Yesterday, we watched the Mayor of Orange County, Florida reveal that WWE was officially declared an "essential" business, noting that the billion dollar entertainment corporations just a "small family" of "wrasslers" who he assumes are taking adequate measures to protect their employees and independent contractors from COVID-19. The revelation followed WWE's decision to return to live weekly broadcasts of its three television shows, Raw, Smackdown, and NXT. That decision happened after a WWE on-air talent tested positive for COVID-19, but before WWE admitted it publicly. Mayor Jerry Demmings said that local authorities initially did not consider WWE essential, but after "conversations" with the office of Governor Ron DeSantis, WWE was added to the list of essential businesses.
WWE and Donald Trump's Long Association
Now, a new timeline has emerged that may add more context to the somewhat baffling decision to declare a pro wrestling company "essential" when even legitimate sports leagues have suspended operations during state-wide stay-at-home orders. Bleeding Cool, and lots of other organizations, have long pointed out the not-so-secret association between President Donald Trump and the McMahon family. WrestleMania 4 and 5, after all, were held at Trump's Atlantic City Casino, Trump Plaza, in 1988 and 1989. Trump himself is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and has participated in various WWE storylines, including the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23, in which Trump's champion, Bobby Lashley, faced off against Vince McMahon's champion, Umaga.
But in addition to that, the McMahons have donated millions of dollars to Trump's political campaigns, money which landed Linda McMahon a spot on the cabinet as head of Trump's Small Business Administration. McMahon stayed in that position, enduring only one opulence scandal, before leaving last year to head up a Trump SuperPac for the 2020 election. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is, in case you wondering, a staunch Trump ally himself. The point is that it should be surprising to no one that WWE is well-connected and has the ability to get things done in a pay-to-play political system, which is exactly the kind of system we have here in the good ol' U.S. of A. Or, as Aubrey Sitterson put it:
Anyone shocked about Linda McMahon's connection to the Trump administration vis-à-vis WWE being named an "essential business" is telling on themselves for not having read The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling.
— aubreysitterson (@aubreysitterson) April 14, 2020
Once a Carny, Always a Carny
So to anyone who has followed any of this reporting over the last several years, or to anyone who has watched WWE programming, or to anyone who is even tangentially aware of WWE's carny origins, what we're about to tell you should not come as a shock. As uncovered by Florida journalists John Alba and Stephanie Coueignoux, a timeline of the events of the past week show that America First Action, that Linda McMahon SuperPac we mentioned earlier, pledged to spend $18.5 million dollars in Florida on April 9th, the same day Governor DeSantis amended his orders to make pro wrestling "essential."
April 9: DeSantis qualifies WWE as essential. Same day, Linda McMahon's re-elect Trump Super PAC commits $18.5 million to Florida.
April 10: Vince McMahon reportedly made decision to tape live in Orlando. https://t.co/lmyomQUmSp
— Jon Alba (@JonAlba) April 14, 2020
The very next day, WWE changed their plans from taping many shows in a condensed time period to broadcasting live each week instead, even though that means WWE employees and independent contractors will need to travel more often, potentially putting them in more danger, and even though airing the shows live with no audience doesn't appear to have any impact on the enjoyability of the shows. What broadcasting live does potentially impact is WWE's television contracts, which reportedly limit the number of taped shows that can be produced. The only thing WWE live broadcasts are essential to is WWE's ability to continue to collect its TV licensing revenue.
WWE could tape weeks worth of shows in just a few days and then send their employees and contractors home to rest and be safe. They could even air old episodes of WWE programming, maybe with added commentary, and that would probably even be more entertaining than the current empty arena shows featuring current matchups which, if we're all being honest with ourselves, weren't exactly lighting up the ratings charts even before the pandemic. But they don't have to do that, maybe because they have money and political connections, and so they won't. Hopefully, that decision doesn't end in unfortunate consequences for the employees and contractors of WWE.