SPOTLIGHTS: Dollars and Nonsense – The Financial Realities of Pro Wrestling

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Despite what the most dedicated fan may conclude, not a single member of the pro wrestling community is in it for the money or lifestyle. For the hundreds of individuals within this community we’re blessed to communicate with on a weekly basis, nary a one seemingly possesses any delusions of grandeur.

This, however, points to an arguable key problem with this industry. It may very well be the only form of sport that promises riches at highest levels yet simultaneously requires – in almost all instances – a path to this end fraught with injuries, near poverty, an unsustainable schedule, and a terrible success rate.

Still, dedicated promoters commit to this quest, also athletes and talent to barely make ends meet. One of our favorite athletes once promoted her wares at a merchandise table declaring it “gas money.” Amazon Wish Lists of these same individuals hope a generous lad/lass will provide the new set of boots and/or tights they solely need.

Huracanrana and I once left a terrific Full Impact Pro Show, educated by the promotion that tickets are background solely for an exponentially larger pay-per-view audience. Once that revelation sank in, we felt sad. Sad not for the $40 a ticket investment to be second fiddle, rather a fear of a low numbered audience on the pay-per-view end.

See, if there’s no one watching…after venue rental, employee salaries to host the event, and related event costs, promotions, talent and athletes are walking away with less than said gas money. And don’t forget athletes are also expending whatever profits they make on wrestling academies, medical bills and/or self-promotion. And the physical pain.

Merchandise tables can help fray those costs…but no fan can be t-shirt Jesus. Don’t kid yourself; NXT athletes suffer the same fate except select flavors du jour. And even they don’t own their brand, profits inconsequential from overall merchandise sales. My heart truly bleeds for the awesome referees, valets, and announcers across all promotions. They’re not merch friendly.

So what do athletes and talent do? Perform 5-6 nights a week in hopes of bigger PPV subscription numbers or getting the elusive WWE invite. Which amounts to an NXT training center invitation with no exchange of dollars and/or promises. An NXT tryout – especially a TV taping – is worth its weight in gold for visibility purposes. Again, my heart bleeds even more for athletes/talent with even higher hills to climb.

An NXT contract, however, means little for most. Pay doesn’t necessarily jump, creative freedom and schedule completely surrendered. Also and akin to the independent circuit, talent remains independent contractors with like guarantees. Schedules are equally grueling. If they survive NXT, these dedicated individuals can be one of ten thousand banking their very health and family on a WWE break.

WWE – for better or worse – is a publicly traded company. Their athletes and talent are brands. It’s how a publicly traded company judges the merits of its offerings. Brands are fickle as are audiences. If they don’t produce record profits among key demographics, they are downgraded and/or phased out in light of more marketable products. Critics of the WWE financial model, however, are simply being unreasonable. The only way its athletes potentially earn highest salaries is by said publicly traded model.

The problem lies in what happens before that point. Independent promotions and athletes must formalize agreements across regions, and share profits. Likewise unite leagues – akin to WWN – under a single brand umbrella. Institute merchandise programs that remove comprehensive burden from athletes, placing sales/distribution solely on trusted vendors (ie Pro Wrestling Tees) who supply the show, man booths. Find ways to reduce overhead via identified friendly venues, television deals, and key advertisers. Cross-promote outside of wrestling where favorable but untapped relationships can emerge.

 

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