Something very strange is happening internally at WWE. We keep hearing that the company is posting record quarters and record profits, and yet people keep getting fired. When the firings happen, the reason that the company gives for those firings is invariably “budget cuts.” Companies that have just posted record profits don’t tend to have to make budget cuts, so something seems amiss. We know we’re not the only people wondering what the real story is with WWE’s money, but is it possible to get to the bottom of the matter?
We’ve seen three bouts of firings in recent months. The first came almost immediately after WrestleMania 37 when, in a carbon copy of last year’s infamous “Black Wednesday,” a clutch of high-profile main roster talents were spontaneously released from their contracts. Among those let go were Samoa Joe and Billie Kay, both of whom had appeared on-screen at WrestleMania only days earlier. It makes sense for the company to release wrestlers on big-money contracts if they’re not being used, but that only applied to half – at best – of the people let go. Letting go of Samoa Joe, the Iiconics, and Mickie James looks likely to play into the hands of rival company All Elite Wrestling, which is likely to hire all of them.
More recently, there was a wave of firings at NXT. These cutbacks were more understandable. Drake Wuertz had become deeply unpopular in the dressing room because of his conspiracy theories and his attitude toward other workers. The Velveteen Dream had been a problematic figure for a full year and probably should have been let go far earlier. Even among this group, though, there were surprises. Vanessa Bourne had the look and attitude of a star and had even briefly been called up to the main roster, but she was never used and then got let go without re-appearing on NXT television. Like Taynara Conti, she’ll also probably go on to do well elsewhere if she decides to stay in the wrestling industry.
The most recent spate of cuts happened this week, this time in the company’s backstage departments. Whole divisions have been amalgamated, with middle managers fired and numerous senior figures told they’re no longer required. The WWE Studios film division is down to just its core employees. One of the company’s two graphics divisions no longer exists, as they’ve decided they can get by with just the one. The word among “in the know” experts on social media is that during the pandemic, WWE has learned it can get by on a “bare bones” number of employees. Is that really the case, though? Even if it is, shouldn’t the firings have happened at the height of the pandemic rather than right now, when WWE is gearing up to head back out onto the road and will need a full complement of staff to support it?
If the company’s accounts weren’t available to the public, we’d assume that WWE was in financial trouble. Making so many people redundant in such short succession is a sure sign of a business that’s struggling to pay the bills. Unless WWE has somehow managed to hide its struggles through clever accounting, though, this can’t be the case. If anything, they’re making more money now than at any point in history. Their current TV deals are huge. At the start of the year, they brought in another one billion dollars by selling the over-the-top “WWE Network” product exclusively to Peacock. Cash is not in short supply, so cash theoretically does not have to be saved.
There have been disappointments in the last year, though, and not all of them have to do with lack of income from ticket sales because fans haven’t been able to attend. Some moves the business has made haven’t paid off. The partnership with Facebook for “WWE Mixed Match Challenge” didn’t work out. A range of WWE-themed online slots that was scheduled for release at the end of 2020 didn’t appear, and nobody knows why. This would likely have been lucrative for the company. The world’s biggest casino websites make millions of dollars each year, so if the company came up with a range of licensed slots and managed to get them featured in places like Virgin Games or mFortune that are shown on leading casino sister sites websites, they’d have a substantial new stream of passive income. They’re missing out on that money, just as they’re also missing out on the money they’d otherwise have made from the two or three live events they’d have laid on in Saudi Arabia during the past eighteen months if things were normal. It’s possible that WWE budgeted for success in all of those areas, and has had to make adjustments because of them.
There is another possibility, though, and it’s one that many analysts aren’t talking about. While most companies that aggressively streamline themselves do so because they’re trying to balance the books, it’s also sometimes the prelude to a sale. Vince McMahon, WWE’s owner, and chairman, will turn 76 later this year. He can’t continue forever, and certainly won’t be able to work full time for much longer. When he eventually leaves the role – whatever the circumstances of that departure might be – it will create a power vacuum. Most people expect his son-in-law Paul “Triple H” Levesque to take over, but his son Shane will also expect a key role. Kevin Dunn, who’s spent his whole professional career with the company, is likely to want some input too. Stephanie McMahon won’t be content with being a “tag along” to her husband Levesque, and will expect a meaningful position of her own. Rather than putting his family and friends through a power struggle, McMahon might have decided to sell the company his father created and spare everyone the experience. There have been rumors for years that NBC would love to buy WWE. Maybe now is the time to act on that desire if it’s there.
We won’t pretend to have “insider” knowledge, but it’s obvious that more is going on than meets the eye with these cuts and finances. It might take a while to find out what the real story is, but we wouldn’t be surprised to find out that WWE is under new management in the near future.