If the two on-the-record comments we’ve heard from WWE contracted talents are any indication, we know what the company’s early public relations strategy is regarding its planned Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia and the controversy surrounding the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Word is the company plans to hold the event in Riyadh as scheduled on Fri., Nov. 2. Yesterday (Oct. 16), JBL defended that decision with the argument WWE will be an agent of progressive change in the middle east, using the example of Sasha Banks & Alexa Bliss wrestling in Abu Dhabi late last year. It’s the same line used to respond to criticism of Greatest Royal Rumble and the policy of not allowing female talent to participate in pay-per-view (PPV) shows in the Kingdom, without addressing how the possibly state-ordered murder of a critic of the Royal Family changes the situation.
Today, TMZ caught up with Randy Orton, who defended the decision to go forward with Crown Jewel by... you guessed it:
“I think we should go. I think the only way to help with change over there is to go and not to cancel the trip. Our girls performed in Abu Dhabi not too long ago, and I think we’ll be there eventually with Saudi and the Crown Jewel. That’s the goal is to make things better everywhere and I think us not going—it doesn’t help. Going helps.”
As you can hear in the clip, Orton wasn’t given any specifics in the question from TMZ’s interviewer beyond “everything that’s going on over there”. So this is a little different from JBL delivering the same talking points on a program where he directly discussed the international uproar around Khashoggi’s disappearance.
But it’s probably not a coincidence that Randy had the same reason and example ready for an airport ambush from a tabloid.
Will it work? Wade Keller of Pro Wrestling Torch said any reference to Crown Jewel was booed by the Washington, D.C. crowd at SmackDown 1000 last night, even when it was mentioned by Undertaker. But it’s difficult to tell, like with online vows to protest the show and the company, what impact that will have. Especially coming from fans who didn’t feel strongly enough to miss out on the big anniversary show or refrain from cheering Vince McMahon.
Perhaps they believe that in order to get WWE to change, they have to show up for and take part in WWE events.
McMahon and his management team will have to answer to a different audience next Thursday on their quarterly investor conference call. Whether they receive much more pushback than the fans online or in attendance at SmackDown 1000 have given will likely depend on news out of Ankara, Riyadh and Washington over the coming days.