As the seasons turn, and we remain locked indoors, awaiting the eventual end of the plague (either the coronavirus or Donald Trump’s presidency… I’ll take the end of either at this point)… I’m left once again watching professional wrestling. Since the beginning of the pandemic, both the WWE and AEW have chosen ways to bring back the crowds. AEW is selling a very small amount of tickets for socially-distant, attendee-testing-at-the-gate fans to enjoy tapings of AEW Dynamite in Daley’s Place (the amphitheater at the base of the stadium where the Jacksonville Jaguars play). The WWE has opted instead to drain Orlando of its power grid by way of their Thunderdome “stadium” — with the arena where the Orlando Magic play basketball now housing the ring, and an insane amount of LED boards where a virtual audience and piped-in crowd noise are filmed during their tapings.
This weird new normal has created some interesting times — if perhaps some less-than-stellar product. But some pro rasslin’ is better than none. I’m not apt to complain there. Something happened not long ago in the WWE though, that has caused me to sour that much more to their ever-dwindling-in-quality-product.
About a month ago, Vince McMahon told his superstars (you know, the independent contractors he essentially treats like full-time employees, without providing them benefits) that the company would be shutting down all “third party” sources of online revenue his superstars setup on their own. In short, the WWE would ask those wrestlers who had taken to Twitch, Cameo, and other apps/sites that allowed them to both interact with their fanbase as well as draw a little extra revenue… to either cease control or concede it to WWE controlling those channels. This included forgoing revenue earned to flow into WWE to serve in part to each superstars’ downside guarantee — the base salary each superstar earns for being on the active roster.
Read that back. Twice if you need to.
In short, Vince McMahon has ordered that his roster surrender any channel of revenue they set for themselves (including releasing content, managing subscriptions, and participating in their downtime) and giving it to the WWE in order to self-fund their own base salary. While no actual specific documentation has been made public, enough dirtsheets, news sources, and interviews with actual roster members have made clear this initiative. McMahon’s retort? That his superstars are profiting off of their fame by-way-of their WWE-based persona… and as such, the WWE should be managing these channels.
But the rub here is simple. These third party sources of revenue aren’t the WWE’s to control. And their employees have every right to setup and earn from extraneous sources of revenue that don’t otherwise utilize their physical talents in a 20’x20’ ring. Chiefly because they are independent contractors! The Twitch channels of Allen Jones (aka AJ Styles), Saraya-Jade Bevis (aka Paige), or the Cameos done by Ettore Ewen (aka Big E) don’t require any of them to wrestle or “cut promos” or otherwise participate in WWE-televised storylines. These contractors are merely using their rightful downtime to interact with their fans, and yes, maybe earn a few bucks here and there. Given that now during the pandemic — when live-show attendance isn’t possible — strips performers from earning much more than those downside guarantees (aside from merch sales… but seriously, who is buying wrestling tee-shirts for $30 right now?).
What brought me to this issue though, was the impassioned words of Saraya (Paige). Watch this clip below:
What you see there is the real human being behind the superstar. A young woman (she’s only 28!) who has literally broken her neck twice for the WWE, being told a community she formed in part to benefit her mental health that she must shut it down. Remember again: she’s not able to perform in the ring. And the WWE creative has yet to find another on-air role for her. That she be moved to tears over this rips at me. She’s forced to either quit the company (and cancel out whatever money she might be earning, as well as have the potential opportunities that might still come to fruition when Vince’s yes-men realize that even outside of the ring, Saraya has astounding potential both as an on-air, and backstage talent if they’d let her. What selfish oaf Vince McMahon must be to tamp down any possible avenue his employees take to connect to their fans. The jealousy is paramount; those who don’t allow Vince to get them over are never able to do so. Ask Paige. Ask Zack Ryder. Ask CM Punk. Daniel Bryan. Finn Balor. The New Day. Cody F’N Rhodes.
It’s selfish. It’s mean. It strips a human being of their station under the pretense that their fake persona is legally bound to their real self. The fact that a WWE star might stand up their own Twitch channel to connect to those fans as themselves is no different than a retired wrestler sitting behind an 8’ table signing 8x10s and posing for pictures. Sure, Vince’s machine made them famous; but that doesn’t mean he is owed back pay for that fame. The cut at the door, the profits in his network, the money over-the-top on merchandise, and millions of dollars taken in for licensing his shows for cable and network — not to mention the blood money given to him by Saudi Arabia more than makes up for the barely-better-than-dinner money a superstar might have earned by filming a few Cameos!
So, how best to protest this? I wish there were easier answers. Turning off WWE programming might further beleaguer Vince and his executives to cut talent contracts further. And with most talent having now turned off their feeds, no last-minute telethons are going to happen to show support for their rights there. And I’m near positive hate-tweeting Vince won’t create significant change either. For me personally, I’ll do as I’ve been doing. My subscription the WWE network has long since been forgotten. I’ve never-and-still-won’t be purchasing any of their overpriced merchandise. And if I’m made to see one more video like the one above? Well, I personally will need to part ways with McMahon’s mayhem altogether… until he inevitably dies and someone with half a spine does the right thing.