WWE claiming ownership of wrestlers’ real names and their money, too

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You might recall that, about a month ago, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) introduced a policy change for its performers, one that was exceedingly confusing and full of contradictory follow-up reports. Those wrestlers would be policed by WWE on their use of and relationships with “third-parties” like Twitch and Cameo, with the idea supposedly being that WWE was concerned about protecting their legal rights — like trademarks for wrestler names WWE owns. Basically, WWE didn’t like the idea of anyone making money on their own time if they were doing it using a name WWE owns, and decided they were going to take total control of those potential revenue-generating relationships.

The thing is, though, that WWE isn’t just doing this with the names they’ve trademarked. If a wrestler has a Twitch or a Cameo using their actual, real name, and not their WWE one, then WWE is still seeking control of those accounts and the dollars they generate. According to Wrestling Inc.’s reporting, WWE will take control of these Twitch and Cameo accounts by November.

Here’s the real kicker, per Wrestling Inc.: WWE is going to share the profits with wrestlers, but only sort of. The money shared with the wrestlers is going to count against the downside guarantee on their contract. Which is to say, WWE is stealing money from its performers who have off-the-clock third-party contracts that earn them additional income, by taking a cut of it for themselves and then using the part they “share” with the wrestler to avoid having to pay them more money out of their own corporate pockets.

The downside guarantee is what a wrestler is contractually obligated to earn regardless of how the contract plays out. If they don’t appear on television often enough, whether through injury or because the writers have nothing for them, they know they’ll be getting at least X dollars across Y years at minimum, and after that, WWE has no legal obligation to pay them further or give them more opportunities to be paid while the contract runs out. So, wrestlers making money on the side are now no longer technically making it on the side: WWE is baking it into the contracts they have with WWE, which will speed up the time it takes to hit their downside guarantee, which means WWE can consider their end of the bargain over sooner than usual, without having to pay all of what they themselves promised the wrestlers. And, on top of that, WWE somehow makes more money in the process, because they’ve cut in on what the wrestler was doing on their own time.

This is straight-up theft, especially since WWE’s wrestlers are independent contractors. They aren’t full-time employees with full health insurance. They don’t have WWE covering travel costs like unionized players in other sports. They don’t necessarily get a cut from merchandise, or from licensing, or anything else WWE makes money off of their performances with. They have a contract that pays them a downside guarantee, can be taken off of television for any reason or whim Vince McMahon comes up with or feels, and now will have money they themselves were earning off the clock under their real names taken from them by the boss.

Some WWE performers like Dakota Kai and Zelina Vega are, publicly, not thrilled about this change. The thing is, WWE has already threatened to go as far as firing anyone who doesn’t comply with their new social media/partnership policies, so grumbling might be as far as this goes. It shouldn’t be, though: there are other wrestling companies out there, like All Elite Wrestling and Impact, plus a career on the indies for a former WWE performer can be a lot different, monetarily, than for someone still making their name from the ground up.

A WWE career pays best of the bunch, without question, and that’s always the cudgel that the E goes to whenever they do something controversial like this. It’s a legalese way of saying, “If you don’t like it, leave,” issued by a company that tends to hold its workers hostage or publicly embarrass them when they say they want to leave.

I know there comes a point in these stories where I tend to say, “well, these workers need to organize to protect themselves,” but that’s because it’s the truth. WWE has not stopped for one second during a pandemic, and has had multiple coronavirus outbreaks in the process. The workers had the choice to stay home, but was it really a choice, in a wrestling outfit that acts with the kind of ownership over its wrestlers and their lives that WWE does? Sure, Roman Reigns can stay home for months before returning and getting slotted into championship matches out of the gate, but he’s The Guy in the company right now: less popular or secure wrestlers, or those who are still trying to make it from WWE’s version of the minor leagues, NXT, don’t have that choice even if it seems like they do. Not if they want to still be in Vince’s good graces.

And now, WWE is outright stealing money from its performers, claiming they have a right to manage and distribute it, and are “sharing” it in a way that not only makes WWE more money, but saves them from paying their workers their promised rates, too. WWE’s wrestlers need a union. It won’t be easy, but how else are they going to stop these sorts of things from happening? The threat of a wrestler leaving for the competition at the end of their deal clearly isn’t enough to get WWE and Vince McMahon to back off, but the threat of everyone organizing together and leaving open the possibility that they would all collectively no-show? Now that could get McMahon’s attention, because it would get the television networks’ attention, and that’s where th real money is. And even if it somehow still doesn’t register, well, unions exist to force bosses like that to listen even when they don’t want to.

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