WWE Stock Falters on O’Neil Suspension, OTT Miss

World Wrestling Entertainment stock has taken a hit over the past few days in the wake of a 60-day suspension of an African-American wrestler who playfully grabbed CEO Vince McMahon’s arm briefly during a telecast, and a drop in subscribers at its online service WWE Network.

The twitter-verse lit up Wednesday night after WWE suspended wrestler Titus O’Neil for what it called “unprofessional conduct” after the wrestler grabbed McMahon’s arm during a taping of WWE’s Monday Night Raw in Seattle. The incident was not shown on the official broadcast – subscribers to its WWE Network were able to catch a glimpse though – and after news of the suspension hit, several versions of the video were widely available on the Internet. 

Many fans saw the suspension – initially a 90-day suspension that was reduced by 30 days – as a racist move by the controversial CEO. WWE denied the suspension was racially motivated.

“The suspension of Titus O’Neil had nothing to do with race and everything to do with unprofessional conduct,” the company said in a statement to the New York Post.

The WWE also sent the post a copy of a text they said O’Neil sent the organization “‘I feel like sh** now so if you have to let me go, I understand. Stupid mistake.’”

O’Neil (his real name is Thaddeus Bullard) graduated from the University of Florida and played football for the Gators (1997-1999) as a defensive tackle under head coach Steve Spurrier.  He is well-known for his charity work and is one of the more well-liked wrestlers on the circuit.

The O’Neil move likely played a role in WWE’s stock dipping on Feb. 10 – it fell 4.4% (72 cents each) to $15.75 per share from $16.47 the previous day.

While the incident did keep social media humming for awhile, the real hit to the stock occurred the following day (Feb. 11) when shares dipped as much as 10% after WWE revealed that subscribers for its WWE Network fell to 1.2 million in the fourth quarter from 1.3 million in the previous period. The stock finished the day at $14.94 per share, down 5.1%. WWE shares closed at $16.40 each, down 2%, (30 cents) on Feb.12.

The weak WWE Network numbers overshadowed what was otherwise a strong quarter for the content company – revenue was up 18% and the company reported $3.4 million in net income, compared to a loss of $600,000 in the previous year.