On May 6, 2002, the biggest wrestling company in the world was forced to change their name from WWF to WWE. This came as a shock to the wrestling world. However, the truth is that the name change had been inevitable for a decade.
In 1979, the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) simplified it’s company name to the World Wrestling Federation. That name change put the Federation on an inevitable collision course with the World Wildlife Fund who also used the acronym, WWF. The World Wildlife Fund was set up in 1961 as the world’s largest conservation organisation. The two companies shared the initials for 15 years with little incident, but in the early nineties the Fund changed it’s stance.
Concerned by the steroid and sex scandals that had engulfed the WWF, the Fund wanted to remove any confusion and/or association in the marketplace between the two brands. In January 1994, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Wrestling Federation signed a legal agreement ensuring the Federation limit their use of the WWF acronym outside of North America.
In 1994, WWF Chairman, Vince McMahon was under investigation by the United States government, accused of illegally distributing steroids to his wrestlers. His company was in financial difficulty and McMahon was unwilling and economically unable to challenge the Fund’s demands in court. In his mind, he had no choice other than to sign this agreement.
However, McMahon was keenly aware that adhering to the Fund’s demands would have been financially damaging to his company, at a time when he could ill afford it. McMahon was later acquitted of all charges. The WWF disregarded the agreement with the Fund and continued to market themselves with the WWF acronym all over the world.
This went unnoticed for several years. However when the WWF invaded the mainstream once again in the late nineties, during the famed “Attitude Era”, the World Wildlife Fund once more sued the company. In August 2001, a UK court found in favour of the Fund and ruled that the WWF had repeatedly violated the 1994 agreement. The charity successfully obtaining an injunction to remove the WWF’s rights to the WWF initials. The Federation filed an an unsuccessful appeal in October that year.
Several months later, the London Court of Appeal denied the WWF the right to challenge the injunction to give the company rights to the initials inside North America. The WWF had no choice. Time was up. They had to change their name. So, on May 6, 2002, the World Wrestling Federation officially became World Wrestling Entertainment.
McMahon, who has always wanted to be seen as a multi-faceted entrepreneur and not only a wrestling promoter, decided to embrace the change and use it as an opportunity to amplify the “entertainment” aspect of his business.
In a press release, WWE CEO, Linda McMahon stated:
“As World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, we have entertained millions of fans around the United States and around the globe. Our new name puts the emphasis on the “E” for entertainment, what our company does best. WWE provides us with a global identity that is distinct and unencumbered, which is critical to our U.S. and international growth plans.”
That night’s Raw broadcast was the first to bear the new WWE name and logo and kicked off the “get the F out” marketing campaign. The show was highlighted by a six man tag main event. The nWo took on Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair and Bradshaw in the show’s main event.
As part of the court injunction, WWE were forbidden from using their “scratch logo” which they had used throughout the “Attitude Era.”
This meant archival WWE footage had the logo blurred out, which was a frustration to WWE fans. In 2012, WWE secured a court victory over the Fund, allowing them to use the scratch logo in archival footage. This meant when WWE set up the WWE Network in 2014, it could use the initials unencumbered in archive footage.
Two decades on, the world’s most famous wrestling organisation has been known as WWE for almost as long as it was known as the WWF. The WWE brand is more financially successful than the WWF one ever was.
In fact, 2020, despite the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, was the most profitable year in WWE history. In 2021, WWE also sees itself as an entertainment brand first and wrestling company second.
The WWE name is here to stay.