Supermarkets, pharmacies, manufacturers, delivery services. These are just a few of the businesses that most people would consider ‘essential’ during a global pandemic. If you’re the Governor of Florida, however, you would also include professional wrestling.
World Wrestling Entertainment, the sports entertainment behemoth owned by Vince McMahon, has remained in operation throughout the COVID-19 crisis, filming their weekly television shows and this year’s WrestleMania at their Performance Center facility in Orlando.
Given how all forms of sport and entertainment have had to either postpone operations indefinitely or significantly alter the way they present their programming, the fact that a pro wrestling organisation has been able to allow employees to be in such close proximity to each other, all the while flying back and forth around the country on a weekly basis, had been a mystery to many.
But Orange County mayor Jerry Demings has now confirmed that WWE has been deemed an ‘essential business’ by the state Governor Ron DeSantis, while ‘non essential’ companies have been forced to shut up shop for the foreseeable future.
“I think initially there was a review that was done and they were not initially deemed an essential business,” Demings said during a recent interview.
“With some conversation with the Governor’s office regarding the Governor’s order, they were deemed an essential business. And so, therefore, they were allowed to remain open.”
What was said during the conversation with the Governor’s office is currently a mystery, but it would appear Vince McMahon laid on a charm offensive not seen since his on-screen wooing of Trish Stratus in 2001.
The company were due to host this year’s WrestleMania at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with several other high profile shows also being presented around the city, drawing in tens of thousands of fans over the course of the week and millions in revenue for the city’s economy.
However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic forcing people to stay at home, the events were cancelled and moved to the company’s closed set location in Orlando.
McMahon has faced heavy criticism for still running events during the pandemic, with former WWE Champion Roman Reigns dropping out of WrestleMania and all future shows during the pandemic due to being immunocompromised as a leukaemia patient. Last week, an internal memo was sent round the roster informing them that an on-screen talent had tested positive for COVID-19 but had recovered at home.
Alarmingly, WWE also flew in elderly commentator Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler for their most recent episode of Raw, despite the Hall of Famer being 70 years of age and having suffered an almost fatal heart attack in 2012, placing him in the ‘high risk’ category if he were to contract the virus. Similarly, McMahon himself is 74-years-old, which means he is also highly susceptible to serious problems should he become infected, yet he has been present at all tapings since the pandemic began.
Regarding the continuation of their live shows, WWE said in a statement,
“We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times.”
“We are producing content on a closed set with only essential personnel in attendance following appropriate guidelines while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff. As 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.”
It will be interesting to see how long these shows are allowed to continue on for.