WWE Issues Statement on Banning Superstars from Third-Party Contracts

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2020

The logo for World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., WWE, appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Drew/Associated Press

WWE officially addressed rumors it was prohibiting its talent from pursuing third-party endorsements or using services such as Twitch or Cameo.

Pro Wrestling Sheet's Ryan Satin provided a statement from the company on the matter:

"Much like Disney and Warner Bros., WWE creates, promotes and invests in its intellectual property, i.e. the stage names of performers like The Fiend Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, Big E and Braun Strowman. It is the control and exploitation of these characters that allows WWE to drive revenue, which in turn enables the company to compensate performers at the highest levels in the sports entertainment industry. Notwithstanding the contractual language, it is imperative for the success of our company to protect our greatest assets and establish partnerships with third parties on a companywide basis, rather than at the individual level, which as a result will provide more value for all involved."

Wrestling Inc.'s Raj Giri reported Friday that WWE chairman Vince McMahon informed wrestlers and on-screen personalities they had 30 days to cease working with third parties independently because they were "detrimental to our company."

The report raised eyebrows because it said McMahon was claiming that WWE owned the licensing rights for wrestlers' real names, not just intellectual property tied to their characters.

Further complicating matters, the people fans see on television are independent contractors and not classified as full-fledged employees of WWE. Andrew Yang, who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary, raised the issue on Twitter:

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

John Oliver devoted one episode of his HBO series Last Week Tonight to how WWE's approach to talent contracts impacts the level of health care the company is legally required to provide.

In his letter, McMahon alluded to "the next phase of growth at WWE," per Giri. The specifics of that next phase are unclear, but Verge's Chris Welch posited the promotion could be looking to try its own version of Cameo:

Beyond the legal questions surrounding this move, one could argue it's a counterproductive step for a company that is struggling to build new stars who connect with the audience.

Having wrestlers engage with fans over Cameo, Twitch or another streaming service is an easy way for them to reach a segment of viewers who might not otherwise follow the product. It's not all that different from having an outside name such as Pat McAfee wrestle at NXT TakeOver XXX.

Now, WWE appears to be taking that option off the table.