The world of professional wrestling has seemingly been turned on its head this past week — On Friday, January 6, 2023, Vince McMahon voted himself back in as Chairman of the board in WWE. Vince owns the majority of WWE stock, and legally has the power to do so. Of course, this is after he was basically forced to retire this past July, amidst allegations of sexual misconduct and “hush money” payments of over 12 million dollars that were not reported correctly, or something. And then Vince removed 3 people from the board, reinstated two previous members, and at least two others resigned. And several law firms are gearing up to file lawsuits over this, because he was still under investigation about those allegations. Yesterday, Tuesday, Jan 10, 2023, Vince’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon, who was the co-CEO and Chairwoman of the board, resigned from the company entirely, after working there for over 30 years. Stephanie’s husband, retired wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque,” is seemingly still in charge of WWE’s creative team. It’s all happening so fast, it’s almost hard to keep up with everything. And none of this is even part of the show!
There are more details, but that’s just a little bit of context for my main point.
It’s Wednesday evening as I write this. The last few days have been filled with rumors and speculation about what this means for World Wrestling Entertainment’s future. The most prevalent rumor is that Vince has returned to his baby so that he can spearhead the sale of the company. Plenty of potential buyers are being put out there — NBC Universal, who currently airs WWE Monday Night Raw on the USA Network is a potential buyer, as is Fox Sports, who currently airs WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown. People are throwing around Disney’s name, but that sale doesn’t make sense to me. Disney deals in recycling intellectual properties, and a lot of the IP the WWE owns is based on retired or deceased wrestling personalities.
But the biggest thing of value that WWE owns, at least in my eyes, is their tape library. WWE holds the biggest repository of US-based pro wrestling in the world. They certainly have all of their own tapes, as well as the libraries of World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling (formerly Extreme Championship Wrestling), both of which they purchased back in 2001. WWE also bought the tapes for Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2006. WWE has ALSO, in the last 20 years, bought the libraries to the American Wrestling Association, Georgia Championship Wrestling, Jim Crockett Productions, Deep South Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Heartland Wrestling Association, Interational Wrestling Association, Memphis Championship Wrestling, Global Wrestling Federation, World Wrestling Council, Evolve Wrestling, Dragon Gate USA, and Florida Championship Wrestling. They’ve also purchased the tape libraries from the Canadian-run Maple Leaf Wrestling and Stampede Wrestling. And there’s probably more that I don’t know about.
In total, WWE’s tape library in 2014 was estimated at 150,000 hours. That’s 6,250 days, or over SEVENTEEN YEARS of content, if strung back-to-back, with nothing repeating. And only 17,000 hours of that content is available on the WWE Network (and even less is currently on the Peacock streaming service, if you live in the United States).
By comparison, Disney+ has less than 5,000 hours of content currently available.
If you started playing WWE’s tape library the instant your baby was born, NOTHING would repeat until that baby was in college.
(As an aside: outside of WWE, Tony Khan owns the Ring of Honor and All Elite Wrestling libraries, and Anthem Sports owns the TNA/Impact Wrestling tapes. And presumably any other smaller, independent promotions own their own tapes. The point is, nobody has a professional wrestling library like WWE does. Not in the entire world.)
So when-not-if Vince McMahon sells WWE, what happens to all of that content?
My hope is that someone who cares about wrestling ends up with the WWE tape library. I don’t care what company or organization they work for, be it NBC Universal, Warner Bros Discovery, Disney, Comcast, whomever. Just put someone who gives a shit in charge of those tapes, and give them the resources to make them available.
Yeah, there’s the current WWE product, too. But after it stops airing? It joins those tape libraries. And the TV deals they have in place are worth millions of dollars, for now. But as more and more people are cancelling cable TV and move towards online-streaming, those libraries become more and more valuable.
We live in a world NOW where, literally, too much entertainment is available at our fingertips. But we’ve already LOST things. We can never recover things like some lost early episodes of Doctor Who, or the BBC’s The Avengers, or even some single appearances by some long-gone celebrities on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, because in the early days of TV, some people didn’t understand the value of preservation. WWE does understand preservation, even if they mostly bought those tape libraries primarily to make DVDs and create a streaming service. But now we can buy those DVDs and watch some of that content on their streaming service. And I don’t want that to go away!
A month ago, I wrote about my journey to collect the WWF Attitude Era Wrestlemania DVDs — That’s the personal story of one person trying to buy about 12 hours of home video releases, 20+ years after they happened. That’s nothing compared to what would be lost if the buyer of WWE doesn’t value their 150,000 hours of content.
Because at the end of the day, the THING someone will be buying, when they buy WWE, is their tape library. All of the wrestlers will eventually go away. Broadcast contracts probably won’t matter by 2050. Licensing and merchandising deals will come and go.
But that tape library will be invaluable.
And I hope the buyer realizes it.