Will the Screen Actors Guild ever come knocking on the WWE’s door trying to recruit WWE Superstars? As the WWE continues to expand, it’s building a solid case for WWE Superstars to join the union.
First of all, what is the Screen Actors Guild?
It’s an American labour union representing actors, announcers, broadcasters, journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals worldwide.
In this day and age the WWE hires a team of writers for their TV shows including Raw, Smackdown, Superstars, Main Event, Total Divas and NXT. Despite a line-up of more than 9 hours of scripted TV per week and to the WWE’s benefit, the SAG has stayed away.
WWE writers along with retired wrestlers as producers create storyline arcs, script the words wrestlers say and plan out wrestling matches like action sequences in movies. These writers have backgrounds in Hollywood with credentials ranging from soap operas (Tom Casiello: Young and the Restless) to movies (Alex Greenfield: The Sand) to reality television (Chris DeJoseph: Big Brother).
Along with its portfolio of scripted television two other WWE brands build an even stronger case that WWE Superstars should join the Screen Actors Guild.
WWE Studios produces and distributes movies for theatrical and direct-to-video release featuring both WWE Superstars and SAG members. A long list of wrestlers have appeared in WWE produced movies like current WWE Superstars John Cena, Randy Orton, Kane, Big Show and Triple H and past stars like Steve Austin and Edge. WWE movies have also featured well known actors and SAG members such as Halle Berry, Enrico Colantoni, Colin Ferrell, Ed Harris, Dany Glover and Michael Rapaport.
If a movie studio wasn’t enough, the company is launching the WWE Network using an over-the-top model similar to Netflix. On this network the WWE plans to air on-demand versions of their current line-up of scripted TV programming as well as original content that ranges from documentaries to reality TV.
Throughout the 1990’s the WWE went out of their way to say they were not an athletic competition like boxing to avoid paying state athletic commission fees. They make a point to call themselves entertainment, a word that makes up part of the “WWE” acronym, and coined the phrase “sports entertainment” to all but replace the word wrestling.
Writers tell the wrestlers what say. Producers tell the wrestlers what to do. Wrestlers are featured on scripted TV shows, on reality TV and in movies. The WWE produces scripted TV, reality TV and movies. The logic that WWE Superstars should be admissible to join the SAG is gaining traction and it’s largely fueled by WWE’s ambition to expand and grow.
The WWE hires a good portion of the list of professionals that the SAG represents. WWE Studios hires actors, people like Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are announcers, Renee Young and Gene Okerlund are program hosts, John Cena and Lillian Garcia are recording artists and signers and every single wrestler is essentially a stunt performer.
What would a WWE Superstar have to gain from joining the Screen Actors Guild? The WWE is one of a small handful of wrestling companies that can offer a living wage. As such WWE Superstars sign the contracts they’re offered, which can differ greatly for each individual; contracts that don’t have any health or retirement benefits.
The SAG offers collective bargaining to maintain minimum contract standards, credits towards health and retirement benefits and a wide range of services to gain access to more work within the entertainment industry. The full list of member benefits is available at http://www.sagaftra.org/content/member-benefits.
Collective bargaining is an attractive benefit as the WWE does away with pay-per-view in favour of the WWE Network. By eliminating pay-per-views there is potential to eliminate pay-per-view bonuses as well. The company stands to double their TV rights fees this year on top of the potential for the WWE Network to create substantial revenues. As the company’s revenues grow will the wrestlers reap the rewards? That decision is entirely up to WWE executives and WWE Superstars don’t have a say in the matter.
What would the Screen Actors Guild have to gain? The answer is simple: membership dues. They would gain a large number of members that are regularly featured on TV and in movies. An SAG member pays a fee of $198.00 plus 1.575% of their earnings. The WWE has a roster of wrestlers and on-air talents exceeding 100 people, not including NXT. That’s a lot of extra membership dues from a single employer.
The vast majority of WWE Superstars don’t have leverage because the WWE doesn’t have a real competitor within the industry. Membership to the SAG would create leverage in spite of WWE controlling the market place putting at least some power in the wrestlers’ hands. As the WWE expands it relies more and more on scripted content and as it builds WWE Studios and the WWE Network the argument that wrestlers aren’t admissible in the SAG weakens.
They both stand to benefit but who should make the first move, the WWE Superstars or the Screen Actors Guild?