STAMFORD, CT (CelebrityAccess) — Westling promoter WWE is drawing heat over plans to hold a premier wrestling event in Saudi Arabia next month after Saudi agents apparently murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The show, a premier event dubbed the WWE Crown Jewel, is scheduled to take place at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh on Nov. 2nd. The Crown Jewel is the second major event the WWE has staged in the Middle Eastern monarchy this since striking a long-term deal with Saudi Arabia to produce events there.
The deal is part of Saudi Arabia’s ‘2030 Vision’ which seeks to diversify the economy away from petroleum and develop public-facing sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.
However, it is tough for the country to shake its authoritarian roots. Jamal Khashoggi, a moderate but outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia, disappeared after visiting the Saudi Counsulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Turkish authorities believe that he was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents with apparent connections to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
As the scandal deepens for Saudi Arabia, entertainment and business figures in the West have cut ties or pulled out of events in the country, but, at least so far, not the WWE who have appeared reluctant to change their plans for the match despite calls for it to be moved.
Some of those calls are coming from the WWE’s own public faces. On Thursday, Sam Roberts, who appears on WWE’s Kickoff show panels, said that while he supports the WWE’s deal with Saudi Arabia in general, he thinks the Crown Jewel event should be moved to a new location.
“I’m ok with the deal. Saudi Arabia has done a lot of questionable things, but I’m ok with the deal in general,” Roberts said on the latest edition of his wrestling podcast. “But, my own personal opinion is that because of this story -– and because honestly, the U.S. is still figuring out whether they’re gonna have to retaliate against Saudi Arabia — I don’t think that Crown Jewel should take place in Saudi Arabia…I think that the show should go on. The show must go on. A big investment has been made into this show. And it’s gonna cost WWE, it’s gonna cost them money. But I think WWE has gotta eat this one. They were featured on Vice, they were featured on John Oliver this week, and it’s not good press.”
However, canceling would be an expensive proposition. According to Deadline, Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners estimated that the cancellation may affect WWE’s 4th quarter cash flow by as much as $3 million, and pulling out of the deal with Saudi Arabia entirely could cost the wrestling promoter $12-16 million in 2019 operating income.