WWE Essential, Employees Contractors Not So Much
April 16, 2020 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Reports surfaced this week of WWE being labelled an "essential business" by the state of Florida, allowing them to continue airing live wrestling shows in an empty studio. When asked about the decision, Governor DeSantis delivered a word salad for the ages, citing Disney gardening staff, content, Nascar, Woods and Mickelson doing "the golf," and Tom Brady being in Tampa Bay before ending his press conference. Then, a couple days later after getting the go ahead to continue, billion dollar company WWE began releasing wrestlers, as well as furloughing and laying off producers, and other employees. Many people have been wondering what the hell is going on.

Reaction, both to the designation as essential, and the cuts to the roster were almost entirely unmixed.

In many of the reports about the why WWE was designated as an essential business, the answer keeps going back to money. Central Florida based reporter Stephanie Coueignoux laid out the timeline of events on Twitter, showing that America First Action, a PAC chaired by Linda McMahon (formerly of the Trump Administration) was pledging to spend over $18 million dollars in the state the same day that WWE was designated an essential business.

The Nation
: WWE’s Reckless Approach to Covid-19
Now the matches will continue, without crowds and with the illusion that just the three to seven people in the ring are present, their bodies all over one another like a frat party of germs. The reality is that when one considers the tech crew and medical professionals on-site, it’s more likely to be dozens in attendance and in close quarters at a time when social distancing is the difference between life and death. Even the announce team, which could easily fulfill their duties at a remote location, are being told to fly to Orlando to take care of business. And again, this is all happening after someone in the company tested positive for Covid-19.
Fanbyte: And Unbearable Descent into Hell: WWE as an Essential Business
But what’s important to establish first is this: World Wrestling Entertainment is running live wrestling because it thinks it can weather the onslaught of media scrutiny and public scorn. Given their past history—the Khashoggi assassination, the Benoit murders/suicide, Owen Hart’s death, the early deaths of dozens of in-ring performers, the 1994 steroid trial, the 1992 ring boy scandal, and plenty more—they’re probably right.
Dave Meltzer, writing on April 10th laid out the likely reasons for the return to live broadcasts: money.
Contracts with both NBC Universal and Fox call for a certain number of shows per year that can be taped. For Raw, that number is three which, at the start of the year, was earmarked for one show over Christmas week and two shows during European tours. In theory, that would leave them with 49 live Raws. Fox has a similar deal.

While nobody will say so publicly, the fear was that by violating the contract, it would give the networks the legal ability to withhold money or find a way to change the deals. With no house shows, the company, like all sports companies, is surviving largely based on television revenue, but the networks paying that are also taking in far less revenue than they projected at this point in time due to the pandemic.
Among the wrestlers released were

Kurt Angle
Sarah Logan
Heath Slater (bonus link, may make you smile)
Karl Anderson
Luke Gallows
Lio Rush
Long time referee Mike Chioda
Drake Maverick
Curt Hawkins
Aiden English
Eric Young
Zack Ryder
No Way Jose
Mike Kanellis
Maria Kanellis
Primo Colon
Epico Colon
Deonna Purrazzo
Josiah Williams
MJ Jenkins
Aleksandar Jaksic

Backstage producers furloughed or released include Billy Kidman, Mike Rotunda (who wrestled as Irwin R Schyster, or IRS, and was fired on tax day, Dave "Fit" Finlay, Pat Buck, Shawn Daivari, Scott Armstrong, Sarah Stock, Shane Helms and Lance Storm, who had closed his wrestling school to return to work with WWE from November of last year.
posted by Ghidorah (18 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The Drake Maverick tweet and embedded video is a pretty raw, heartbreaking thing. Worth watching, but not easy to see.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:48 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

While nobody will say so publicly, the fear was that by violating the contract, it would give the networks the legal ability to withhold money or find a way to change the deals.

Surely this is an issue for many sports leagues right now? Seems like the networks’ leverage would be mitigated by the fact that all sports are in a shut down.
posted by double bubble at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2020

Cross posting from another post:

The names so far are pretty much all people that WWE threw money at within the last year or two to keep them from signing with the new competing promotion (AEW) or to cripple other smaller promotions (IMPACT, ROH). And letting people go right now — when the pandemic has cancelled virtually all other professional wrestling in the world — means they just won’t be able to work.

It’s fucking evil is what it is. Classic McMahon.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 AM on April 16, 2020 [16 favorites]

Surely this is an issue for many sports leagues right now?

