Clash of Champions “Gold Rush” Featured an ad-libbed card the had a few misses, but overall a solid Pay-Per-View. Asuka worked double duty, Randy Orton was forced to face his ghosts against Drew McIntyre, and Roman Reigns asserted his dominance over Jey Uso. AEW scrambled with booking as well. Eddie Kingston fought Jon Moxley for the world title and Brodie Lee extinguished Orange Cassidy. Cody made his return with a new look and a familiar attitude.
In 2017, Donald De La Haye’s D1 NCAA scholarship was voided over YouTube monetization, now WWE is threatening similar actions against its employees over third party concerns. Le Haye’s story sparked national outrage and exposed the greed and oppressive nature of an organization intent on keeping a clean image. Will the pro wrestling conglomerate face the same media backlash for its oppressive labor regime?
In a corporate email obtained by f4wonline originally sent on September second, WWE informed recipients that, “…You are engaged with outside third parties using your name and likeness in ways that are detrimental to our company. These activities must be terminated within the next 30 days.” This caused many fans and experts to speculate on exactly which services could render wrestlers, commentators, and personalities personae-non-gratae. Everything from, Instagram, youtube, twitch, and cameo were all considered a liability due to the vagueness of the letter.
The Public Statement
The social media buzz generated enough noise to force WWE to respond. On September fifth, WWE commented on the controversy with a simple one-paragraph press release:
The Continued Fallout
The press release did little to quell the heat WWE was taking from fans, workers, and even former U.S. Presidential candidates like Andrew Yang, who said in an interview earlier this week,
“They’re (WWE talent) putting their lives on the line, or their health on the line, their family life on the line, all the time. They made Vince McMahon a billionaire, and then the fact that he’s still being so heavy-handed about their ability to make a simple buck on Cameo just struck me as so absurd, and ridiculous, and wrong.”
Yang also said about if workers for WWE should be treated as independent contractors or employees that “ If you’re going to control all these aspects of a wrestler or a performer’s waking life, then you should take some responsibility too for that person’s bigger picture.” It was the third party application Cameo that has become the biggest sticking point for WWE brass. According to Dave Meltzer, talent would still be able to monetize Twitch and YouTube as long as the performers were using their names, not so for Cameo.
Cameo allows for personalized messages to be read by celebrities and influencers alike. Dozens of performers were using the service, from champions to commentators. They charged anywhere from 20 dollars to hundreds of dollars depending on the WWE superstar. If WWE does not allow Cameo, the company is protecting more than just their own “intellectual property” they are claiming ownership talent themselves.
WWE’s message may have sparked outrage but more than anything it appears to have the desired effect on its workers for the most part. Many superstars have already made their Cameo unavailable to the public or changed their appearance like Sasha Banks simply going by “Mercedes Motivation”, or Tom Phillips adjusting his to just “Tom”. The company’s actions have received very little pushback from most major news sources and even less from current talent.
Only Saraya-Jade Bevis, known in WWE as Paige, publicly commented on the WWE’s transgressions with a simple “nope” on twitter after the story became public. With seemingly no ethical boundaries and no overseeing body holding WWE accountable for their labor actions. The Stamford Connecticut based and publicly-traded company will face no repercussions or even investigations for their continued “exploitation of these characters.”
Since the Donald De La Haye story, media and activists have pressured the NCAA to change the way their athletes can use their stardom. Starting in January 2021 athletes in all three divisions will be able to use their name, image, and likeness for monetary purposes. This action was ratified unanimously by the NCAA Board of Governors. If the same progress is to be expected from WWE, it must come from external forces, not internal.
This week on No Count Outs, Tyler and Matt express their frustration towards WWE and AEW. Matt Hardy versus Sammy Guevara cut short after a botched table spot that ruined the rest of All Out. In WWE there was a non finish between Adam Cole, Finn Balor, Tammaso Ciampa, and Johnny Gargano. A returning Jey Uso became the number one contender to Roman Reigns’ Universal Title. All of that plus a full break down of All Out and controversial WWE news that took social media by storm.
Roman Reigns is the New Universal Champ! Matt and Tyler discuss his recent alignment with Paul Heyman and what that means going forward. Hangman Page betrays the Young Bucks and costs them a title opportunity and the end of an era for the elite. Moxley outwits MJF in a contract signing. Dominik impresses again as the Mysterio’s fight Rollins and Murphy.
Summerslam at the Thunderdome featured the debut of Dominik Mysterio, the return of Roman Reigns, and multiple title changes. On Raw, the action continued with Randy Orton facing Keith Lee, that left Tyler and Matt underwhelmed, to say the least. They vent it out on this episode of No Count Outs.
A large number of corporations in America have struggled to balance worker safety and satisfying their bottom line. In sports and entertainment, there have been several examples of companies that have prioritized shareholders over employees. Arguably the worst example is not Major League Baseball, but World Wrestling Entertainment.
The U.S. containment of COVID-19 was thought to be possible in early spring. Toward the end of March, however, those hopes were dashed. States began to lock-down restaurants. Most sports leagues including the NBA, MLB, and the NCAA postponed and in some cases canceled the current and upcoming seasons.
