A Tale Of Two Promotions: How NJPW, WWE Handled The Pandemic On April 15th

What A Wednesday It Was

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A Tale Of Two Promotions: How NJPW, WWE Handled The Pandemic On April 15th
New Japan Pro Wrestling And World Wrestling Entertainment Logos via New Japan Pro Wrestling And World Wrestling Entertainment, Edit By Walter Yeates

NJPW On Wednesday

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) the second-highest ticket selling professional wrestling company in the world per public records, led a contingent of promotions based in Japan to Tokyo’s Lower House Assembly Hall. From NJPW’s website.

On Wednesday April 15, led by Bushiroad Company Director Takaaki Kidani, Hiroshi Tanahashi and NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi joined representatives from STARDOM, Pro Wrestling NOAH, All Japan Pro-Wrestling, DDT Pro-Wrestling, Diana and Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling at Tokyo’s Lower House Assembly Hall. Together the company representatives were present to consult with the Japanese Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, (and former NJPW wrestler) Hiroshi Hase to discuss how the COVID-19 crisis has affected the professional wrestling industry in Japan. 

The representatives met with Hase with the goal of presenting a request for Coronavirus testing kits for wrestlers and staff in the industry, as well as support to cover pay for wrestlers as events have cancelled [sic] under Japan’s current state of emergency in reaction to the virus. Said Kidani: ‘This formal proposal has my name signed at the bottom, but the issues covered are ones that affect the entire professional wrestling industry as well as all of sports and live entertainment. I hope that it will be accepted as such.’

NJPW and World Wonder Ring Stardom (Stardom) are subsidiaries of Bushiroad and together makeup between 85 – 90 percent of the professional wrestling market share in Japan. Their act of coming together with far smaller wrestling outlets is a remarkable sign of solidarity and unity during a global pandemic. The group presented a proposal to Minister Hase, on how the government could help them take care of wrestlers under contract with them.

‘The current Novel Coronavirus pandemic has seriously affected the entire professional wrestling industry, including but not limited to Bushiroad Group members New Japan Pro-Wrestling and STARDOM. 

Professional wrestling is a contact sport, and even matches without the public present is a dangerous undertaking in the current climate. We can not allow the flame of professional wrestling that has burned brightly in this country for over half a century to be exterminated. 

Therefore, we hereby make the following requests:

1.Testing kits

While we understand that top priority for medical supplies must go to those in centers on the front lines of battling this disease, if at all possible, we request that kits may be supplied to test and protect wrestlers and staff within the industry.

2.Compensation for contracted wrestlers

Not only the wrestlers under contract in our group of companies, but those in the industry at large are designated as contractors whose livelihood is therefore threatened by not being able to perform in the current climate. We ask that contracted wrestlers be met with benefits and protections befitting of full time employees.

The proposal, lacking anything specifically benefit the companies, asks for aid to ensure contracted wrestlers have COVID-19 testing kits, and their agreed-upon pay to help them with living expenses while professional wrestling is at a standstill across the nation. NJPW wrestler Hiroshi Tanahashi delivered poignant remarks during the meeting regarding the current state of affairs.

‘While events have been cancelled [sic], our wrestlers have been training diligently and maintaining their focus for an eventual return. Yes, not being able to wrestle does make a lot of us concerned for our livelihoods, but in the world of sports, be that baseball, soccer, or sumo, I feel that professional wrestling should be the anchor. I think it should be acceptable for professional wrestling to be the last sport to return to full activity. I want people to know that when professional wrestling is back, then and only then it means truly that Japanese entertainment has properly recovered.’

The full list of participants at the meeting is below.

Hiroshi Hase (lower house minister, Liberal Democratic Party)
Sports Board, Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry Representative (unnamed)
Takaaki Kidani (Company director, Bushiroad Group)
Hiroshi Tanahashi (New Japan Pro-Wrestling)
Naoki Sugabayashi (Chairman, New Japan Pro-Wrestling)
Suwama (All Japan Pro-Wrestling)
Takenori Fukuda (Representative Director, All Japan Pro-Wrestling)
HARASHIMA (DDT Pro-Wrestling)
Akira Takahashi (Operating Executive, DDT Pro-Wrestling)
Naomichi Marufuji (Executive Vice President, NOAH Global Entertainment)
Masashi Ishiguro (Head of Public Relations, NOAH Global Entertainment)
Mayu Iwatani (STARDOM)
Katsuhiko Harada (Representative Director, Bushiroad Fight)
Yuka Sakazaki (Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling)
Tetsuya Kouda (Representative, Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling)
Kyoko Inoue (World Women’s Wrestling Diana)
Taishi Fuwa (World Women’s Wrestling Diana)

WWE On Wednesday

On Wednesday morning in the United States WWE released a chilling memo foreshadowing a slew of firings that would occur later during the day.

A Capture Of The WWE Memo Published On April 15, 2020 via World Wrestling Entertainment

On March 25th, the United States Congress passed the H.R.748 – CARES Act that allows small businesses and corporations affected by COVID-19 to receive government aid and loans. Corporations like the WWE qualify for the program even if they furlough or fire employees. 

A Portion Of Subtitle C – Business Provisions OF The H.R.748 – CARES Act via Congress.gov

However, WWE decided to furlough or release the following members of their wrestling roster, producers, and coaches: Drake Maverick, Curt Hawkins, Zack Ryder, Heath Slater, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Rusev, No Way Jose, Sarah Logan, Mike Kanellis, Maria Kanellis, Aiden English, EC3, Lio Rush, Eric Young, Primo Colon, Epico Colon, Erick Rowan, Deonna Purrazzo (NXT), Aleksandar Jaksic (NXT), MJ Jenkins (NXT), Josiah Williams (NXT), Mike Chioda (Referee) were all released according to multiple reports. While furloughed producers and trainers include: Kurt Angle, Lance Storm, Mike Rotunda, Sarah Stock, Dave ‘Fit’ Finlay, Shane Helms, Pat Buck, Shawn Daivari, Scott Armstrong, Lance Storm, Billy Kidman, Ace Steel, Serena Deeb, and Kendo Kashin.

Writer Andrea Listenberger was also released from the company.

Several days before the moves, Linda McMahon who is the Chairperson of the America First Political Action Committee; along with being the former WWE Chief Executive Officer, Administrator of the Small Business Administration under current United States President Donald Trump, and currently married WWE Chairman Vince McMahon released the following memo.

April 9, 2020 Spending Announcement Memo From The America First PAC Chaired By Linda McMahon via America First Political Action Committee

Days later, WWE would be declared an ‘essential’ business in the state of Florida. The releases also come during a time when the company is making $470 million yearly on television licensing deals with Fox paying $205 million (Smackdown) and NBCUniversal paying $265 million (RAW). A figure that doesn’t include revenue from merchandising or the WWE Network streaming service. As mentioned in the April 15th press release, WWE has $500 million between available cash and debt capacity.

A Portion Of A WWE Press Release Highlighting Their 2019 Fiscal Year Success via World Wrestling Entertainment

As reported by WWE, their Q4 2019 revenue was a staggering $322.8 million, while operating income reached a lofty $99.8 million. For the entire 2019 fiscal year, WWE had an operating income of $116.5 million — highlighting their decision to furlough and release individuals was done to preserve current profit margins, not to avoid losing money.

The company may still take advantage of the CARES Act to recoup revenue losses due to COVID-19, even after the unnecessary firing of workers during a global pandemic.

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