POST Media Panel: The WWE's handling of Crown Jewel and how it will be covered

Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2018/11/01/post-media-panel-the-wwes-handling-of-crown-jewel-and-how-it-will-be-covered/

With the WWE moving forward with Friday’s Crown Jewel event, the company has come under immense criticism following the murder of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi last month. With details of the events of October 2nd inside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul still emerging, the WWE will stage the second event as part of their 10-year deal with the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia.

We have assembled a panel of members from the media to weigh in on the coverage of the WWE’s Crown Jewel event, the response received from their audience and the effect this show will have on the WWE’s image.

Here is the panel assembled:

Sean Ross Sapp, Managing Editor at Fightful.com

Justin Barrasso, Journalist at Sports Illustrated

Chris Harrington, Co-Host of Wrestlenomics Radio

DO YOU AGREE WITH THE WWE’S DECISION TO RUN THE CROWN JEWEL EVENT THIS WEEK, WHY OR WHY NOT?

Sean Ross Sapp:
From a moral standpoint, no, not at all. Especially given Linda’s place in Trump’s cabinet. Financially, I understand.

Justin Barrasso:
Holding the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia under the current climate shows a lack of awareness and makes WWE - which is a company that creates a tremendous amount of goodwill - look like they are solely concerned with the bottom line.

Chris Harrington: I believe it is a poor decision by WWE to run the Crown Jewel event later this week.

WWE is an anomaly - the company has refused to distance themselves from the Saudi Arabia government or allow the murder of Jamal Khashoggi interferes with their wrestling show plans.

Stephanie McMahon’s recent comments make it clear that WWE management’s only hold-up with taking GSA/Vision 2030 money is the “heinous act” (they won’t say murder!).

WWE is clearly not concerned with Saudi Arabia’s many human rights violations, treating women as lesser, or escalating killings & bombings of innocent civilians in Yemen or imprisoning activists. As demonstrated during the Greatest Royal Rumble, WWE has agreed to allow their programming to act as propagandists for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They’re not just running shows in the Middle East - they’re advocating for the greatness of the leaders Mohammad Bin Salman and his thuggish aide Turki al-Sheikh.

And why? The comments from the latest conference call underscore how WWE is focused on ensuring that management continues to over-achieve on their executive compensation measures. Taking the Vision 2030 money is one way to help bridge the gap between the current state and the new large television deals starting late next year. It also shows how little WWE learned from the last event where KSA was allowed to exclude talent and company was chastised for even brief glimpses of women during the show.


OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, DID YOU EVER EXPECT THE WWE TO PULL OUT OF THIS FRIDAY’S EVENT IN RIYADH? Sean Ross Sapp: I expected the show to be moved or relocated, but not canceled altogether. I thought WWE would make up the date next year. Justin Barrasso: Despite viable options, including moving the card to the Survivor Series, I never believed WWE would postpone or move the show. It’s tricky because the show is sponsored by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So, unlike WrestleMania when people complained to Snickers about the Fabulous Moolah being the namesake of the women’s battle royal, there is no direct sponsor to put pressure on WWE to move the show.

Chris Harrington: Given the muted tone of the Trump administration in responding to the outrageous murder of a journalist (who was living in the US on a visa for his “extraordinary ability and achievement”, worked for the Washington Post and has several children who are US citizens), I suspected that WWE would be slow to respond. It was not until Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin announced on October 18 that he would not be attending the Future Investment Initiative summit that I believed there was a possibility WWE would delay or move the Crown Jewel show. Ultimately, it appears that WWE knew their Q3 results would underwhelm and without a blockbuster announcement to distract (i.e. new UK television deal or new India television deal) the company risked further financial pummeling if they decided to change plans for the Crown Jewel show. (The stock has dropped $28, almost 30%, since the beginning the month already). The story of Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor allegedly pulling out of a $400 million Saudi Arabia deal provided an amazing counterpoint to WWE’s decision, though the comparison has not been raised extensively.

