Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors
The excitement around WWE icon Hulk Hogan’s return to the company prior to Wrestlemania 30 was enormous. Hulkamania was runnin’ wild once again, brother, and all felt right in the world. The WWE Network launched with a huge library of vintage and reality content that made millennial males tear up. Finally, WWE was in the palms of our hands on demand! Then came the spectacle that was Wrestlemania 30, a true celebration of the business’ past, present, and future, headlined by a Hall of Fame induction of the legendary Ultimate Warrior and an in-ring bear drinking moment between the Hulkster, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock. Wow!
As quickly as the awesome fun blew onto shore, it blew out to sea. WWE legend Undertaker had his Wrestlemania streak of 21-0 snapped by a part-time human beast, MMA star Brock Lesnar and just days later the aforementioned Ultimate Warrior dropped dead in an Arizona parking lot of an alleged heart attack. Some will say that Ultimate Warrior’s untimely passing, which joined a long list of wrestlers that have died, was related to drugs (steroids, pain killers) ingested in his heyday in order to stay a top draw. Whatever the case, the time for change to occur at WWE is now. Here are a few that deserve consideration by WWE.
These men and women, known as WWE Superstars and WWE Divas, are on the road 52 weeks a year, are constantly training in the gym, practicing (or taking “bumps” as the industry calls it) daily, giving zillions of interviews, and of course participating in live shows that could feature a suplex from a top turnbuckle to a choke slam through a composite announcer’s table. The body and mind have to rest and recover, the long list of deaths from the talent of yesteryear suggest as much.
A hypothetical off-season may prove a tough sell though. WWE is a global media entity and its characters are its lifeblood. If a main person on the card disappears from the public’s eye for 3-6 months, the equity in the character weakens. So, in effect, the brand equity of WWE would weaken, and that is something shareholders would not welcome with open arms.
A real overhaul to the drug policy, monitored by an outside agency
Changes were made to the WWE drug policy in July of last year. The most glaring alteration is a relaxation of the “Therapeutic Use Exception.” In English, WWE arguably opened the door up to the abuse of steroids and other drugs by its talent as long as a doctor prescribes them. To be fair, WWE talent is tested regularly for illegal drug use, and has a three strikes policy, but that was also loosened up in July.
I want to believe the talent looks the way they do through hard work and diet discipline. However, their freakish size, and the rigors of the job (which includes fear of falling from the top ladder or not advancing) should bring into question the strength of the policy. Perhaps it’s appropriate for some form of new independent third-party (and maybe that is a regulatory body) to step into the picture and oversee policy implementation. Currently, the WWE Talent Wellness Program is monitored by Aegis Corporation.
An Icon Health Insurance Policy
From the WWE website:
Do you provide any assistance to former talent?
WWE is committed to assisting former WWE Talent in receiving appropriate drug and alcohol assistance and has expanded this offer to include any individuals who had ever performed under contract to WWE during their careers. Letters to former talent are sent out annually offering this assistance.
How many wrestlers have died while under contract with the WWE?
Since the formation of the company in 1982, five wrestlers have passed away while under contract with WWE. According to coroner reports, one individual died by accident, one by suicide and three by heart disease. Other deceased wrestlers referred to in various reports were either not affiliated with WWE at all or performed for other wrestling organizations after their contract with WWE expired.”
You are kidding, right? A letter mailed annually? How about something sent monthly to email boxes? Maybe a few text messages? Most retired wrestlers are working autograph shows not affiliated with WWE to make a living. Instead of cutting ties with the talent that aided in building the business, WWE should be bring the past greats into the fold by more aggressively monitoring their health. Just because Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake is no longer being seen on live TV events doesn’t mean the WWE isn’t earning money from him in the form of a 40-year-old dad telling his nine year old son about the character…while ordering tickets to Monday Night Raw.