Ten days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home-order in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, World Wrestling Entertainment was deemed an “essential business” and resumed live shows, albeit without a live audience.
Originally, essential businesses that were allowed to remain open included those in the fields of health care, finance, energy, food, communications and transportation. But that was extended Monday to include “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience – including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production – only if the location is closed to the general public.”
Under the stay-at-home order, which runs through at least April 30, WWE can use its Orlando training facility and Full Sail University in Winter Park to provide fresh content.
“I think initially there was a review that was done and they were not initially deemed an essential business,” Jerry Demings, the mayor of Florida’s Orange County, said in a Monday news conference. “With some conversation with the governor’s office regarding the governor’s order, they were deemed an essential business. So, therefore, they were allowed to remain open.”
A spokesperson for the Republican governor told ESPN on Monday that those services are “critical to Florida’s economy” and starting with its Monday “Raw” program on the USA Network, WWE is running live shows. Besides “Raw,” it has “NXT” on USA on Wednesdays and “SmackDown” on Fox on Fridays.
“We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times,” WWE said in a statement to CNN. “We are producing content on a closed set with only essential personnel in attendance following appropriate guidelines while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff.”
Shares of WWE, the publicly held company founded by Vince McMahon, have dropped to under $40 after being selling for nearly $100 a year ago and McMahon’s entry into pro football was ill-timed. The XFL filed for bankruptcy this week after shutting down operations during its inaugural season. founder the WWE, Linda McMahon, a WWE co-founder with her husband, resigned last year as administrator of the Small Business Association and is chairman of the Trump reelection campaign super PAC, America First.
It is not yet clear how broadly the designation may be to sports beyond the WWE, like UFC. “The memo,” the spokesperson told ESPN, “does not specify specific sports, as long as the event location is closed to the general public.”
On Thursday, UFC canceled a major event set for April 18 after going to great lengths to attempt to stage it during the pandemic. UFC President Dana White said that he was asked by top executives at Disney and ESPN to “stand down,” but he added that in roughly a month he would be able to start holding events on a private island.
In an interview with ESPN, White confirmed that UFC 249, originally scheduled to take place in New York’s Barclays Center, was going to take place on that date at a casino built on tribal land in northern California. The main event initially pitted UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson in a long-awaited showdown, but after returning to his family in Russia last month, Nurmagomedov bowed out of the event last week, saying he was unwilling to risk his health by traveling during the global pandemic.
The UFC has suspended all events and has not announced a time frame for its return.
“This whole thing has been a battle since Day 1,” White told ESPN last week. “We’ve been fighting nonstop, all day and all night, since this pandemic started to put on this event on April 18.
“And today we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level of ESPN . . . and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.”