The last year or so has been one of the most difficult for a very long time for people and businesses the world over. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way that we live our lives and businesses interact, and that impact could well be a permanent one; the economic, social, emotional and environmental costs could be incalculable.
There is probably not one business in the world that has not been touched in some way by the pandemic; big and small have all been affected. And one of those has been the WWE. From mid-March last year, major sports leagues closed their locker rooms impacting on the ability of the WWE to function properly, and ticketed events were suspended; indeed, the most visual impact of this was that WrestleMania was held behind closed doors for the first time ever. And following WrestleMania, episodes of both Raw and SmackDown! were broadcast in pre-recorded formats rather than live performances, though live broadcasts returned within a month.
Though the company claimed their revenue losses would be “limited”, it was during April 2020 that the financial impact on the WWE started to become clear, when a number of cuts were made and a large number of performers and staff were laid off, including Kurt Angle, Rusev, Zack Ryder, and Heath Slater, a number of producers, and popular referee Mike Chioda.
The one thing that Vince McMahon and the WWE have been renowned for over the years is their ability to innovate. From the evolution of wrestling as a sport and on to sports entertainment, the exploitation of pay-per-view TV and acquisition of rival brands, the development of the Attitude Era and the Brand Split, McMahon and the WWE have always been one step ahead of the game.
And they will need to innovate once again as the WWE gets to grip with what a post-pandemic world may look like. Although vaccine programmes are being rolled-out around the world, Covid-19 still has the ability to wreak havoc, as the WWE have had to recognise through the rescheduling of WrestleMania 37.
But there have been hints that the WWE is starting to get a handle on things, and with the technology available, there is no reason why they cannot still thrive. Last summer they launched the virtual viewing experience WWE ThunderDome, which recreates the live experience using technology – in the way that pokie wins do – and pyrotechnics, and included the installation of banks of LED boards to allow for virtual fans.
As the world begins to adapt to a new normal, the WWE will need to react to and reflect this. They have the track record to suggest that they can.