The WWE, for their part, stopped live shows and began pre-recording programming without fans in attendance. According to executives, talent was told that these tapings would be voluntary and would not receive punishment for refusing to attend either financially or otherwise.
Wrestlemania, the largest pro wrestling pay-per-view of the year was held in the performance center in Orlando, Florida. Florida was coincidentally one of the last states to enter lock-down and was open during the taping of Wrestlemania.
The company acted proactively with two of its wrestlers Dana Brooke and Rey Mysterio who showed signs of illness by pulling them from shows. Roman Reigns, a wrestler in remission from leukemia took a leave of absence from performing over concerns over his high-risk status for Coronavirus. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during March.
By early April all states had entered into varying degrees of lockdown, and Nationally the U.S. outpaced the rest of the world in total COVID-19 deaths. With only essential business open in most states, WWE was declared an essential by Florida Governor Ron Desantis despite not initially labeled as such. Around the same time, the Connecticut based company decided on April 10th to resume live shows.
Vince McMahon cited the change by implying the networks carrying his programming could cancel their television contracts if the company did not continue to perform live shows regularly. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer reported that USA Network and Fox denied considering dissolving their agreements. McMahon reversed course and eventually allowed pre-taped episodes to resume.
On April 15th, WWE released a business update announcing the furlough of talent as well as other cost-cutting measures. Over 30 wrestlers were released, not including behind the scenes workers This included Miroslav Barnyashev formerly known by his in-ring name of Rusev. Rusev had recently donated $20,000 of his own money to help those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
A week later the company’s quarter one earnings report was released and the biggest highlight was the increased revenue from the previous year’s first-quarter earnings: A net positive of 60%. During April there was a confirmed but unidentified employee who contracted coronavirus. The individual was not a wrestler but did work at shows. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during April.
There were not many new developments from the business perspective of World Wrestling Entertainment, however, the content of their programming led to frustration from fans and employees alike. Fans began noticing Reigns had been edited out of more and more programming. He had not made an appearance in over a month so in some regard, it was understandable that his name was not often referenced during or after matches.
What was harder to understand was the manipulation of certain highlight packages removing him entirely. This included matches he was heavily featured in. Previous to this instance only one wrestler had been effectively removed from the annals of history: Chris Benoit. Since the American Somoan’s conduct had been spotless it was unclear why these decisions were being made.
Also, Sami Zayn was effectively stripped of the Intercontinental title. While this may seem like a storyline angle at first glance, it’s important to note Zayn was participating in Canada’s quarantine protocol as he was a Canadian citizen and could not attend the Orlando tapings due to international travel restrictions. His failure to comply cost him his place despite the company’s earlier assurances that no worker would be punished for skipping voluntary tapings.
Jordan Devlin had an almost identical experience. As the Cruiserweight Titleholder, Devlin was unable to defend his championship and there was a tournament to determine who would hold the belt during the interim similar to how UFC deals with injured fighters. However, the word interim was dropped without explanation and it’s unclear if Santo Escobar, the winner of the aforementioned tournament, will have to defend his title against Devlin when the UK native eventually returns. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during May.
This month WWE has made every effort that it could to return to normal. Developmental wrestlers, friends, and families began attending pre-recorded shows to give the performers and audience at home a more authentic fan experience. For the first time in months, there were boos, cheers, and even chants to fill a mostly empty void of fan interaction.
This week, a cascade of bad press has been unloaded upon the pro-wrestling giant. It was announced on Monday that a developmental wrestler who had attended a taping has tested positive for coronavirus. Reports surfaced from multiple sources stating that face masks were not permitted inside the performance center premises during tapings. This is in contrast to the early April CDC recommendations on wearing a face mask in public.
WWE responded by explaining to fans and news-outlets that masks were unnecessary since all employees and fans in attendance maintained proper social distancing and followed Florida state policy to the letter of the law (despite fans being shown high-fiving talent and disregarding the six feet minimum of each other of the episode in question).
Possibly the most disturbing report released this week was that on some occasions, fans were allowed to attend shows despite having a fever if there were special circumstances. On Wednesday the company implemented the first wave of COVID-19 testing to its wrestlers. At this time there has been no announcement of regular testing.
WWE’s Coronavirus response looks worse with context
All companies have the legal right and ability to hire and fire employees at their discretion. All publicly-traded companies are expected to be at least somewhat responsible with their finances to appease the stockholders. All businesses should be able to set forth policies for their workforce.
The problems lie when WWE is compared to smaller wrestling promotions who have done an objectively better job keeping their employees safe while staying afloat during these difficult economic times.
All Elite Wrestling on TNT has returned to their regularly scheduled live shows. Before each show, all fans, wrestlers, and staff are all tested before they can enter the building. AEW along with even smaller groups like Ring of Honor and Impact have not fired, released, or furloughed any wrestlers. At shows, you will see masks worn by referees, interviewers, and even fans. These groups have proved you can make every effort to serve your employees first and put the bottom line on the backburner and survive as a wrestling organization.
World Wrestling Entertainment may have fulfilled its legal obligation to its shareholders, but it has severely failed its ethical responsibility to its staff, especially the talent which is the main product for consumers of pro-wrestling.