After WWE spent the second half of the last decade almost strictly in talent acquisition mode, 2020 and 2021 have seen routine releases of wrestlers and other performers. Upwards of 100 people have been let go, mostly being told their job was eliminated by budget cuts.
The immediate impact of reducing the amount of money the company spends on labor is to the bottom line, and the emphasis on maximizing profits has led to talk of WWE could be for sale. Whether or not that’s a part of Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon and President Nick Khan’s plans remains to be seen. But what’s pretty clear is that WWE has moved away from a couple strategies that drove their roster growth of the 2010s.
At the 2018 Business Partner Summit where the above picture was taken, Paul “Triple H” Levesque laid out his plan for a global territory system. Regional Performance Centers would train and polish local talent, working with a roster of wrestlers WWE would sign from all over. NXT UK was the first such territory, and The Game had eyes on Japan, India and other growth markets.
Then AEW came along. That didn’t stop the talent stockpiling, of course. But once Tony Khan & his EVPs announced the TNT television contract, the NXT team shifted their focus from global domination to becoming a weekly two hour, live television show that would snuff out Dynamite before it even had a chance of growing big enough to think about competing with anything else.
A lot of wrestlers were used in that effort, but not nearly as many as were locked in to WWE contracts. Then the pandemic hit, and there weren’t even live events at which those wrestlers could hone their skills in front of an audience - or generate revenue in ticket sales. 2020 also made it clear NXT wouldn’t be killing Dynamite; AEW’s routine ratings success proved the Wednesday Night War wasn’t a winning play.
So here we are. It’s probably frustrating for Levesque and his team, and it sucks for the men & women who thought they were set at WWE but are now back out hustling for bookings. It makes sense from a business perspective.
A lot of this has been a part of the discussion amongst wrestling fans and insiders for a while now, but it’s also backed up by a “high level WWE official” Fightful Select spoke to after the NXT releases last night (Aug. 6). That person “expressed extreme frustration” with the moves, but also explained the company’s “‘it’s business’ line of thinking.”
There are plenty of other issues with the talent shedding strategy WWE now seems committed to, like what message it sends to fans & partners when performers who were just being featured on television and major event programs are suddenly deemed expendable. The company’s clearly moved away from a vision that requires having hundreds of wrestlers under contract though, so more nights like last night are probably ahead.