As other companies distance themselves from Saudi Arabia after the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the WWE has said its Crown Jewel pay-per-view event will take place in the country as scheduled.
The company, which had previously said it was “monitoring the situation,” confirmed its plans to go ahead in its quarterly earnings, released before the opening bell Thursday morning.
“Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, [WWE] faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh,” the company said. “Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.”
WWE didn’t offer any other insight into its decision making process on its earnings call with analysts Thursday morning.
“We’re not going talk a lot about that today,” said Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of WWE. “It’s a pretty sensitive subject. Our statement said all we wanted to say.”
At the heart of the decision was finance. The company’s 2018 full year guidance is based on the income that will be generated at the Crown Jewel event. The company struck a 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia earlier this year that wrestling reporter Dave Meltzer says is valued at $450 million.
WWE and Saudi Arabia teamed up earlier this year for the “Greatest Royal Rumble,” selling out the 60,000-seat King Abdullah International Stadium. “Crown Jewel” is set to be the second in a long-term partnership between the company and the kingdom. The company has booked several matches to draw in not only current fans, but those from eight to 10 years ago, with legendary stars like Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker.
Earlier this week, Hulk Hogan, who the company fired in 2015 after an audio tape surfaced of him using racist language, told The Orland Sentinel he was “looking forward to going to Saudi Arabia with the WWE.”
The WWE’s decision comes on the same day a Saudi prosecutor said Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated. The company did give itself a little wiggle room, noting later in earnings it was “continuing to monitor ongoing developments in the region.”
That was little comfort for fans, who protested the decision on social media.
Many WWE wrestlers are said to be uncomfortable with the idea of performing in the country, given its human rights track record and the current controversy, but none of the advertised performers, so far, publicly said they would not attend.