Is the WWE an Essential Business?
The world of professional sports has been shuttered for more than a month thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the entire globe. That spilled over into the kayfabe world of professional wrestling, where WWE had to move Wrestlemania 36 from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to their Performance Center in Orlando. While the event went on, it was spread over two days with all the matches taped in advance and spliced together instead of taking place in front of a live audience. With the majority of the United States under varying degrees of stay at home orders, it seemed that it would put a damper on potential events taking place.
As it stood, WWE’s main competitors in the industry, Impact Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling, had worked multiple days in the last couple of weeks to shoot several weeks of programming in an order to comply with the restrictions laid out by the government. The state of Florida has a stay at home order, outside of essential businesses, that is in effect until April 30. That has led to several weeks of taped programming. In the wake of the declaration of bankruptcy by Alpha Entertainment, the parent company of the XFL and owned by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, the company needed something positive to come out to reverse the trend.
Enter the governor’s office, as quicker than a wrestler can change from a heel to a face, the winds of change blew through and altered the landscape for WWE, and potentially other organizations. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in a memo dated last Thursday, an addition to the essential business list in the state includes “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience -- including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production -- only if the location is closed to the general public."
So what does that mean going forward, for both the WWE and potentially the rest of the sporting world, when it comes to being in the Sunshine State? Well, going by what was written in the memo, it would seem that, at least theoretically, the potential for both Major League Baseball and even the UFC, to make an effort to have events take place there. As long as they close the venue to the public, one would have to think that DeSantis has made Florida a potential haven for sports-driven organizations to get themselves back on the map so to speak. It was definitely a quick reversal of fortunes that benefitted the WWE, which has to deal with binding terms in their television deals about having a set number of live shows each year.
From a betting perspective, it adds a bit of unpredictability to things, which can cut both ways. It can take the ability to place a bet based on having a pretty good idea of who is going to prevail, which can limit your potential take. On the flip side, with a little more uncertainty involved, it can create more favorable odds because the results have no ability of being leaked ahead of time. The damage that can be done from a bettor’s point of view thanks to taped programming has been seen numerous times in the past, most recently with the surge of bets on 16th-seeded Derrick Jones Jr. in his contest with top-seeded Kevin Durant in the NBA 2K Players Tournament.
With that said, there are concerns about the return to live programming and it comes from the talent themselves. One of the company’s biggest stars, Roman Reigns, pulled out of Wrestlemania 36 as he had battled a recurrence of leukemia in late 2018 and early 2019. Rather than run the risk of potentially contracting the virus, he chose to step aside as an immunocompromised individual. In his stead, Braun Strowman defeated Goldberg to claim the WWE Universal Championship. Paige had also skipped a set of previous tapings, though she hasn’t competed in the ring since December 2017. It will be interesting to see how things pan out going forward regarding which talent shows up and competes as opposed to being off-camera for an extended period of time.
One thing that has to be taken into consideration is the fact that Florida has had their issues with the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, the state had a total of 21,367 cases of COVID-19 with 524 deaths from the virus. The one plus, if you can call it that, is that 59 percent of the cases in the state and 56 percent of the deaths are centered in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in the southern part of the state. Current projections say that the state may not hit its peak case number for another 10 days or so with their peak death rate still three weeks off. On the plus side, it does thin out the number of cases in the rest of the state.
Will this decision by DeSantis blow up in his face or be the beacon of hope that sports fans need in this moment of darkness? While the decision on its face is questionable at best, it’s something that, inevitably, is going to be something that will be watched intently over the coming weeks. How things transpire, both with WWE’s success of having shows and the response it gets from its talent regarding doing these live programs, could be the first indicator of how things could be going forward in the sports world. One has to hope that this decision is one that eventually be looked at as a bold first step in getting things back to normal and not something that ends up blowing up in a negative way down the line.