WWE: Is Faking Vince McMahon's "Death" Working?
CNBC Sports Business Reporter
When the XFL blimp crashed into an Oakland waterfront restaurant in Jan. 2001, I had written it off as some foreboding accident. In the end, it might have been the best $2.5 million (the cost of the damage) World Wrestling Entertainment --and perhaps its partner, NBC–-spent. (NBC's parent company is GE which also owns CNBC.)
But when you look a little bit deeper, it's pretty easy to understand. One, there was somehow a student pilot up there. I've heard of student drivers in cars, but not in planes and blimps. Secondly, it was the WWE for god sakes.
Well, just days after announcing they were overhauling their marketing strategy, WWE somehow came up with another idea to get attention in their battle with the likes of mixed martial arts. Fake their chairman's death.
Last Monday, after "Vince McMahon Appreciation Night," he stepped into a limo, which promptly exploded. WWE.com then announced that he was presumed dead since no body was recovered. The organization then went to YouTube and pulled the video, most likely to prevent some sort of video splicing analysis.
I have to admit, I thought it would never work. Maybe you could have done this 15 years ago when the Internet wasn't around, I reasoned, when you couldn't confirm that one major newspaper was reporting his death. But now you can do that. Now you can go to the local paper where the event happened--the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader--and see that despite the limo explosion no emergency vehicles were called, that the blowing up was actually filmed by a pyrotechnics company two days before in the middle of the night and they had permits to conduct the act. And despite the fact that the WWE said the FBI is investigating the accident, the paper also reported that the FBI was never involved.
But I was "dead" wrong. The total page views for June 12, the day after McMahon's "death" were 36.8 million with two million daily unique visitors. Now compare that to the WWE.com three month average of 14.3 million page views and one million unique visitors. Over the past week, there has been so much written about whether McMahon is dead or alive on wrestling message boards, that if you go to Google , you get 27,700 hits when you type in "Vince McMahon Dead." That prevents most people from finding out the real story.
Of course, the WWE is continuing with the plot. Last night at RAW, they carried on the mourning for Vince McMahon for the seventh straight day. His daughter Stephanie spoke. "While it was sometimes surprising, you have no idea how much it meant to me and my family," Stephanie said, according to WWE.com. "My dad wanted to leave this world the same way he lived in it, in the biggest way possible." McMahon then said that next week would be a celebration of her father's death and she vowed to find out who blew up her father's limo.
Now, let's go a little deeper. Is it a crime for the WWE to fake McMahon's death? I don't believe so. Because a police report wasn't filed and McMahon isn't creating any sort of phony documentation or cashing in on a life insurance policy, it doesn't seem like there's any exposure here.
But I still think there's a possibility the organization could be sued by a shareholder. By announcing that he is "presumed dead" on their official Web site, they could be charged with misleading stockholders. There's no evidence that a slew of people bought the McMahon news on Wall Street. As of Monday's close, WWE stock is down only 1.8 percent since the "accident." You'd think if McMahon really died, the thing would plummet. That being said, I think there could still be a claim.
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