WWE is ending an eventful week by revealing that after a brief return to live shows, it plans to pre-tape all of its TV shows from the end of April through the beginning of July. The company also claims that it will be doing this in the safest possible way for its workers.
The timeline of WWE’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a packed one. When restrictions on gatherings were put in place around the U.S. and most sports and entertainment went on hiatus, WWE continued to film episodes of television, just pre-taping them at the Performance Center with no fans in attendance instead of broadcasting them live from arenas. Even after some talent had to pull out because of health and travel issues and there was a positive coronavirus test within the company, WWE decided to start airing live shows again.
It seemed like those might get shut down as Florida took more anti-coronavirus measures, but after a suspiciously timed Super PAC donation, WWE, along with other sports and media, was deemed an essential business by the state. In the following days, WWE started collaborating with the Ad Council on coronavirus safety PSAs, released a Community Impact Report about all the great things they say the company does, and Vince McMahon was added to President Donald Trump’s task force to reopen the economy. The wrestling promotion also announced mass layoffs that included wrestlers, producers, coaches, and writers.
As more media outlets (including The Independent and The Nation) have taken notice of WWE’s financial and political dealings, Pro Wrestling Sheet‘s Ryan Satin, who appears on FS1’s WWE Backstage, received an “exclusive” report that WWE is returning to pre-taped shows. Satin reports that, “in an effort to have performers traveling as little as possible,” WWE will, on April 25, start taping one to two episodes of their programs at a time. The whole taping schedule is in the article, with July 1 the last filming date (for the July 8 edition of NXT.) Tonight’s episode of Smackdown and all of next week’s WWE TV will be live.
The piece also includes details about new health and safety measures WWE is taking, which it says have, “continued to evolve as we learn more about coronavirus as a society.” The protocols described are all things that other companies were doing already, some of which WWE was already doing: “wearing face masks, good hygiene/handwashing for the appropriate amount of time, medical screenings prior to entering any closed set, matches done in waves, only essential personnel on-site, adhering to social distancing outside of performances, ‘pandemic-level cleaning’ and more.”
Anonymous WWE sources have more positive things to say about the company in the article, including that, “despite some outside criticism, WWE is putting a lot of effort into mitigating risks and doing the best they can to protect people’s health and safety while still keeping the business afloat amidst the current pandemic.” (In a statement to investors the day of the layoffs, WWE stated that it has “substantial financial resources, both available cash and debt capacity, which currently total approximately $0.5 billion, to manage the challenges ahead.” An in-depth outside analysis of the company’s finances by Wrestlenomics can be found here.)
A WWE rep also gave Pro Wrestling Sheet a statement making the case for why the company should continue to produce new shows, not just financially, but for the good of society. “We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times,” the source said. According to this person, because WWE is, “a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society, WWE and its Superstars bring families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance.”