McMahon, Vincent Kennedy

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McMahon, Vincent Kennedy

World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc.


Vincent McMahon transformed the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) into an international multi–media and marketing conglomerate. The WWF, in fact, has become virtually synonymous with professional wrestling. His promotion of "sports entertainment" encompasses more than just televised matches and live events. It spawned an entire industry based on magazines, videos, and action figures. The wrestlers themselves, such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jesse Ventura, have also transcended the sport and become mainstream entertainers, celebrities, and politicians that are known worldwide. In the process of making professional wrestling one of the most popular forms of entertainment, McMahon has established himself as both a savvy businessman and a colorful character.

Personal Life

Vincent McMahon is married to Linda, who serves as president and CEO of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment. The couple's two children, Stephanie and Shane, both work for the company as well.

McMahon was born August 24, 1945, in Pinehurst, North Carolina. His parents divorced when he was very young and he grew up in a trailer with his mother and a succession of five stepfathers, some abusive. Vince, who suffered from attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, carried his domestic problems into school, where he was expelled for fighting and drinking. Rejecting the notion of state reform school, McMahon opted to enroll in Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia, and became the first cadet in the history of the school to be court–martialed.

Vincent was introduced to the world of wrestling when, at the age of 12, he met his birth father, Vincent James McMahon, a well–known promoter. His family's legacy of professional wrestling extended even farther back, as his grandfather Jess was a wrestling and boxing promoter in the early 1900s. Vincent Sr. owned Capital Wrestling, a small wrestling league active in the northeastern United States during the 1940s and 1950s. Capital televised some of its wrestling events, but professional wrestling was not yet considered a mainstream sport. Yet young McMahon was so impressed after this first meeting with his father that he was determined to become a wrestler. His father, however, did not think this career would be a wise choice, and forbade him from ever entering a ring, hoping that after attending college his son would go into another line of work.

McMahon graduated with a bachelor of science degree in business administration from East Carolina State University in 1968. He told U.S. News & World Report that the only way he got through college was to take classes in the summer for each of the five years of his enrollment and to persuade professors to raise his grades. "Even today I can't spell," he said. He worked at various jobs, selling adding machines and paper cups, until 1971, when this headstrong man entered the family business after all.

Career Details

In 1971 Vincent McMahon became a television announcer for Capital Wrestling and oversaw the company's operations in Bangor, Maine. His success in Bangor developed into a position in New England, where he led the company to even greater prosperity. Things were going so well that McMahon's father retired and sold the company to his son in 1982. As Capital's new chairman, McMahon quickly began expanding the regional company by acquiring competing wrestling leagues throughout the country and by recruiting the opposition's talent. Until then, all wrestling concerns were territorial and operated only in certain areas of the country. Soon after, McMahon's newly formed national operation took the name World Wrestling Federation under the parent company Titan Sports Inc. McMahon's vision for a nationwide league was thus born.

McMahon began promoting the World Wrestling Federation with his now legendary techniques. He played upon the entertainment side of the sport and developed distinctive personalities for the wrestlers, complete with story lines that enhanced the competition. He was active in getting the matches televised. Showing a keen business sense, he called his new creation "sports entertainment," readily acknowledging that the matches had predetermined winners. That sort of promotion also freed the league from state regulations.

McMahon took the concept to another level in 1984 when he launched the "Rock and Wrestling" concept, using such rock stars as Cyndi Lauper and Aretha Franklin to promote his shows. The concept increased the popularity of wrestling, and by 1985 matches were regularly aired on the major television networks. By 1987 the WWF's live matches routinely sold out large arenas and generated $80 million in ticket sales for the year. Contributing to this sales boom was Wrestlemania III, an event held at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, and featuring the WWF star Hulk Hogan in a match against the famed Andre the Giant. The event broke the world record for indoor–audience attendance and attracted a huge pay–per–view cable television audience as well.

Growing numbers of loyal fans in the United States were attracted to McMahon's brand of sports entertainment, so he began expanding the live shows and broadcasts internationally, venturing into Australia, France, Germany, and India. The charisma and appeal of McMahon's wrestling stars themselves also fueled the popularity of professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan was the first breakout star from the federation during its rise in popularity, and the merchandising of his likeness on products ranged from action figures to lunch boxes. Other WWF celebrities soon followed suit.

