Over the last few weeks fans have seen vague and simultaneously somewhat detailed reports of WWE higher ups setting their sights on contracted talent's Non-WWE social media platforms. The platforms in question right now are specifically Twitch and Cameo, but with reason to believe it will extend to all platforms very shortly. The vague reasoning behind such a business oriented move has yet to be broken down for fans and other talents leaving them with a sense of being blanketed. Thus leaving a terrible proverbial taste in the mouths of both fans and talent alike. So let's break it down into some talking points on both sides for further contemplation for another time.
From the late 70s through the 90s many things were different. On this point I think we can all agree. The contracts were different. The Superstars were different. The wrestling style was different. The pay scale was different. The program rating was different. The viewership ratings were different. The sponsorships as well as the company standing were different. The available roles and T.V. time were different. Social media was yet to be a huge thing as we see it today. If only we all invested in Google in the year 2000, am I right? Lol. Regardless, with redundancy, I say again the times were different and they were a-changing!
The Monday Night Wars were at that time some of the highest paying periods up to that point with some of the highest viewership ratings that were in fact at one point beating the highest viewed T.V show - The NFL. The product wasn't yet PG. And the WWE wasn't yet a publicly traded company that needed to satisfy investors that own stake in the company. Superstars labeled 'Independent Contractors' at that time didn't have Tik Toks, YouTube Channels, Podcasts, Twitch's, Cameo or Celeb Vm's, and certainly no Instagrams. What they did have was better and worse at the same time. They had WWE circulating to them Magazine shoots like Muscle and Fitness, Maxim, Playboy, and more. WWE fed them commercial gigs like stacker 2 or Got Milk, guest spots on shows like Letterman, and small roles in films which later became produced by WWE Studios heavily emphasizing Hollywood stars for crossover marketing.
Why were these better and worse? Simple, once WWE stopped feeding certain stars opportunities begotten by the WWE, the stars had very little other means of getting themselves back over and in a sense back into the lime light. A circumstance very much exploited by the stars today that unfortunately wasn't available back then. Options and contracts is what it comes down to. Contracts. Options. Options and Contracts. Stars today can make money doing what they want, when they want, however they want. But they forgot one thing - The WWE. Many of the stars owe the fame and notoriety of their platforms to the hard work they put into the WWE and by proxy the WWE put into them. And all that comes down to the contract and the options within. The world us changing and it's not farfetched to think that contracts will change with it...
When most of us go to wrestling schools, I'd honestly bet my entire career that none of us were taught in those classes 'how to read/understand a contract 101.' Your paying dues doesn't cover business 101. Period. While fans and talent may in fact be agitated over the upcoming changes, you have to understand that if they signed it, it's on them. Period. Why? Because it's a signed contractual agreement that oftentimes benefits the company more than the star. And yes 99% of those contracts are 'Independent Contractor' contracts. So then the argument becomes well, how much power should a company have over Independent Contractors if they are supposed to be 'Independent,' which is the very first word in their job title? And on the flip side, as an 'Independent Contractor' isn't it your responsibility to understand what you're signing before you sign it as well as deciding who/what you want to work for? All the while keeping in mind that if you don't sign it, there's a line of a million others who would sign it and gladly. Those questions and those realities are a huge part of the Pro Wrestling Business at its most basic. Along those same lines is the not audibly said but certainly understood that if you want to work for certain companies you'll need to abide by their rules. This is a concept everyone can understand. Control of the company product/reputation has always been a factor because at the end of the day it is a business. But fans and talent are only now truly starting to understand its extent, but why? Why now?
Why now is even more simple and is at the heart of the controversy - social media. This social media world that we're all living in connects billions within seconds. That's power. And as we all know, "with great power comes great responsibility." Yes, a shameless Spider-Man reference. I digress. With such power there is also vulnerability. For example, a giant chunk of funding for WWE comes from T.V. deals and sponsorships. Check! Say WWE employs 200 Superstars within the entirety of its brands. Okay check! With 200 Superstar Independent Contractors all with their own Twitters, Instagrams, Twitches, Cameos, YouTube's. So 200 Superstar Independent Contractors with each 5 platforms to monitor. Check. One bad publicity from just 1 of those 200 Superstars times all 5 platforms within seconds can quite literally cost millions and negatively affect the working relationships of T.V. and sponsorships. Checkmate. Just 1. As a business that's too high a risk and is the responsibility of the company. However the Superstars have a role to play in that as well. If Superstars maintain a social media presence that coincides with the guidelines and restrictions of the WWE as a PG publicly traded company, then there'd be no problems.
What does this mean? Bye bye thong/bikini pics/nude photo shoots. Bye bye swearing/sexual gestures. Bye bye certain venues/activities like filming Superstars at bars/nightclubs and more. Bye bye to negative affiliations to certain individuals and programs. From all platforms including Tik Tok/Twitch/Podcasts/YouTube, etc... WWE, AEW, Impact Wrestling and others already monitor with marketing firms and their Superstars need approval for podcasts, interviews, magazines, and more. It was obvious that social media platforms would be the next step. If you think in terms of business, if 1 really bad press from 1 Superstar could potentially damage T.V. and sponsorship deals then those odds are pretty high when you have under your employ for example 200+ Superstars all doing/saying/wearing/going places that don't fit a PG product potentially ruining the careers of everyone else in the company.
