***Note*** This piece was written before the multiple lawsuits filed against WWE earlier this week. That is why it is not included here although very relevant.
It is a crazy time to be a wrestling fan my friends. Totally friggin’ crazy and I’m not even really focusing on the empty arena shows being taped during the pandemic. That is just the tip of the iceberg as many more factors are at play widely in the industry right now. In fact we as fans are on the verge of incredible change long term. Obviously, the same can be said for the world around us in many different facets. One of the biggest changes moving forward from this pandemic is how people get their hands on and consume information. It has been proven that most mainstream media giants have chosen to report on certain aspects of the pandemic while blatantly omitting others. Censorship on social media platforms is at an all time high with a possibly nefarious agenda behind the reasoning. That reason is suspected that Big Media is scared that potentially more truthful information will come out and less and less people will buy into the narrative that they are trying to sell.
That is a whole other piece of writing in and of itself but one can argue that newsmakers, lawmakers, doctors and government have been put in their place because of contradicting facts that came out through ‘alternative’ media and went against the big mainstream picture. This piece is about the world of pro wrestling news and much like World News there are more and more alternative news feeds to get your fix that may point out facts that get ignored by other sources. For years the WWE not only got to control the narrative of it’s own company but most other companies’ history as well when they acquired most of the classic libraries that would become the WWE Network. Also when dealing with mainstream and sports media they were able to spin stories however they felt like it and no-one would call them out. That my friends is no longer the case as no matter what WWE tells its shareholders and its ‘universe’ they are under more scrutiny than ever to be accountable for their actions as a company. That is because in pro wrestling and society as a whole the days of ‘a singular narrative’ being digested by the masses without questioning a single thing is over. For better or worse the digital world has made sure of this and in this writing I will examine recent public decisions by WWE and a Canadian produced show that is seemingly taking the industry by storm. Welcome to the Brave New World…
The pandemic that made its way to North America in March 2020 shut down every major sporting organization. The only exception being WWE filming television and their biggest show of the year Wrestlemania at their performance centre in Orlando, FL. The state of Florida just recently declared them an ‘essential’ business and boxing as well as MMA promotions are knocking at the door of the performance centre to tape PPV events for their bleeding enterprises. This remains to be seen if it will happen but one thing we can count on is the ’empty stands’ model is likely going to be rolled out by the other major sports long before fans are allowed to attend again. Also WWE announced big gains in their Q1 in their quarterly conference call. So after digesting this information things should be pretty rosy in the WWE biosphere right? Wrong….I think chaos is too strong of a word but things are actually in a state of flux considering these rising and potentially record-setting profits….here’s how:
April 15, 2020: That Dark Day
Considered by many to be the ‘darkest day’ in WWE history sees the largest mass releases ever recorded in pro wrestling that includes multi-decade employees and hall of famers. Given that next to no companies are running the released talent are in fact quite stuck for income for the time being. AEW, Impact Wrestling, ROH and UFC who are losing significant money at this time have yet to publicly fire anyone.
XFL shuts it’s doors
Some wrestling fans who don’t care about Vince’s outside projects or football in general would be jumping for joy at this one. However it looked like during the relaunched season it was gaining some positive momentum and may be something Vince would finally get ‘right’ in the long term. It was not meant to be as the company filed for bankruptcy and is up for sale. Former commissioner Oliver Luck (father of ret. NFL QB Andrew Luck) is now suing Vince for wrongful termination. This won’t affect WWE’s bottom line too badly but is a lot of bad press to deal with on top of the excessive releases. Rumors surfaced that staff and talent wanted to just ‘stay out of Vince’s way’ at the tapings after it went belly up…I guess he wasn’t in the best of moods.
