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WWE sticks with Saudi Arabia deal despite backlash from fans – The Denver Post

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WWE is set to hold its Crown Jewel event Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

That’s a nondescript way to describe a spectacle — headlined by major stars including The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar — that WWE would usually blitz fans with bombastic hype to promote.

Bigger! Badder! And usually with an event logo connecting the event to its host city, like the New York skyline or the fleur-de-lis for New Orleans incorporated into recent WrestleMania designs.

WWE instead has put Saudi Arabia on mute as backlash spreads against its lucrative long-term deal with a kingdom facing global uproar. The financials are murky but WWE is expected to make between $20 million and $40 million per event from two Saudi Arabian shows this year under a 10-year deal. Criticism from fans and politicians started because women were excluded from competition in an April event, then shifted and spread after writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

WWE fans, traditionally as non-PC as the crotch-chopping wrestlers in the ring, have booed each time Crown Jewel is mentioned when a wrestler cuts a promo and the video feed hyping the event was abruptly shut off to the crowd at its first all-female event Sunday to squash unfavorable reaction. The deal was lampooned in consecutive weeks on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

WWE has tried to distance itself from the international outcry over the killing and downplayed its ties to Riyadh.

“We’re not going to talk a lot about that,” WWE chairman Vince McMahon said on a conference call. “It’s a very sensitive subject these days, naturally.”

The company’s announcers have refused to mention Saudi Arabia on recent live events and WWE’s website, as of Tuesday, only listed the date and time for the card. The page for April’s Greatest Royal Rumble still listed King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, under time/location.

“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base,” WWE said in a statement. “Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul , the Company faced a very difficult decision as relates to its (Crown Jewel) event. 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.”

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