In a move that stretches the word “essential” to its breaking point, WWE now qualifies as an “essential business” in the state of Florida. The professional wrestling franchise will resume live television broadcasts on Monday, April 20th, although as a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be done without a studio audience.
As first reported by ESPN, the changes were made in an April 9th memo from the offices of governor Ron DeSantis. A spokesperson said the decision was made because the WWE and similar entertainment franchises “are critical to Florida’s economy.”
The memo doesn’t specifically mention World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc by name, but Vince McMahon’s company certainly definition of an “essential business” outlined below.
“Employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience — including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production — only if the location is closed to the general public.”
The wording is curious — the “national audience” requirement means that Florida intramural and recreational leagues still can’t assemble. National sports leagues such as Major League Baseball could theoretically schedule games within Florida, but getting the consent of 29 owners from other states — not to mention the players union — may prove tricky. Besides, as we saw with the NBA, one infected player leads to a cascade of quarantines that would shut a team sport down.
Only two entertainment ventures are positioned to take advantage of this new ruling right away: pro wrestling and UFC. And while UFC sounded somewhat surprised by the memo, and still doesn’t have a timeline to return, the WWE already had a plan in place. That’s because, according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, he lobbied for this language specifically on their behalf.
“I think initially there was a review that was done. They were not initially deemed an essential business,” Demings said. “With some conversation with the governor’s office regarding the governor’s order, they were deemed an essential business. So therefore they were allowed to remain open.”
The WWE has training studios in Orlando and Winter Park in Orange County. Via the New York Post, the company released a statement saying, “We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times.” It went on with assurances that, “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.”
Moves like this will become more common in the coming weeks, as social distancing continues to work, and the novel coronavirus slows its spread. But the next phase of re-opening society is complicated. We still don’t have a vaccine, and COVID-19 hasn’t been eliminated in the same way as polio or smallpox. One healthcare expert thinks we won’t be able to host large gatherings such as sports and concerts until “fall 2021 at the earliest.” Meanwhile, the pandemic is crippling the entertainment industry, and the film industry alone is expected to lose $20 billion.