Many questions remain following WWE's travel delays in Saudi Arabia

Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2019/11/03/many-questions-remain-following-wwes-travel-delays-in-saudi-arabia/

Days removed from the WWE Crown Jewel event, lots of questions remain unanswered on the events that followed the show and resulted in talent being stranded in the country and an overhaul of Friday Night SmackDown.

Here is what we do know:

-Prior to the charter flight that was set to leave late Thursday night at 3 am local time, Vince McMahon and his staff left the country. The reasoning behind the early departure is unknown.

-The charter flight did not take off and those on the flight remained on the tarmac for over six hours with the WWE’s press release citing ‘several aircraft problems including mechanical issues.’

-A separate charter flight was arranged for specific people with Fightful reporting Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Bobby Lashley, The Revival, New Day, and Shinsuke Nakamura among those on the flight. Of those listed, all but Lashley had been advertised for SmackDown on Friday night in Buffalo.

-Brock Lesnar, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Paul Heyman, and Jimmy Hart did leave because they had separate flights out of the country. Lesnar and Heyman did appear in Buffalo for SmackDown to shoot the angle of Lesnar quitting SmackDown to move over to Raw.

-The WWE included the following statement in their press release acknowledging the separate charter flight:

With SmackDown set to emanate live from Buffalo, N.Y., several Superstars felt so strongly that they arranged for their own separate charter in order to make it back to the U.S. for the show.

-The line in the press release about talent arranging their own separate charter flight has clearly irked those that were left waiting in Saudi Arabia. Comments were posted publicly by Luke Harper, Karl Anderson, and Curtis Axel.

-The second charter flight did not make it back in time for SmackDown. The show was rebuilt around an NXT invasion with talent flown in on another charter flight and landing in Buffalo at 7:55 pm eastern.

-On Friday, Air Atlas, who was the operator of the initial charter flight issued the following statement:

A chartered passenger flight operated by Atlas Air is currently delayed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia due to a mechanical issue. The flight was scheduled to depart at 3:00 AM AST on Nov. 1. Our top priority is always to ensure our passengers arrive safely and on time at their destination. The aircraft is being repaired and will be inspected and certified before returning to service to transport our passengers to their final destination. We regret that operational disruptions delayed the flight and apologize to our passengers who were inconvenienced.

-On Friday night, Hugo Savinovich hosted a live Facebook stream. According to those that translated the video to English, Savinovich stated that WWE had not been paid certain monies by the Government of Saudi Arabia and threatened to pull the live signal for Crown Jewel so it would not be broadcast in the country. The show did air on a delay on MBC Action (it was also scheduled to run on KSA Sports, and AD Sports). Savinovich used money figures that were greatly exaggerated but later was clarified that he was using hypothetical numbers and not reflecting the actual amount WWE was allegedly owed.

-On Sunday, Devon Nicholson posted a message from Savinovich explaining in English what he had heard. In the video’s description it added:

Savinovich says that a WWE Executive called him to give condolences on his recently deceased wife and told him of the issues which Hugo says an old connection he has from Saudi Arabia has also confirmed however we would like to stress the information in this video is hearsay.

-The delay on MBC Action checked out with people on Twitter asking why the event wasn’t airing after 1 pm eastern:

@mbcaction Where is WWE crown jewel?

— Ahmad Johar (@_a_johar) October 31, 2019

@mbcaction where WWE crown Jewel 😭😭😭😭😭😭

— محمد النيباري (@MalNaibari) October 31, 2019

-Regarding potential issues involving the payments, a lot of attention has been placed on this past Thursday’s earnings report and a line included in the WWE’s 10-Q filing regarding the status of their payment for the Super Showdown event in Jeddah this past June:

Cash generated from operating activities was $2.3 million in the nine months ended September 30, 2019, as compared to $121.5 million for the corresponding period in the prior year. The $119.2 million decrease in the current year period was primarily driven by the timing of collections associated with our Super ShowDown event which was held in the second quarter of 2019, combined with lower operating performance and the increased payout of management incentive compensation in the current year.

-However, on the WWE investor’s call on Thursday, it was stated that a payment of $60 million was made after September 30th but prior to October 31st. It was not specifically stated what this payment was for.

-Dave Meltzer added additional details on Wrestling Observer Radio today that several performers left in Saudi Arabia felt they were left abandoned in the country and were “pawns in a dick waving contest” between McMahon and the Government. Meltzer added that he had heard from one person in WWE that stated the company was attempting to get video from as many performers as possible to reiterate the mechanical issues on the plane as the central problem.

