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    Monday, September 7, 2020

    Making Sense of WWE's Ban on Talents Using Third-Party Platforms

    Becky Lynch, Xavier Woods, Cesaro, AJ Styles, R-Truth, Baron Corbin, and Samoa Joe playing on UpUpDownDown


    Dedicated wrestling fans are already aware of WWE's messed up employment policies and how much they control every aspect of their wrestlers' lives. Vince McMahon recently took it a step further by threatening talents who are engaging with third-party platforms like Cameo, Twitch, TikTok, and YouTube.

    The memo reads, "Furthering my comments last Sunday regarding the reinvention of our product, it is imperative that we promote and protect our brand in every conceivable way. Some of you are engaged with outside 3rd parties using your name and likeness in ways that are detrimental to our company. It is imperative that these activities be terminated within the next 30 days (by Friday, October 2). Continued violations will result in fines, suspension, or termination at WWE's discretion. These actions are necessary in order to rebuild our brand as we enter the next phase of growth at WWE."

    It's not clear what prompted Vince to make this decision. There were reports that WWE allegedly imposed the ban because Lana did an energy drink ad. She later debunked this claim on Twitter.

    After several reactions against the new policy, including a Twitter thread by former US presidential candidate Andrew Yang, WWE explained in another statement that they're only banning the use of stage names in third-party dealings. This was corroborated by ring announcer Mike Rome in a recent stream, as well as the fact that Paige and Mia Yim changed their Twitch names to SarayaOfficial and ItsMeSYB, respectively. We might see the same changes in other platforms.

    Still, many are questioning the legality of WWE's new policy. Since talents are technically signed as independent contractors, they should be allowed to earn through freelance ventures. But, as John Oliver explained in his viral Last Week Tonight takedown, talents are only classified as such so WWE could get away with not giving them government benefits, including health insurance.

    There are other issues that arose from WWE's new policy, including the alleged ownership of legal names and the potential cash grab that comes with the ban on third-party dealings. We try to make sense of these below.

    Owning wrestlers' real names?

    Where did the rumor that WWE also owned their wrestlers' legal names come from? Apparently, a section of the booking contract states that WWE's intellectual property may also include talents' legal names. You can find the full document here.

    We already know that using shoot names in third-party platforms is not an issue. (Though owning someone's legal name is messed up) If it was, we would lose channels like Asuka's KanaChanTV and Peyton Royce's Cassie Vs. Thankfully, we won't, but it's going to be a huge problem if any of these channels suddenly go dark in the next few weeks.

    Potential cash grab

    In WWE's follow-up statement, they said they want to "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." The company said this is to protect their talents, who are their greatest assets.

    I would understand if they're merely focusing on sponsored posts because that really needs to be pre-approved. But it just seems like WWE  wants to capitalize on their talents' content and revenue. Plus, it goes against their previous statement where they said talents are allowed to continue as long as they don't use their stage names.

    I feel like Cameo would be WWE's first target because this is where many of their Superstars connect with fans and earn extra income. Talents can charge up to $500 for one shoutout and the top earner as of August 2020 is Big E with $62,509.

    Additionally, The Verge editor Chris Welch theorized that WWE might start their own shoutout platform. This comes after they held a virtual meet and greet where fans had to pay $125 to video chat with their favorite wrestlers for two minutes. This is a gimmick that's worked for companies like Wizard Entertainment, which started hosting virtual conventions and one-on-one experiences with celebrities.

    The next target can either be YouTube or Twitch. WWE has already dominated the YouTube space with their namesake channels and UpUpDownDown, the video game channel hosted by Xavier Woods. UUDD's estimated monthly revenue alone is around $20,000. So, I wouldn't be surprised if WWE starts monopolizing other channels for their own gain.

    As for Twitch, talents have mostly used it to stream games, interact with fans, and raise money for charity. Any income they made came from subscriber donations. Again, who's to say WWE won't try to get a cut from this?

    All of these are just theories so take them with a grain of salt. I'm glad that WWE talents are still allowed to make content. However, I'm still concerned as to how far they could potentially take this ban.

    If WWE does decide to double down on third-party platforms, it once again goes back to how they control their talents despite them being classified as "independent contractors." Granted that many just wanted to make fun content without expecting compensation, those who are earning from Cameo, TikTok, and Twitch probably did it out of necessity. Who can blame them? If a massive corporation refuses to provide them with the benefits and services they need, they have to take matters into their own hands.

    Photo from WWE

    *****

    Jackie Arias is a writer and former Content Creator for a feminist lifestyle website. Aside from casually catching up on wrestling news, you can find her listening to music and playing video games she can never finish while drinking copious amounts of coffee. Her Twitter and CuriousCat are open for story suggestions and comments—or photos of your cats.

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    Item Reviewed: Making Sense of WWE's Ban on Talents Using Third-Party Platforms Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Jackie Arias
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