Pro wrestling’s roots grew out of the carnival and circus industry. In the early days, wrestlers were part of the show, traveling and living with other other carnival workers. In fact, modern day sports entertainment still adheres to guidance developed during the early days. Early wrestlers adopted “carny speak” as a way to communicate inside and outside the ring. Also, wrestling fans are sometimes referred to as “marks”, the same as midway-goers identified by carnies as easy targets.
The most prominent of the traditions still followed by today’s performers is the itinerate nature of carnival culture. Day after day, week after week, the show travels around from town to town, sometimes with multiple shows in different towns in a single day, with few off days for performers in between. Missed dates mean missed dollars and that stands firmly against the carny code.
The WWE prides itself on keeping it’s performers on the road in order to keep the WWE Universe entertained. Wrestlers are responsible for their own transportation to these events which are typically scheduled within a drivable distance from each other. As wrestlers are also responsible for their own expenses, many will travel together, splitting the cost of rental cars, hotels, and meals. The communal aspect of this experience often allows talent to bond and idea-share and the long-held tradition of good guys riding with good guys and bad guys riding with bad guys is still encouraged. This touring schedule is a point of pride for the WWE, as they routinely tout that performers are generally on the road in excess of 250 days per year.
While this can be looked at as similar to what the average, full-time, 5 day per week, worker across America works per year, consider the wear and tear accumulated by wrestlers due the way the business operates. According to Cagematch.net, Dean Ambrose had more matches than any other performer on the WWE roster in 2016 with 204. On the road, they are stuffed into rental cars, sitting for hours at a time, headed to the next town on the tour. Wrestlers also make appearances throughout the tour at events held by company sponsors, in addition to taking time to meet with fans associated with various charity and philanthropic groups. Once these obligations and bookings are met, performers typically get on planes and head back to their homes for a couple of days and restart the cycle again.
One can gleam from opinions offered by many current and former pro wrestlers that this grind can lead to injury and burnout. As with any workplace, health and well-being are key, but these are paramount in sports entertainment, as mental fatigue can cause lackluster performances. This can lead to, in the best case, uninspired work on the microphone up to an unintended injury for the performer or opponent in the worst case. Either way, both the performer and overall product suffer as a result.
While WWE employs some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world, even the best of the best fall victim to the rigors required by the job. Injuries to superstars Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor in recent years have caused the World Championship and Universal Championship to be vacated and long-built storylines to change quickly. One can only wonder if these injuries were freak instances that occurred, or as a result of the accumulated toll paid by each of these athletes over the course of the schedule required of them.
In the United States, the professional sport with the most games and the longest season is Major League Baseball. Teams play over 30 spring training games and 162 regular season games between mid-February and late September, with 10 teams eventually qualifying for postseason play in October, adding an additional 11 games (at minimum) for the final 2 teams. This means that the average player will come to the ballpark 192 times per season and players on the best teams will have 203 games (at minimum). Considering players don’t play every day and have travel demands similar in scope (but very dissimilar accommodations), the demands of the baseball season seem most similar to a WWE Superstar, minus the physicality.
There is one other major difference: baseball players are given 3-4 months off to recover and prepare for the next season. The WWE is never on hiatus.
Adopting an off-season is my first suggestion to shake things up and I have some ideas as to how it could be managed in such a way as to not only not break the business, but make it best for business. I’ll go in depth on how starting tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!