As mentioned in this morning’s Rumor Roundup, WWE reportedly altered their taping plans a bit on Friday. Instead of a marathon session where they would record matches & segment in bulk so as to bank material for use on Raw, NXT, and SmackDown for the remainder of the month, they’ll instead be working Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and airing live from the Performance Center.
Multiple sites have covered the story. Wrestling Observer has the most in-depth report. Dave Meltzer reports that Vince McMahon made the decision mid-day on Friday, directing his team to scrap the previous plan because they would air everything as “close to live” as possible. This was something McMahon was considering all along, and why sources told Meltzer and others the marathon taping plan was only the “current” one.
Why did Vince make the decision, despite it being one that will require talent that doesn’t already live in the Orlando area to either relocate there for the time being or travel weekly during the coronavirus pandemic?
WWE’s contracts with NBC Universal and Fox only allow for a limited number of taped episodes per year. Raw can have three, which were planned to be used this year on a Christmas week show and two during their European tour. The deal with Fox for SmackDown is believed to have a similar allowance.
“While nobody will say so publicly, the fear was that by violating the contract, it would give the networks the legal ability to withhold money or find a way to change the deals.”
With ratings down for the empty arena shows and advertising budgets being reduced in preparation for a pandemic-induced global recession, the thinking is that McMahon didn’t want to give his television partners any excuse to reduce their financial commitment to WWE. There’s no guarantee when the company will be able to resume live shows in front of crowds, so Vince is doing everything he can to protect the one reliable revenue stream he has.
People close to McMahon are allegedly defending the decision, but it doesn’t seem to be playing well in general backstage. Meltzer says “many in the company were shocked,” and Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp tweeted that “a lot of the talent I’ve reached out to aren’t happy about it.”
There are still no reports* on how exactly WWE is justifying this to Florida officials with the rest of the state under a stay-at-home order. But after the UFC’s plans to hold their next PPV in California were shut down due to pressure from that state’s Governor on ESPN parent company Disney, you have to think McMahon has secured “essential business” status for the company for Gov. Ron DeSantis and/or Orlando & Orange Country’s leadership. It’s possible public pressure on NBC Universal or Fox could change that, but it seems unlikely wrestling will attract the same level of scrutiny UFC did.
We shall see. For now, the shows go on, and they’re going on live.
* UPDATE: Fightful is now reporting “Some at the WWE tapings were given a letter in case they were questioned by law enforcement, stating that they are ‘essential media.’” Media is as an essential service exempt from Florida’s stay-at-home order.