HOW WILL YOU AND/OR YOUR COLLEAGUES BE COVERING THIS EVENT COMPARED TO A USUAL WWE SHOW?

Sean Ross Sapp:
The same as always. I’d like to have a female voice on our post-show, since there will be none on the broadcast. (Note: This was submitted prior to the report that Renee Young is scheduled to be part of the broadcast).

Justin Barrasso: The show is significant and needs to be covered. There will be a new WWE Universal champion, Shawn Michaels is wrestling, and we’ll also see Kurt Angle in the ring.

Chris Harrington:
The focus of Wrestlenomics Radio is about the financials, business decisions, legal machinations and changing media landscape as it pertains to the world of professional wrestling. While watching the show we will be most interested in the propaganda aspect (will WWE do the hard-sell for Vision 2030 again this time?), talent aspect (will anyone else besides John Cena abstain from performing) and the WWE narrative (change & reimagine). Will WWE run another jingoistic and xenophobic angle (and lead to more death threats for wrestlers)? And will WWE provide any additional information on the true financial value of this deal or will they continue to report opaquely with the revenue stashed away in the “Other Media” category alongside Total Divas rights?

DO YOU GET A SENSE FROM YOUR READERS AND/OR LISTENERS THAT THERE IS A MAJOR CONCERN ABOUT THE ETHICS OF THIS DEAL WITH THE GENERAL SPORTS AUTHORITY, AND SPECIFICALLY THE TIMING OF THIS EVENT?

Sean Ross Sapp: Most political issues are about 60/40 towards progression. With this situation, about 95 percent of our viewers and readers were disgusted with it.

Justin Barrasso: The show certainly has an uncomfortable feel, which is no fault of any of the talent, but it is the reality.

Chris Harrington: I hear a broad spectrum of responses from listeners. Most acknowledge the Khashoggi murder is a tragedy, but some don’t believe it’s worth up-ending the entire show over geopolitical events. Others feel the whole Vision 2030 decision was a bad a deal for WWE from the start from an ethically and moral standpoint, but money will always talk when it comes to WWE management making decisions. Some felt that WWE couldn’t risk the contractual damage that would come from trying to exit such a long-term 10-year deal without damaging their stock price, which was something that WWE cared a lot about upholding. Some have employed “whataboutism” tactics comparing WWE’s expansion in China versus Saudi Arabia. As more and more people have learned about the contradictory nature of modern Saudi Arabia, less people can just shrug off WWE running shows there and acting as propagandists for the regime.


HAVE YOU FOUND YOUR AUDIENCE TURNED OFF BY COVERAGE OF THIS STORY OR ENGAGED FROM THE LARGER POLITICAL ELEMENTS BEING DEBATED REGARDING THIS SHOW? Sean Ross Sapp: Not really. Especially with social media the way it is now, it's another topic to be engaged in. I was surprised by the attention paid to it considering the stereotypes of the wrestling fanbase -- which are often unfounded. Justin Barrasso: I can’t speak for everyone, but I do think people who watch the product on a weekly basis will be thrilled when the words “Crown Jewel” are no longer uttered. But there are still a plethora of future shows with Saudi Arabia to promote. Chris Harrington: The listenership to our shows, including several weeks of Saudi Arabia-heavy discussion, has been consistent and the number of people supporting our Patreon has actually increased. I'm sure some people are content to ignore the story but I was surprised how much positive feedback a recent tweet praising Last Week Tonight with John Oliver for keeping the heat on WWE over the Crown Jewel garnered. People aren't tired of the story; they're sickened by it. WILL THE WWE’S DECISION TO RUN THIS SHOW PRESENT ANY LONG-TERM EFFECTS WITH THEIR PUBLIC IMAGE, OR WILL THIS BE A SHORT-LIVED CONTROVERSY FOR THE COMPANY?

