By ANDRE TURNER
In wake of the recent controversy surrounding the murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, World Wrestling Entertainment provided fans with a wrestling show called ‘Crown Jewel’ on Friday, Nov. 2 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, despite an unprecedented number of sponsors and fans who disagreed with the company’s actions.
On Oct. 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and murdered by Saudi Arabian agents. The remains of his body have yet to be found which resulted in an arrest of 18 suspects by the Saudi Arabian government and full on investigation of his death by Turkish investigators.
The largest and most revered wrestling company in the world, the WWE, has decided to uphold a 10-year contract with Saudi Arabia which includes two shows in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one which has already occurred, “Crown Jewel”. The issue that has many asking where the WWE stands on sensitive world matters lies within the notion of how much will the company gain in comparison to how much they could lose by holding this event. This act only further proves that the company does not care about being a part of a bigger cause, if it could mean losing money or tarnishing relationships that could affect their profits in the future.
To alleviate the pressure, the WWE issued a statement stating, “WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base.” Their reasoning behind the statement is that the WWE wants to mesh cultures and provide entertainment worldwide. This sounds good on paper, but reading between the lines, a lot of what they seek to represent is falsified. They want it to seem as though the WWE is all about diversity and bringing fans together when in all actuality, that is not the case.
In the third quarter of 2018, the WWE made a revenue of 188.4 million dollars and a 657.7 million over a nine-month period ending in September 2018, resulting in a 12 percent growth in revenue. It is projected that the WWE is set to make anywhere from 20 to 40 million dollars for each event held in Saudi Arabia. Could the motivation to continue such a trend be the reason why the WWE continued to move forward with the show regardless of how it could affect those who promote and keep the brand alive like the fans? But many fans are firm with the belief that the WWE does not care what the fans think.
For years, the fans and the creative writers are at differences when the company chooses main event talent. Many wrestlers who the fans support and want to see more are often buried within the ranks of the company due to “technicalities” or “business matters.” By taking such actions, the company portrays itself as one that looks out for itself- its main concern is seizing a profit, not appealing to the demand of fans. They want what works for them in the long run, even at the expense of losing its support system.
Being that the WWE is a 3 billion dollar company, it has very well over exceeded its competition in the industry. When looking at the numbers, the WWE has a firm grasp on its major wrestling competitors. Total Nonstop Action brings in a mere 71 million dollars in annual revenue, while the likes of a popular Japanese brand, New Japan Pro Wrestling brought in 44.1 million dollars in 2018 revenue.
The company can afford to take chances because the WWE is well known for taking a stance on certain issues. For example, they have created organizations like “Connor’s Cure” to support pediatric cancer research, and many of their wrestlers participate and mentor others in youth programs sponsored by the company that promote literacy, and anti-bullying campaigns. Popular wrestlers participate in the Make-a-Wish foundation, and the WWE is an avid supporters of the armed forces and perform at events like “Tribute to the Troops”, a show dedicated to the military which is held once a year.
This indicates that the WWE may not care enough about the issue of Jamal Khashoggi’s death, or they do not feel the need to get involved in matters that pressure them to make decisions based on sensitivity and humility opposed to those that accrue monetary gain or notoriety.
Two top talent wrestlers, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, pulled out of the show due to the Khashoggi murder. Neither wrestler made a formal statement, for fear of backlash and pressures from the company. In support of Cena and Bryan, many wrestlers commended their decision while others played coy and made light of the situation. “Does he still wrestle?”, said WWE Superstar Randy Orton, jokingly of John Cena.
“Moving forward with Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia was an incredibly tough decision, given that heinous act,” said WWE Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon. “But, at the end of the day, it is a business decision.”
A business decision. One that a company could only be making at expense of others for the chase of the almighty dollar. It almost seems as if the company’s brand is more important than standing firm on something. Making the decision based on merit could place too strong a burden on egos and reputation in a time where it is needed the most.