There are a few theories floating around the fan base about why WWE didn’t just postpone or cancel WrestleMania 36 when other sports events and entertainment productions began to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Why didn’t they eliminate the risk of transmission among their workers by running content from their vast library during Raw, SmackDown and NXT’s time slots?
“Vince McMahon is too stubborn”, is one guess. Another is, “Fox and NBCUniversal just signed big money contracts for live shows, and WWE doesn’t want to let them down or anger them”. A third has to do with insurance money the company might lose if they didn’t put on this year’s WrestleMania, but I’m not sure that one is still operative (and it’s always existed at least partially in the realm of conspiracy).
The questions and speculative answers have mounted as the government where WWE is doing most of their filming announced stricter social distancing mandates, and with reports of sick wrestlers being removed from the planned ‘Mania card.
In an interview with Variety, Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon says there’s one reason and one reason only.
“WWE is fan first” McMahon says. “We are all about providing content for our fans, providing an experience for them that is worthy of their passion. They come first. Everything we do, we do through a lens of ‘How can we best serve our fans?’”
McMahon went on to say that WWE is currently experimenting with technology that would allow fans to experience WrestleMania virtually, as “ultimately what we want to do is provide our audience with that escape.”
It’s a noble stance. And while it is definitely the kind of focus group-tested marketing soundbite you’d find on a website or in a brochure, there’s also truth to it. WWE is an entertainment company, and I do believe they keep the “put smiles on people’s faces” mission statement in mind when making business decisions.
But it’s also not the only reason. The fans are only one stakeholder the company is trying to please. Stephanie’s explanation doesn’t rule out any of the theories listed above as to why WWE is persisting.
McMahon’s quote is the kicker of a Variety article detailing the precautions WWE’s put in place because of COVID-19. They’re the things we’ve been hearing about for weeks:
“At a typical event, talent are milling about, they’re at catering or wherever when they’re not actually in part of the show. That’s not allowed now. There’s extensive testing and screening when you first come in the facility regardless of whether you’re a talent, a crew member, or anyone else. Working with our doctors, you have your temperature taken. If you have a temperature over 100.4 degrees, you are automatically asked to leave.
If you’ve been out of the country or been in touch or in contact with anybody who’s been out of the country you’re not allowed in the facility. We’re taking every precaution we can. It’s also why you don’t see talent or anyone else in the audience. We really are adhering to all the guidelines that we can to maintain the health and safety of our crew and our performers.
We have a lot of talent who live in the Florida area, which is very helpful. During any type of extensive taping period we are asking all of our talent to remain in the Orlando area and not travel.”
For most of the steps McMahon outlines, Variety has a matching quote from Dr. Thomas LaVeist, Ph.D, the dean of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine where he explains that what WWE is doing is better than nothing, but far from foolproof.
Again, most of us are grateful for any diversion we can find in these scary times. That includes the new content WWE’s been producing the past few weeks.
But when stars are being removed from announced performances due to illness or fear of illness, and major industry publications are asking why you to defend being one of the few entertainment businesses soldiering on during a global health crisis, is it really a diversion?
Or is it time to ask yourselves if you’re really best serving fans - or anyone else - by persisting?