Sean Ross Sapp: They’ve been so under the radar from a mainstream perspective for so long that really only the steroid trial and Benoit murders gave them a real dent. I don’t think it will affect them long term, but it will give companies and people ammunition to use against them, and rightfully so.

Justin Barrasso:
Wrestling fans are loyal, so I don’t think there will be any long-term negative consequences, at least not yet. And it’s not like you can just voice your frustration by booing the talent, as a considerable amount of the roster feels uncomfortable about going but has little choice but to get on the plane. So, it’s impossible to be upset with the talent. WWE and Vince McMahon, in particular, take the public relations hit for this show.

Chris Harrington:
I think WWE’s decision to continue with the Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia has negatively impacted their public image. It will be a short-lived controversy for fans of the company, but it leaves an enduring nasty taste in the mouth for people who only encounter professional wrestling occasionally. While some sponsors might positively view WWE’s willingness to stand by a partnership regardless of the social consequences, others may feel uneasy working with such a tone-deaf, executive management compensation-focused company which is willing to damage relationships with their fans, talent, and media.

Thanks very much to Sean Ross Sapp from Fightful, Justin Barrasso at Sports Illustrated, and Chris Harrington with Wrestlenomics Radio for participating in our POST Media Panel.

From a moral standpoint, I get we’re the outrage comes from, but at the same, I get why wwe did it. When you look at the situation from a pure business aspect, they we’re going to lose a lot more from cancelling the show then going forward with it. Not only would they have loss millions on dollars on the deal, but they probably would have be sued for breach of contract by the Saudi government which would have cost them a lot more money and this would have hit the stock big time.

So basicly, they really didn’t have a choice in the matter one way or the other because they are at the mercy of the shareholders and shareholders only care about money and how to make more. The thing is that they knew what they we’re getting themselves in when they sign the contract, now they have to face the consequences.

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It will be Interesting how they go forward will the other shows be on the Network? is there an Opt out clause after so many shows or years on the deal? If Enough time is given months or years to opt out will there be limited to no penalties? Will WWE purposely sabotage there show and tick off the Saudi by having Renee and more Women involved in the show even in vid packages where the Saudi say WWE is to controversial and want’s nothing to do with them? or Will this news be so old in 6 months a year time it’s just another stadium show?

Seeing how the are treating this event with only one replay on the live feed, I have this weird feeling that WWE really didn’t want to do this show and we’re kinda forced into honoring the deal because of legal issues.

The fact that Vince didn’t want to address it last week make me think that the statement they gave was more to covers their ads then anything else and against legal issues prevented them from taking about it.

In the end this will ended up in the forgotten section of the WWE network with shows like survivor series 97, the over the edge event where Owen Hart died and anything that Chris benoit had a big moment on. They won’t put those shows on the live feed ever again and this is another one that will never air on the live feed after today.

On the day Crown Jewels takes place, more disturbing allegations surface around the death of Khashoggi:

There are reports that Renne Young was told she will have to wear a hijab over her head if she is to commentate today.

Between the optics with the Khashoggi death, the inclusion of Hoagan, the absence of female talent, and making the female commentator wear a hijab, it’s almost as if they are just trying to out do themselves on how shitty this event is coming off.

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Why is Renee wearing customary and traditional garb in their country a bad thing? This is where the West gets it wrong. Not everything they do is evil. Okay, so Women wear traditional headwear for religious reasons. And they are asking a foreigner to abide by such tradition. That’s not bad! Thinking it’s bad is just ignorant.

Not allowing women on the show could be bad. Allowing a woman to call the show and just asking she be respectful isn’t bad.

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On it’s own, no so bad. When taken in consideration with everything else, no so good.

Also, just because I’m West of you doesn’t make me “the west”. I’ve been questioning the US/Saudi relationship for decades. I fully understand and “get” the government in Saudi Arabia, and I understand the purpose and reasoning behind hijabs. Just because you don’t like what I say, it’s an ignorant statement. There is nothing “good” about this event, and there is little good that the government in Saudi Arabia does. They let women drive? Great! Welcome to the rest of the world 100 years ago. They let a woman work the event? Awesome women have been working everywhere else in the world for thousands of years. They murder, dismeber and dissolve the body of a journalist in acid? Let’s talk about the good things the Saudis do instead!

