The coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire sports world and broadcast partners for sporting events. That includes FITE TV which streams events for pro wrestling, boxing and MMA.
FITE's COO Michael Weber discussed how the coronavirus has affected his company when he joined The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast.
"It's been pretty interesting. Over the last 5-6 days we've had probably 50-60 shows cancelled because we obviously do a lot more than just pro wrestling. The programming from WrestleCon, The Collective and Ring of Honor – there were 27 shows we were planning to air over a three-day period and had strong sales for it before being cancelled," stated Weber.
"Believe it or not, we actually ran five live shows last weekend – three of them from the UK who had not yet started shutting things down yet. But pretty much all live shows now are stopping."
"I talked to GCW today and they still have every intention to still air The Collective," revealed Weber. "Our company, we're probably working harder than ever and one of the big stories out there is that people are having to work from home for the first time. Fortunate for our company, we're not exactly a vertical company as all of our US employees and many of our employees in Europe are already working from home. So, it's nothing new for us and it's been pretty productive."
FITE is a relatively young company so the sports world going dark hits them a little differently than established broadcast and streaming services. Weber discussed the financial impact of combat sports going dark.
"Our company is four years old and we were excited that last year we were in the black. Things were chugging along well and we were doing some big events. We were working with everyone in the combat sports world that matters," Weber said before noting that they had plans for some upcoming soccer games.
"We were in a real strong growth mode and this was like a kick in the shins. We've got an experienced and energetic group of people here that are looking for alternative programming, so we're doing the best we can. Will we recoup everything that we're probably losing? Of course not, but I don't think it will set us back to dramatically. We are very nimble that we can move very quickly to make changes on what we're trying to do."
Part of the appeal in watching sports through TV or streaming services is the environment that the crowd supplies. WWE and AEW don't currently have crowds for their events and Weber discussed how that it coming across.
"I think they have done as good as they can. One thing WWE has going for it is that they have some of the best TV producers in the world. So, they are able put some pretty good programming together. The thing is getting the guys to react to the cameras and cameras only as opposed to reacting [from the crowd]. So, it's a little bit of, 'Let's see what these guys are all about' in connecting with the camera," said Weber.
"I know the networks are happy with having original programming and I believe the ratings haven't suffered. There's such a shortage of live programming now in the world so they're filling a good void and people can see their stars."
Weber worked in WWF, WCW and TNA so he has an extensive background in pro wrestling. He noted that the no-crowd wrestling is great but the fans are as much a part of the show as everything and that the show definitely loses something without fans.
This pandemic has allowed most of the sports world to take a breath and put things into perspective. Weber talked about how this current period could be beneficial for wrestling from a product standpoint once business resumes.
"It forces you to do things better. One of the things that came out of the Monday Night Wars was it forced both companies to put out the best product possible. That was good for wrestling and good for the fans," said Weber. "This is forcing us to do the same type of thing here to build our product to be better and more nimble and offer more things to more people. I think we're accomplishing that."
He then noted that AirBnB was born out of the 2008 recession as people needed money and started renting rooms.
"Things that have been born out of necessity or bad times can turn into pretty strong companies," stated Weber.
Once WrestleCon was cancelled, a big talking point was the drama regarding the event trying to get out of its hotel bill with Marriott. The issue was eventually resolved with WrestleCon no longer being held responsible for cancelled charges and Weber discussed that.
"It warms your heart to see how the wrestling community supported them. You think about a guy like Chris Jericho who has a large social media following and said that the Marriott shouldn't be doing this. I don't know if that's the reason but it seems to have worked out," said Weber.
"They're still going to take a bump in lost money but it's not as dramatic as they were looking at a few days ago. What impressed me as much as anything else was that in the end the big corporations did what they should be doing in this type of situation. WrestleCon is a small, little company and I was very impressed at how the wrestling community stood up for them. You don't see that in every industry."
Follow FITE.tv on Twitter @FiteTV. Weber's full interview with Wrestling Inc aired as part of a recent episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.