I am sure that at one time or another, as wrestlers each of us has taken a look at our pay, and based on the size of the crowd on any given night thought that the promoter had short-changed us somehow. Through a measure of crude calculations (and believe me, I have seen this done), estimated what that pay off should REALLY be. Now, before you jump to your feet and storm into the promoter’s office demanding more money, keep these things in mind.
Historically, if you look back at the days of the territories, the revenues were divided, 70/30. 70% for the office, and 30% to payoffs. I understand that some places, that disparity was even greater. On the surface this may seem to be a gross inequity, after all, without the wrestlers, there would be no product, right? Not so fast.
Consider this scenario:
A promoter is paying his ten man crew $50 each, and draws 200 people at $10 a ticket. The payroll is $500 on a $2,000 gate (payroll equals 25% of the gate). The uninformed would look at it and say “I’m getting ripped off, that promoter just put $1,500 in his pocket”. Not true. In fact, I would suggest that on a $2,000 gate, even when all the wrestlers can be secure in making their money, the promoter has probably still lost money.
Here are the expenses:
Insurance – Given the litigious society that we live in, all venues are in flinch mode, particularly when it comes to the chaos of professional wrestling. They think about potential damage to the building, inadvertent lawsuits when wrestlers come in contact with fans, etc. Very few buildings now will let you operate without proof of insurance. It is pretty common for this to be valued at $1 Million in third party liability, which can carry a price tag of $450 per event. Some venues want a $5 Million policy.
You do the math.
Rent – It is very rare that a host organization will hire an independent promoter to bring in a show unless they see opportunities to make money – both through the public and through the wrestling company. However, in most cases, a promoter is covering his own rent. Quite often, this is a fixed rate. At best, the promoter can make an agreement to pay a percentage of the take. Rent of buildings is generally no less than $400 per building, but can be as high as $1200 for a small to medium sized building.
Ring Costs – Even when a promoter owns his own ring, there are still costs associated with transporting it. If this involves the rental of a truck or trailer, there are direct costs there, or if they own their own truck, smart business still holds that a percentage of the revenues from that event should be applied to insurance premiums for the vehicle. Add to this if a promoter has to rent a ring, and cover transportation from town to town.
Travel Expenses – Exclude the local promoters that run in their home town and use the same talent repeatedly that all live within 50 kilometres. If a promoter has hand-picked his talent and has them coming in from all parts of the country, there are costs involved with getting them there. With the fuel costs what they are, a trip from Vancouver to Calgary might cost a promoter $200 in fuel, plus accommodation costs which are MINIMALLY $110 a night. At $310 per carload, assume that you need at least three cars to get everyone to the town – $930 in talent expense above and beyond payoffs.
Commission fees/permits – Depending on where you’re doing business, a promoter may be faced with local business license fees, commission fees, etc. These all come out of the show revenues, and are often non-negotiable.
Advertising – It costs money to make money, and in the area of wrestling promotion, this could not be more true. In order to get people to come out to the matches, they need to know that they are happening. You’re looking at posters, flyers, radio, television, and the often uncalculated costs of the fuel burned and postage used to get all of the material out to the right people. Maybe you’re also required/coerced into giving freebies to local media and sponsor outlets to secure their support of the show – each ticket equals money, and affects the bottom line, so each move has to be calculated. Check in your local market to see what advertising rates are for local radio or television, or even display ad rates in the local newspaper. It may stun you to see what little you actually get for a $200 advertising investment.
Incidentals – A vehicle breaks down and talent is stranded – now you need to spend some time and money to sort that out. Or worse yet, a car accident or injury to the talent. What costs will be involved to find replacements on short notice to still deliver a solid product to your audience? Some **** from a rival promotion is tearing down all your posters, or covering them up with their own – this **** happens all the time. What impact does that have in costs – both to the money you have already spent, and any you need to put out to remedy the situation.
Still want to confront that promoter and shake him down for more money?
In today’s wrestling market, I think it is also important for independent wrestlers to realize that (with few exceptions), not many of us are individually drawing off of our names. That crowd at ringside isn’t there to see one guy advertised on the poster – there are few stars on the independents, they have been drawn by one word “WRESTLING”. The size of the crowd can be directly attributed to the work done by that promoter far in advance of any of the talent reaching town. He or she was out there hustling to get the word out and produce a show that will make money, for both the talent and himself. Think about this – if you were booked for this card in this scenario with a $50 payoff. At $10 a ticket, are you, yourself drawing five paying customers specifically to see you. If you’re not, then perhaps you are getting a good deal. If you are, this is maybe when you want to re-negotiate your deal.
Most reputable promoters offer the talent a guarantee straight up, plus the concessions for travel and accommodations. On top of this, most promoters also allow the wrestlers to sell their own merchandise at the shows without taking a percentage. This is a pretty good situation for the talent. Your money is guaranteed and you have the opportunity to hustle up more from the customers once you are in the building, and all you have to do is show up and perform. While you’re shilling your wares at the merch table, a promoter could be squirreled away in a corner somewhere trying to figure out how to make the best of any losses that they incurred that night. Very few wrestlers consider this – even without the fee for wrestling that night, you would not have the opportunity to make the money at the merch table if not for that show being on. How much money do you think you’d make selling your stuff at a hall or school gymnasium on a night when wrestling was NOT happening? Probably nothing. If a promoter requires a percentage kickback in exchange for letting you make money on top of your guarantee, perhaps it’s not all that unreasonable.
Want more aggravation?
Consider the impacts of a wrestler getting on the microphone and making a racial or sexist slur. What about a profanity-laced tirade? What is the fallout if a wrestler strikes a fan? Damages the building? Or is rude to the staff/volunteers at the venue? Any positive momentum in that community and goodwill that the promoter has built for that town has gone to ****. You’ve just negatively affected the promoter, your fellow wrestlers, and yourself from ever having the opportunity to make money in that town again.
What about no shows? If you have advertised a talent that fails to appear, what is the impact going to be on your gate. Are you going to be faced with refunding tickets based on that no-show? That’s the short term, that affects the promoter on that night. But the promoter is also compromised as now his credibility and accountability to that audience is compromised and how skeptical will they be when they hear that the company is coming back to town? What is their confidence in the promotion’s ability to produce advertised talent?
Working the Sponsors.
When a promoter gets a sponsor to support independent wrestling, (if this is not through a direct association that the promoter has with that merchant either through or away from the wrestling business) that relationship is very fragile and needs to be nurtured. It is important that the promoter deliver on every item promised to the sponsor. If he tells the sponsor that a condition of their agreement is that the talent will spend money in that business (i.e. a bar or restaurant), it is vital that wrestlers honor that agreement. You gotta eat anyway, so why not support someone that helped you to make that payoff? Makes sense right, if not for that sponsor, there would maybe not have been a show.
Above all else, remember to respect those promoters who honor their commitments to the talent. Despite the aggravations outlined here and more (I didn’t even begin to touch on the talent management/ego-driven problems that arise) and the risk of losing money night after night, they are still out there trying to create work for those of us that have a desire to perform. I am personally appreciative of all the opportunities that I have been given to get out there and ply my trade, none of which would have been possible without the people who are steering the wrestling BUSINESS.
This isn’t called the wrestling hobby, the wrestling pastime, or the wrestling happy happy fun times. It’s the WRESTLING BUSINESS. Approach your dealings as a professional in a business-like manner, considering all of these factors, and you should do well in this crazy industry.
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By “Mr. Beefy Goodness” Vance Nevada
Canadian wrestling’s Mr. Beefy Goodness Wrestler, author and award-winning historian. vancenevada.ca