WWE has been underperforming expectations since pretty much launch day on Fox. Even before the lockdowns started, people were wondering how long the relationship would last.
posted by Etrigan at 8:19 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I feel like, in this moment, tennis could make a huge comeback. So much distancing....
posted by kaibutsu at 8:34 AM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

While technically possible you still have the problem that athletes would be congregating in locker rooms etc. and then dispersing back home over a wide area. And athletes aren't stand alone, at least at any serious level. Each interacts with trainers, massage therapists, doctors, drug testers, etc. and there is no need to expose the people doing that work.
posted by Mitheral at 8:44 AM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

The NBA is doing their H-O-R-S-E tournament with everyone participating from their driveways, which is handicapped by the fact that H-O-R-S-E has been worth watching exactly once.
posted by ckape at 9:10 AM on April 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

The NBA is doing their H-O-R-S-E tournament with everyone participating from their driveways, which is handicapped by the fact that H-O-R-S-E has been worth watching exactly once.

Aren't they aware that this leads directly to a Space Jam. It's not worth the risks. It's just not.
posted by jmauro at 9:12 AM on April 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

ESPN’s NBA H-O-R-S-E Competition Was Tough to Watch
The main issue—which is inescapable and nobody’s fault—was the hostage video quality of the players’ streams. It looked like somebody rubbed Vaseline on the camera lens. It was clear that this made it awkward for the participants, too. The uncomfortable pauses after somebody’s audio glitched out will be familiar to anyone who’s spent the past month on conference calls.

The other problem was with the competition itself. It didn’t seem like the players put much thought or practice into their shots before the cameras turned on. They could have taken the past couple of days to come up with some unique trick shots to do, but for the most part they kept it simple. Zach LaVine even said he didn’t know he’d be asked to explain his shot before he did it.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:17 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as a person who totally sucks at baskteball, I've come up with way more interesting HORSE shots than the pros did. Where are the Harlem Globetrotters when we need them?

Also, fuck the WWE.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:39 AM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

What's going on? A DeSantis and McMahon tag team.
posted by Splunge at 9:40 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, breaking up couples: Sarah Logan is married to Eric of The Viking Experience tag team, and Rusev is married to Lana.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:14 AM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Miroslav "Rusev" Barnyashev, incidentally, gave $25K of his own money to WWE workers who got furloughed/laid off/zero-houred after the cancellation of touring events last month.

He's also probably going to go down as WWE's biggest missed opportunity ever -- he was hugely popular as "foreign bad guy" until he got fed to John Cena at WrestleMania 31; then he crawled back to being hugely popular as part of "Rusev Day" with Aiden English (also released yesterday) until they broke up for no reason; and then got hugely popular again thanks to the reality show Total Divas until Paul Heyman inflicted another cuckold storyline on us and "broke up" his marriage to Lana. Of all the people who just got fired, he's the one I'd bet on seeing at the top of the card somewhere else within the next year.

Wrestlers need to unionize, whether as actors under SAF-AFTRA or in their own collective as in major league sports.
posted by Etrigan at 12:00 PM on April 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Rusev committed the greatest possible sin for on air talent: he got over with the fans on his own. He built his popularity by going out and doing work that resonated with fans without officially being pushed, and, as mentioned, he did it repeatedly. Almost every time talent organically gets over with fans, they end up humiliated and knocked back down to zero. See also, Zack Ryder. Hell, Daniel Bryan was getting that treatment until the company realized that there was very, very little they could do to push him back down.

Also, Rusev has the temerity to get married and publicize it out of kayfabe, which evidently angered McMahon, who storyline-wise punishes the both of them, because McMahon is a gaping asshole.

A pretty common refrain was that, once McMahon was gone, Triple H would takeover most of the show related duties, and things would get better, given how good NXT has been. But then, recently, Hunter got demoted, and is no longer in charge of talent.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:48 PM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Wrestling is good, a huge number of people at WWE are great, but WWE itself is so fundamentally toxic and malicious (between downplaying CTE concerns, anti-union efforts, locking people in contracts to keep them from other companies, burying talent on the way out to hurt their prospects at other companies, repeatedly featuring multiple people who have appeared on TV or live streams dropping the n-word and/or in black face, to the planned 10 years of Saudi blood money events, etc.) that it was unconscionable to support them before all this.

Signed, your friendly neighbourhood AEW shill.

Also, Stardom (Japanese women's promotion) is simply sublime and often posts matches to youtube.
posted by seraphine at 2:05 AM on April 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Seems crazy, esp considering that Dana White was super keen on finding a place to hold UFC 249 until it was ESPN/Disney who told him to knock it off.
posted by asra at 9:19 PM on April 18, 2020

The ESPN/WWE relationship is a little puzzling. ESPN started reporting on WWE a little while ago, like, interviews, full on puff pieces, etc. There’s been absolutely nothing remotely critical about their coverage, either, and as far as I’ve heard, nothing about any other promotions like ROH, NJPW, or AEW. But, if you look at WWEs television deals, they’re with Fox and NBC Universal, competitors of ABC/Disney.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:42 PM on April 18, 2020

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