In recent years, there have been increasing efforts within independent wrestling to encourage unionisation. Earlier this year, David Starr started WeTheIndependent, a merchandise company where part of the proceeds are used to pay for union membership for professional wrestlers. However, the debate has very much divided the industry as many performers don’t want to risk their current contracts with promotions like WWE or Ring of Honor, while others consider unionisation a necessity for professional wrestling to progress into the 21st Century.
On Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer weighed in on the discussion. He put forward the point that the model used to pay professional wrestlers in WWE is outdated (whereby wrestlers’ wages are calculated from pay-per-views, merchandise and house shows.) The influence of TV within WWE means that the old model no longer makes sense, as most of the revenue for the company comes from their TV deals with USA and FOX. However, Superstars do not directly share in the revenue gained from these TV deals. This means that compared to other sports in the United States, WWE Superstars receive a much smaller proportion of TV revenue and are therefore underpaid.
The full quote can be read below:
“As a general rule, WWE wrestlers make a nice living. Not NXT guys, but the main roster guys, they’re making very good livings, but they’re still being greatly, greatly, underpaid. To a ridiculous level if you compare them to people in any other sport or entertainment form that generates that kind of money. The way the wrestlers are paid, it’s so archaic. The wrestlers are supposed to be paid based on pay-per-views that don’t exist anymore, merchandise which still does, and house shows – which do exist, but when this pay scale was first formulated it made complete sense at the time because the whole business was house shows. And you’d come back to house shows, week after week, month after month, depending on the city and the promotion. And the whole idea was you lived and died based on the house. […] If you increased the house, you shared in the success, as did the promoter.
You were all in the same game together. The idea was that all the wrestlers would get paid based on a percentage of the house. Business is good, you all get paid good. Business is bad, you all suffer. So you learn promos, because good promos talk people into the buildings. And you learn how to do good finishes, because finishes lead to stories that lead to rematches. And if you botch up a finish or do something stupid or you do crappy interviews, then you all suffer. So it’s a learning experience and you learn those different situations and everything like that.
Now, none of this is applicable. You come to the same city maybe once or twice a year. The finish that you do has nothing to do with the next show. You don’t do localised promos, so you’re not building up the house. The house show revenue is a minor, minor, minor part. The revenue is from television. And as the last television revenue increased, the new contracts are for more money. But you’re still like hockey players, which then [during the 1950’s] were underpaid. Now hockey players are pretty much fifty percent of the revenue. In WWE it’s like eight percent, UFC like twenty percent, and most sports are in the fifty percent range. And the reason is, all those other sports [excluding UFC] have unions. That is the reason. So that’s where the union comes in.”