TV ratings and Network Subscriptions are sinking
Despite soldiering on and being a much needed escape for many on lockdown the numbers for the TV shows and Network Subscriptions aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. The TV ratings have dipped consistently since WM and methinks some of this has to do with backlash to the company firings and not just a ‘lack of a live audience and breaking-in new emerging talent’ like McMahon alluded to in the Q1 conference call. Also the company was projecting to have 3-4 million subscriptions in the US alone that number sits around 996,000 which for a widespread and affordable platform is quite low. There was talk earlier this year of the Network being sold to a bigger streaming service (possibly ESPN) to boost numbers…the Network’s exact future is yet to be determined so stay tuned…
Big Changes to Live Event Structure
I’ll begin with HHH lighting up the internet earlier this week by telling Corey Graves on ATB that he thinks WM should be a two night event moving forward. I for one don’t disagree as I would prefer that instead of having one show burning me out for nearly eight hours straight. I’ll paraphrase another quote from Hunter by saying that the one-day music festival has grown to the point of a destination weekend event. Which brings another problem as a construction worker on Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles, the home of Wrestlemania 37 tested positive and construction was halted until further notice. This delay means that Mania may have to find a new home for next year and one new football stadium that is complete and ready for use is the new Raiders facility in Las Vegas. It would be a great alternative if fans can pack it in spring of 2021. But the biggest announcement that rocked everyone was that the company may be eliminating non-televised live events or house-shows. This writer used to attend house-shows a lot but lost interest over the years. On one hand the wrestlers can take their time and be creative while not having to adhere to strict tv times but on the other attendance was shrinking anyway as rarely anything that moves the current storylines forward happens at these events. On a positive note I think the elimination of these shows can give the wrestlers more time for recovery and less rapid travel arrangements. It could improve the product as a whole and they could still do international tours if need be.
‘Essential Service’ on the take?
It was widely speculated that when WWE was deemed ‘essential’ and would be allowed to legally tape in Orlando that Linda McMahon used clout from her service in the Trump administration. Allegedly the state of Florida got a significant financial kickback and was all of a sudden good to go to continue running shows. Take this for what it’s worth but it was a bad look in the press irregardless.
It may look like I did a real number on WWE here and that is not at all my intention. These stories are all based on fact and can be checked on various Youtube platforms and those dreaded ‘dirt-sheet’ writers. They have been diligent at reporting these stories to the fans as these aren’t all stories the mainstream sports media may touch and I applaud them for letting the fans in on what’s really going on.
Before I close out I have to give one special shoutout to the Canadian-formed media company Vice and their magnificent (sorry Martin, don’t mean to plagiarize) Dark Side Of The Ring Series. I don’t normally binge-watch a lot of things at once but when I heard two of the main directors on Talk Is Jericho a while back I knew I had to watch. So when I got some time off of work I was hooked and couldn’t stop watching. Not only are the interviews very well done but I love the out-of-focus reenactments that give you the essence of the time period they are talking about without resorting to cheap reenactments that would look second rate. But the big winner is the content and even though some stories are hard to watch (ie: Benoit, Snuka, Bravo) they need to be told by those who were involved. Yes, WWE can’t do a documentary on the Benoit tragedy as it would be a bad look, they wouldn’t do one on Bruiser Brody’s death as he never really worked there. But the show has done an amazing job of putting the viewer in the middle of each story that gives several different viewpoints (ie: The Brawl For All episode). My only issue is that when they show past footage (I’m still amazed they got past footage to use) they got a lot of their dates wrong which in turn questions some of the credibility in my mind. However once that detail is cleaned up this show has a bright future as it gives the narrative of major historic events in the pro wrestling industry that some are just not able to tell in any other forum.
When WCW closed up in 2001 the WWE was able to buy wrestling libraries of the past starting with NWA/WCW. They put out DVD’s on past territories and wrestlers and while most of them are really good there are some places they just aren’t able to go. So shows like Dark Side Of The Ring on a major media platform or the ‘dirt-sheet’ writers and Youtube newsmakers are a crucial part of filling that gap. WWE has gotten better overall at telling revisionist history however it still comes through from time to time. During the Ruthless Aggression series on the Network they spun the name change from WWF to WWE was Vince just wanting to ‘shake things up’ one day. While in reality the company was in breach of an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund who surprisingly beat out the pro-wrestling titan in court forcing the name change. The internet thankfully called out this nonsense pretty quickly and hopefully WWE’s production will think twice before omitting such obvious facts to it’s fan base.
While some will say that the Internet has done significant damage to the model of the pro wrestling business (and indeed there is a strong argument for that) you have to look at the other side of the argument. Like the mainstream media the WWE a publicly traded corporate giant is being held accountable by its followers for when they get out of line. Some of the misinformation and ignorance about COVID-19 that was subdued by Big Media is changing how people gain access to and digest their news. Social media platforms like Youtube are keeping WWE honest who let’s be honest here was able to control their own narrative history for years because almost nobody challenged them. Those days have come to an end and while the company has become a lot better at being honest with itself and it’s fans the Ruthless Aggression debacle and the handling of some of the recent stories above suggest they still have some work to do. It’s up to people who are passionate enough to broadcast on social media or write pieces like The Grand Slam and you the vocal fines who can assist in that work.