Social media in seconds has news across the world and trending. Pro Wrestling over the last few years and most especially in 2020 has had bad press hit after bad press hit. One after another. When bad things happen on the indies and in other companies, it negatively affects all the companies in one was at or another because the outside world views Pro Wrestling as a whole and not individual companies. Many in the world are still behind the times and still refer to wrestling as The WWF. Any wrestling fan knows it hasn't been the WWF in decades but that shows the disconnect currently between pop culture and wrestling after the decision to take the WWE to PG. A play that made tons more in revenue from sponsorships but lost some in its connection to pop culture. Some of which returned with alternatives to the product that were directly related to the product such as Total Divas and its Reality T.V. audience tapped.
All in all, this was a long time coming. Yes its understandable to be agitated, confused, and angry even. But it's better to look at the facts from both sides to try and understand the situation at hand with an unbiased approach. Understandably Superstars will and should be angry. But they also need to look at the other side of it too just as we do. A lot of the Superstars reached their worth through the WWE just as much as their hard work. If they're engaging in things on third party platforms that aren't adjacent to WWE standards then there's a problem. That's easy to understand. Also what's easy to understand is the money that the Superstars were making to supplement themselves via third party platforms… The point is both sides have valid points and we need to strip the points to bare bones so to speak.
Wrestling is a business. It needs T.V deals and sponsorships to keep making money and employees. It's the job of the employees to follow the guidelines set up for them and understand them in their entirety as it relates to them and their career. You have the option to not sign. What's best for one may not be best for another, so it's every Superstar's responsibility to figure out what's best for them just as the WWE will do what's best for the WWE. The WWE is a staple in the industry and they'll do what they need to to ensure a profitable future. Content control is a major part of that in our social media world going forward to protect business opportunities. If by some stroke of extremely bad luck for example, if WWE lost its T.V. deal and failed to secure another, how long do you think it could afford to stay in business especially with Covid 19 safety restrictions and measures? There would go hundreds of jobs and millions of dreams. Gone. Just like that.
So going forward, Superstars will need to sign new agreements with true understanding of what their new limitations are and I think more attention should be brought to focus on the power of 'Independent Contractors,' as it relates to health, wealth, happiness, and success of its Superstars and the company as a whole which inevitably affects the product. Yes as a company returns on investment are important because money coming in being better than money going out is good business. Bleeding money without it coming back only ensures closed doors. In terms of happiness and equally as important should also be the environment. The environment surrounding your employees is either a circle or a cage. A happy employee will out perform a miserable employee at every opportunity and will do everything possible to elevate it.
And when being on a product geared towards children, all should do their best to be the best role models they can be and that extends to their own non-WWE platforms. In terms of wealth, if you're making 40K at NXT and make it to the main roster with only a minimal raise, certain covered expenses are no longer covered. Minus taxes which in some states are almost 50%. Minus your gear pricing, supplements, hair, makeup, rent, tolls, hotels, rental cars, and more. The loss of income from third party platforms will irrevocably hinder quite a few Superstars as well as limiting their options and steam for their lives after WWE. These new third party protocols will ensure opportunities still head WWE's way but harshly stall the options of the Superstars while employed by the WWE bringing them back to the 70s-early 2000s Superstars' quandary of what now as it relates to their lack of WWE pushes, money flows, and post WWE opportunities.
At this point, in my opinion, I think its crucial to point out that this situation is a give and take with both sides having valid concerns and intense emotions about the news. The people saying "oh stop complaining you guys are in the WWE, so shut up," don't understand what's amiss. The others saying "you're lucky to still have a job with WWE," also don't understand. It's not luck when it comes to most of the WWE Superstars. So think before you say things. Some of these people don't realize that they may actually make more money than the stats they're trolling after all expenses are considered which makes the loss of control over third party platforms is extremely worrisome and disconcerting.
The Superstars work hard so they earn what they get in most cases. Getting signed isn't the hardest part. What most fans don't realize is that making it out of NXT with a character that translates to the main roster and then making it to the top of the main roster and maintaining your spot in the lime light is the end game. That's not entirely luck. That's a lot of consistency and hard work and opportunity. Arguably you could say with humor that the harder they work the luckier they get. So before you get proverbially overwhelmed by the bad taste in your mouth from the way in which this news was presented publicly, let's take this opportunity to understand it better from all angles and what it'll mean going forward. I want to end this conversation with a thought provoking question, 'if WWE paid its Superstars more with benefits, and those same Superstars used their third party platforms in better ways that were more mutually advantageous within the confines of their employers' PG restrictions in relevance to the social media content, would this decision by WWE still be happening…?'
With that said, as more news comes up, I'll continue to break it down from a Pro Wrestler's perspective as well as how it relates to business and the fans.
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