McMahon's company faced new challenges in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A string of negative publicity began when a steroid investigation involved Hulk Hogan and other WWF wrestlers. McMahon was charged with conspiring to provide the wrestlers with anabolic steroids from 1985 to 1991. Hogan testified that they were encouraged to use steroids and that he had frequently used them, a fact that he had publicly denied in the past. McMahon, who pleaded innocent, admitted to using steroids before they became illegal in 1988. He was found guilty on one charge of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but avoided serious punishment when he was found innocent of the rest of the charges.

During WWF's trials and tribulations, Ted Turner decided to form his own wrestling federation, World Championship Wrestling (WCW). The WCW began luring away such WWF talent as Hulk Hogan, and its Monday Nitro Live aired opposite WWF's Monday Night Raw. Initially, the WCW was declared the victor, capturing the most viewers for the following year and a half. During the rest of the 1990s, however, the WWF revived, winning the majority of ratings and profits, and grossing $84 million compared to the WCW's $50 million in 1995. As of 2001, a lawsuit that McMahon had filed against Turner for theft of ideas was unresolved, but the fierce competition between the two seemed to benefit both leagues, allowing them both to enjoy unprecedented popularity.

Viewership for professional wrestling reached all–time highs in the late 1990s. During this time the persona of the wrestlers altered into something that was more arrogant and anti–establishment. Stone Cold Steve Austin, for example, was modeled after a number of serial killers. McMahon realized a childhood dream and climbed into the ring himself, inventing the character of a business tycoon bent on revenge against any wrestler who crossed him.

The World Wrestling Federation went public in October 1999, raising millions of dollars. As part of the process, Titan Sports became World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. In 1999 and 2000, such shows as WWF Smackdown! and Raw were ratings winners on cable television. Female wrestlers like Chyna began to enjoy both recognition and popularity. Other wrestling stars such as The Rock made appearances on television and in movies.

In 2000 McMahon ventured into the arena of professional football, starting a new league, the XFL. As a joint venture with NBC, the much–hyped league adopted the entertaining style of the WWF. The XFL, however, proved a disaster, and folded after only one season. This sent WWF's stock plummeting from a high of $22 in January to $10.95 as of October 2001.

Chronology: Vincent Kennedy McMahon

1945: Born.

1968: Graduated from East Carolina State University.

1971: Began to work for Capital Wrestling.

1982: Bought Capital Wrestling and formed the World Wrestling Federation.

1987: Staged the record–setting Wrestlemania III.

1999: World Wrestling Federation Entertainment went public.

2000: Formed the XFL football league.

2001: Acquired World Championship Wrestling.

McMahon faced more trouble when a British court ruled that the WWF acronym used on its Web site belonged to the World Wildlife Fund. In 2000 and 2001 McMahon was also involved in a contract dispute with DirecTV, a satellite broadcasting company, for ceasing the broadcast of WWF's pay–per–view events. Undeterred, however, Linda McMahon told Business Week, "We're still the strong entertainment brand we've been for 50 years."

These words do not belie the actions of the company, which continued to expand. In 2000 the WWF opened its first store, restaurant, and television studio in New York, and announced plans to unveil a line of cookbooks and children's stories. It launched its own record label, Smackdown! Records, to produce original rock and hip–hop recordings. In 2001 the company acquired both the WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling, forming the basis for a new franchise called The Alliance. That year plans were unveiled for a live, two–hour magazine–style show called WWF Excess. World Wrestling Federation Entertainment's revenues jumped 20 percent to $456 million, and it was ranked third of Business Week's 100 Best Small Companies.

Social and Economic Impact

Vince McMahon took professional wrestling from cult status and elevated it to pure Americana, complete with comic book–esque heroes and villains. Along the way he rode a wave of controversy all the way to the bank. Larger–than–life athletes/entertainers became so popular that they made appearances on television and in arenas, motion pictures, music videos, and toy stores across the nation and around the world. McMahon's unique contribution has been to meld entertainment and sports, creating a mixture that has attracted fans worldwide.

Sources of Information

Contact at: World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc.
1241 E. Main St.
Stamford, CT 06902
Business Phone: (203)352–8600


Anderson, Steve. "Transcending Wrestling." Wrestling Digest, December 2000, 46.

"Fact Sheet." World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. October 2001. Available at

"Forbes Faces: Vince McMahon." Forbes, 13 February 2001.

"If You Dream It, Then Do It." Sports Trend, October 4, 2000.

Rosellini, Lynn. "Lords of the Ring." U.S. News & World Report, 17 May 1999, 52.

Thompson, Clifford, ed. "Vince McMahon." Current Biography Yearbook 1999. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1999.

"Those Smackdowns Are Taking Their Toll." Business Week, 3 September 2001.

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McMahon, Vincent Kennedy

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