlemania at the same location in back-to-back years.

“I just wanted a piece of it,” Trump said in “The True Story of Wrestlemania” documentary. “Everybody in the country wanted this event, and we were able to get it.”

He would appear sporadically on WWE television in crowds at shows throughout the years, but his next major dealing with McMahon and WWE would come in 2007. Trump was brought onto TV to work a storyline with McMahon leading into Wrestlemania 23 in the “Battle of the Billionaires.” It culminated at the show when wrestler Bobby Lashley, Trump’s chosen wrestler, defeated Umaga, McMahon’s chosen wrestler. The result meant McMahon had to shave his head, as per an earlier agreement.

Trump would ultimately be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame’s celebrity wing in 2013.

That partnership has been beneficial for Trump behind the scenes, as well, as Vince, and his wife, Linda McMahon, were among his most notable donors during the 2016 presidential election. Linda McMahon would later be nominated and then serve as the Administrator of the Small Business Administration from 2017 to 2019.

“Linda McMahon’s nomination to head the Small Business Administration will have no impact on WWE’s business operations as she has not held a position with the company since 2009 and does not have a controlling interest in the company, owning less than 2 percent of WWE’s stock,” a WWE spokesperson said at the time of her nomination.

Linda McMahon would leave the administration in April 2019 to serve as chairman of the pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action.

Some reports have speculated that the McMahon family’s tied have played a role in WWE being named an essential business in Florida by Gov. Ron DeSantis, leading to concerns over possible conflicts of interest.

Jon Alba and Stephanie Coueignoux, reporters for Spectrum News 13 in Orlando, put together a timeline of events in Florida starting from April 1, when DeSantis issued a statewide shelter-in-place order. It would be changed on April 9 so professional sports, including WWE, could hold events in Florida so long as they were closed to the general public.

“People are chomping at the bit,” DeSantis told reporters Monday. “If you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.”

The same day as DeSantis’ amendment, Linda McMahon’s super PAC pledged to spend $18.5 million in the Tampa and Orlando areas as part of the 2020 general election. WWE then announced on April 10 that it would return to running live TV from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.

Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Mike Bianchi suggested that the decision is not a coincidence.

“It’s certainly no secret that DeSantis and President Donald Trump are strong allies and it’s also common knowledge that Trump and Vince McMahon, the chairman and owner of WWE, are strong allies,” Bianchi wrote in a column Tuesday.

Why is #WWE now considered an “essential business” in Florida? Maybe because the most powerful man in the country – @realDonaldTrump – is in the WWE Hall of Fame and #VinceMcMahon is is huge financial backer of the #POTUS. . My column: https://t.co/HZ7NpfW0MD pic.twitter.com/D1jIeOlVZT

— Mike Bianchi (@BianchiWrites) April 15, 2020

WWE’s TV contracts with Fox and USA may have played a part in going back to shooting live.

“Contracts with both NBC Universal and Fox call for a certain number of shows per year that can be taped,” the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer said. “For Raw, that number is three which, at the start of the year, was earmarked for one show over Christmas week and two shows during European tours. In theory, that would leave them with 49 live Raws. Fox has a similar deal.”

WWE’s TV deal with Fox for “SmackDown,” alone, is worth $2.35 billion and serves as one of WWE’s primary sources of income. Its controversial 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia is another major source, reportedly worth almost $500 million.

Meltzer said there was fear within the company that if it kept producing pre-taped shows, the networks could use it as leverage to change the deals or back out completely. This led to WWE’s decision to continue going live, but it wasn’t clear if it was WWE’s decision alone or if there was pressure from the networks.

Meltzer also speculated that the XFL, which was owned by Vince McMahon, could be playing a part in this, as the professional football league on Monday filed for Chapter 11 in Delaware. Vince McMahon had reportedly set aside around $300 million for the football league to help cover TV, employee, and stadium expenses for the first three years while networks like ESPN aired games for free. The reported intention was that ratings would be strong enough after three years that McMahon could negotiate a lucrative TV deal for the league, similar to WWE.

Meltzer said Wall Street sources knew Vince McMahon hadn’t spent all of the money and had “screwed” partners. The XFL reportedly owes around $15 million to several creditors, as well.

At the White House press conference Tuesday, Trump announced the names of the panel of advisers, and referred to Vince McMahon as “the great Vince McMahon.”

#WWE now considered an “essential business” in Florida. Gives the appearance of conflict of interest since @Linda_McMahon wife of the @WWE CEO runs a @realDonaldTrump SuperPac! Will resume tapings despite employee testing positive for #coronavirus https://t.co/8zRvZFzDPr #WWERaw

— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) April 14, 2020

Always good to see @POTUS supporting wrestling @realDonaldTrump @VinceMcMahon @Linda_McMahon @WWE @WWEUniverse @TripleH @StephMcMahon pic.twitter.com/NwYCo774wP

— Frank the Tank (@TribeFan1988) February 20, 2017

Vince McMahon Vince McMahon is the chairman and CEO of WWE. In this picture, McMahon is introduced during the WWE Monday Night Raw show at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Aug. 24, 2009. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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