I’m MJ from NJ and live in NYC. I’m the West too!!!

I was not in any way trying to defend their antiquated culture or ABYSMAL human rights actions. It’s despicable how they go about a lot of things the rest of the world takes for granted.

We just had a WWE Women’s wrestling show that was celebrated for it being an all women’s show. Question: why the heck did that get positive attention when women have been able to wrestle for decades but just were never allowed to be the headline or main attraction all this time? And why is it we have to segregate that show in the first place? We applaud the Me Too movement and women fighting for pay equality or fair treatment at a workplace and running for public office. Yet that progress is so superior to Saudi progress.

My point is Progress is Progress (cheap plug for the UK promotion)!
If a country wants to take any steps toward progress I’m not going to belittle that.

We also shouldn’t recognize progress as an excuse for all the bad behavior sponsored by the same place. But this isn’t black or white. Open the mind to shades of gray.

If we belittled progress here in America it’d be a very sad state of affairs.

And for the record: I wasn’t trying to call @TriggerHippie ignorant and apologize for that sounding such. And what he said wasn’t wrong at all. No problem with what’s said. Hard to argue the point about optics. I just wouldn’t lump in the Renee’s outfit on the same level. Doing so is a common thing I’ve noticed in the West (where I live and was born) and I do think it promotes viewing similar differences as bad.

Absolutely, celebrate progress! But I think it’s important to also understand the context of why such moves were made.

For instance WWE running an all women’s show is progress for the WWE, even though there have been all women shows and all women promotions outside of the WWE for almost as long as wrestling been around. What’s the context of Evolution? Why did they do it? Since the show wasn’t even being seriously talked about until the backlash after the last Saudi show, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that they did it for the optics. We got an all women’s show a week before an all men’s show, that can’t be a coincidence. So should the WWE be clebrated for making this decision for PR reasons while calling it “progress”? I don’t think so.

And let’s talk about women being able to drive in Saudi Arabia. That’s fantastic, but when you look but when you look at it at the context of where women’s rights are in Saudi Arabia, it’s a consolation prize at most. Women are still second class citizens and treated as such. How do we celebrate women being able to drive as progressive when they are still openly segegated in public and have less human rights than their male counterparts? Allowing women to drive was an easy consolation and something that was easy to promote. Like the WWE with Evolution that descision was made by the Saudis over the optics. Women can drive but still have to enter public buildings through a back entrance and have to cover themselves with a hijab in public among other things.

I celebrate progress for progresses sake. I don’t celebrate progress when it’s done purely for optics.

there is a really serious place to take this debate and I’m going to not do it. But if we just claim every small step is for optics and don’t recognize progress takes more than a year or sometimes decades, this world would be fuckedy fucked fuck

Now I tap out.

How can i put this, It seem like WWe doesn’t really have a choice when they are doing those show in saudi arabia. I don’t know if it’S just me looking way to deep into this or not but when you look at when they book thoses show, it makes no sense logistically to have book theses show on those dates. The greatest royal rumble, they already had booked on series of live events in Canada that weekend and had to reschedule them to go to saudi arabia. I remember it because i found it odd that they would go from saudi arabia to montreal that weekend since Both Raw and Smackdown where in montreal to following week and this one isn’t better because they already had announce the Evolution PPV way in advance, probably not knowing that they would have to go to saudi arabia the next week and then they go on to do their european tour starting monday which travel wise makes no sense.

So i kinda feel like, they get notice of these things on a very short notice and they kinda have to have a show on the date that they were ask to do it even if they already had plans that weekend. Anyway, this doesn’t matter anymore, the show is over and when the replay ends in a few hours nobody will even remember it existed.