Strikes, submission holds and gravity-defying moonsaults ensure social distancing is not possible within the ring. This has left many wrestling promotions unsure of where they stand during the pandemic.
Live events have been canceled and larger promotions like WWE and All Elite Wrestling have opted to broadcast empty arena shows and pre-record them. The wrestlers in these shows have no audience energy to feed off of, causing AEW to put other wrestlers at ringside for the sake of having crowd reactions.
Many independent promotions don’t have the funds to do shows without an audience because most of their revenue comes from the fans themselves. For example, St. Louis Anarchy, an independent promotion based in Alton, Illinois, has had to cancel all of their shows due to their venue being closed. Their owner, Matt Jackson, said there are show-running expenses that still need to be paid even when the show can’t go on.
“Like with anything, when there’s no money coming in there are certain show expenses which have to still be paid out,” Jackson said. “For instance, if you fly in a talent [a wrestler], a lot of times those flights you can’t get refunded on. Some talent ask for pay advances so they would actually get paid before the event.”
Independent promotions still receive some revenue through streaming services like IWTV and Patreon pages. Evan Gelistico, a wrestler for St. Louis Anarchy, said even those funds aren’t enough money to run a show with.
“90 percent of our money comes from the live shows themselves, so not having that and only eating losses really hurts Anarchy,” Gelistico said. “It doesn’t put our future in question because we run this more like a business than an indie wrestling company and I think that has helped us do a lot and make sure we are going to be able to financially hold through this. We don’t have any sort of financial backers or anything like that. We are 100 percent funded by the fans.”
Jackson and Gelistico said Anarchy’s business practices are helping them get through this pandemic because their recent events have been profitable. Jackson has picked up a job at a grocery store to give the business some extra cushioning and Gelistico has a day job as a project coordinator at an IT company.
While most promotions are putting their live events on hold, Kraig Keesaman is forging ahead with plans to start a new promotion based in Kansas City, Missouri, called Viral Pro. In response to the pandemic, the studio wrestling show will limit the amount of people on set. Keesaman said they are trying their best to follow guidelines and are doing commentary remotely.
“We’re sticking to a very limited amount of people. There’s less than 10 people in the actual area that we’re filming at all times so we’re keeping that rule,” Keesaman said. “As far as production goes, we have one person that does our camera and lights and all that, he’s there and then commentary is done via Skype, so when the episode gets edited he starts doing the commentary and it’s set up remotely. We’re definitely taking precautions to ensure that we’re not doing our part to spread the tragedy that’s going around.”
Viral Pro has a Patreon page where fans can pay to watch each episode. They released their second episode April 10. Keesaman said this is a substitute for fans buying tickets.
“We’re hoping that the Patreon substitutes for people buying a ticket and all the proceeds that we make off of the Patreon is evenly distributed amongst everyone involved in that episode,” Keesaman said. “It’s kind of an investment for a lot of us wrestlers to put the work in and then hopefully it pays off in the long run that way.”
However, Jackson believes that shows with no audience aren’t completely safe.
“We’ve learned much more about the virus and even doing these empty arena shows isn’t necessarily safe because you still have the talent and the crew that’s in the building and obviously in pro wrestling you can’t keep six feet of distance,” Jackson said. “I think, at first, people didn’t understand the gravity of this whole thing so the empty arena shows were almost a way to try to get funds for wrestlers because for some of those guys this is their only source of income. A lot of promotions are trying to do good by raising money for wrestlers but now that we’ve learned even more about this thing I don’t think it’s even a good idea to do empty arena shows because quite frankly it’s not safe.”
Gelistico said people need to keep themselves safe first and can still find wrestling content in the meantime.
“For fans, wrestling will be around. Wrestling won’t die just because of this,” Gelistico said. “It sucks being without it but in the meantime wrestling still has content out there by multiple people so just look for it. Support wrestling in the way you can but don’t support wrestling at the cost of supporting yourself.”
One way fans can still get their wrestling fix is through WWE Network, which has lifted the paywall on some specials and matches. WWE has been deemed an essential service by Florida’s governor, allowing them to resume production of live televised shows during the stay-at-home order.
Independent promotions, like Anarchy, are releasing free matches from their archive onto their YouTube channel. Anarchy is also posting videos of online game nights where wrestlers answer wrestling trivia questions.