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This is all speculation. It’s not news at all unless we get something confirmed. For all we know it is mechanical failure

That’s pretty much how a lot of news starts. It was a pretty big story so the lack of details is puzzling. It may be speculation but nothing is proving it wrong at the moment either

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Great comprehensive look at the events, although I do have a very strange feeling when you look at the Friday Smackdown show that’s just past with this firmly in the spotlight. Yes they put fresh stars onto TV and got a rating from it, however considering the main roster is about to head to Europe, this is going to very quickly be an exhausted roster that, and with the events of Crown Jewel being firmly in their minds, may very quickly become fed up with how they are being treated. It will be interesting to see the fallout from behind the scenes before, during and after Raw on Monday because the statement put out by WWE has, rightly, pissed off those performers that were left stranded by the company, and to then be overshadowed by the NXT stars, may only make things worse. This could be one of those moments that WWE may have put themselves into a position they can’t get out of because it will really be interesting to see how many wrestlers want to head back to Saudi Arabia and how many are forced back, due to their contractual status

I know that some people feel there must be “more to the story” and are looking for conspiracy theories.

But for me what kills some of that speculation is the statement by the airline. Atlas Air is a US based company who got some bad press out of this. Why would they issue a statement that it was a mechanical issue if it wasn’t?

So guys are pissed off and dont want to return, solely due to mechanical issues, which can happen any week?

Is Buddy Murphy going to tweet “never again” when a mechanical issue forces him to stay in Iowa?

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I’m confused by Karl Anderson’s tweet? Is he suggesting AJ or Seth may not turn up?

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I think that’s maybe the point, they travel constantly with little to no complaint, so I think it’s safe to say that it was a horrific few days for them.

It may be a case that none of the so called locker room leaders have come out and said anything or if he means if anybody has the balls to say something to Vince.

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Ah, thanks, that would make sense. In that case, my moneys on Orton.

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I am inclined to think it is a cover up to a bigger story, but one that was was somewhat true in that the plane was not allowed to take off due to delayed routine mechanical checks or fueling delays caused by KSA.

Even still, this goes back to the age old debate or story of unionization. If a union existed such a situation would result in overtime pay, or the option to not go over in the future etc. there is enormous bargaining power now with WWE talent if they wanted to use it.

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Expect the top guys wouldn’t benefit. You would be robbing Roman to pay Curtis. Also how about Brock or UT or Goldberg? They wouldn’t exactly fit under a union model well.

The thing is as long as Trump is in power the UFC and WWE don’t have to worry about unions. He will help them make sure it’s legal

For wrestlers to truly unionize it would need to be industry wide to really work well.

If the stories are correct that they were stuck in the plane for several hours before it was cancelled, had to stay overnight and then do a 16 hour flight then YES of course the guys are bitching like crazy on Twitter. I can’t imagine more hellish travel.

I’m not sticking up for WWE. It was still a tight schedule they tried to do with no room for error and it bit them in the ass. And there may still be more to the story. But the fact that the airline admitted to a mechanical issue leads me to believe that’s what it was for now.

I was once stuck on the tarmac onboard a delta flight for two hours before the flight was cancelled and went back to the gate. I have never flown Delta since.

They wanted to keep them their so they could give back some of the money by way of hotel and shopping.

I don’t think this is true anymore.
As we are seeing in digital media, employees of webzines are unionizing: example is The Ringer union that was announced a few weeks ago. When those controversial Barstool tweets circulated it was about those employees unionizing. So really WWE talent could unionize. Why aren’t we seeing smaller promotions talent unionize(?) I think the answer is that the talent know it would hinder the promotions ability to hire them. So it comes down to only WWE being able to handle it - but those talents need to band together and the upper echelon have no incentive.

I think when you have other top employers like AEW that are not unionized it hurts the WWE performers ability to unionize as the WWE can largely poach those other talents to fill in for the people trying to start a union. The only other way it happens though is if drive for that union starts with the Stars. If Brock, Roman, Seth, Bryan, Becky, etc decide to unionize and strike it could happen because the WWE needs those names to make money long term. The mid and bottom of the card really cannot drive it unless every single one of them does it to the point where you only have like 3 people.

That said in most industries where people essentially function as independent contractors (like acting for example) the whole industry is unionized not just one studio.

Unionizing is tricky. If a WWE wrestlers union was created, contracts are harder to break, there is less flexibility with schedules for the wrestlers, etc. And if the wrestlers unionize as wrestlers regardless of the company, it will definitely make it harder for some smaller companies to hire unionized wrestlers, there will likely be less work available if that happens, or there will be rogue companies hiring unionized wrestlers (who are possibly not trained as well) or unionized wrestlers taking those dates, but maybe don’t have the blessing of the union to take that work and put themselves at risk, etc. It’s a messy situation all around and would take money to get organized as well, which is another barrier as most wrestlers don’t have the extra money to spend on legal fees to get an union organized. Seems like more trouble that it’s worth for most wrestlers.

Zero coverage of this anywhere huh?

I’m eager to hear how this is internally dealt with for talent at RAW tonight. Perhaps some people waiting to come forward with their experiences are giving the company a chance to explain to all of them why they were abandoned.