Encouraging wrestlers to develop their own brand and then coming back to say, “Oh hey, sorry, you need to give us your Twitch account now,” just seems wrong. However, that’s exactly what WWE is doing to its wrestlers, who learned this week that the company would be taking over their Twitch accounts in four weeks, according to WrestlingINC.
The Twitch takeover is related to an edict issued by WWE CEO Vince McMahon at the beginning of September. Per WrestlingINC, the edict stated that talent could no longer “engage with outside third parties” and that wrestlers had 30 days to terminate third-party activities. In a letter to wrestlers at that time, McMahon said that some individuals that were engaged with third parties were “using your name and likeness in ways that are detrimental” to the company.
Wrestlers that did not do as instructed and engaged in “continued violations” would face fines, suspension and termination, McMahon said.
Although it was apparently not immediately clear that the edict would affect wrestlers’ Twitch and YouTube accounts, WWE later said that its talent could maintain accounts on these platforms under their real names, WrestlingINC reported. However, they would still need to inform WWE of these accounts.
This week, wrestlers learned what would happen to their Twitch accounts. In a few short weeks, these accounts will become the property of WWE, which will own them and give talent a percentage of the revenue. This percentage counts against their downside guarantees, or the money they’re guaranteed to make.
In interviews with PWInsider, several wrestlers, speaking anonymously, said that they would now have to stream and appear on Twitch as part of their WWE booking contract. Some expressed frustration that under the new rule, they would be losing income that has helped support them, as they will never make the same amount of money from Twitch after WWE takes over the accounts. Others wondered if they would get any cut from Twitch at all.
If this didn’t seem wrong enough already, just wait: The WWE considers its wrestlers independent contractors.
Yes, you read that correctly, it just took away its independent contractors’ Twitch accounts. Twitch revenue that before went directly to wrestlers will now go directly to WWE, which will generously give wrestlers a portion of that revenue. If you were left open-mouthed, you’re not the only one.
One of the loudest high-profile critics of the WWE’s Twitch takeover has been former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who is a longtime wrestling fan. In September, Yang told YouTuber Chris Van Vliet that the WWE had been trying to play it both ways for years, controlling all kinds of aspects of wrestlers’ lives but then not offering them the benefits that come with being an employee, such as healthcare or retirement.
Yang told Van Vliet that it’s past time someone calls out McMahon over this treatment of wrestlers and that if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the election in November, he (Yang) could be in a position to do something about it.
“This would be infuriating to me if I had spent time building up my social media channels only to have WWE take them over from their ‘independent contractors.’ People are angry and rightfully so,” Yang tweeted on Friday. “Hearing from talent that WWE is forcing performers to sign new contracts that include Twitch. Streaming on twitch will become a work obligation and if talent doesn’t stream they will forego earnings, be suspended or face penalties. Doesn’t sound like independent contractors.”
Gizmodo reached out to WWE to ask whether it had a response to the backlash about its Twitch decision. WWE pointed out that this announcement wasn’t new and was made in September. It also sent Gizmodo the statement it made about its new third-party partnerships rule in early last month.
“Much like Disney and Warner Bros., WWE creates, promotes and invests in its intellectual property, i.e. the stage names of performers like The Fiend Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, Big E and Braun Strowman. It is the control and exploitation of these characters that allows WWE to drive revenue, which in turn enables the company to compensate performers at the highest levels in the sports entertainment industry,” WWE said.
“Notwithstanding the contractual language, it is imperative for the success of our company to protect our greatest assets and establish partnerships with third parties on a companywide basis, rather than at the individual level, which as a result will provide more value for all involved.”
As noted by PWInsider, it makes sense that WWE would want to control another revenue stream in the covid-19 era, which means no live events or VIP signings. However, did it really have to go looking for money by taking away its independent contractors’ Twitch accounts? If that’s a pillar of the company’s business strategy, okay, fine, but own up to what that means and classify wrestlers as employees.