Ryback Doesn't Get It: Ryan Reeves Leaves WWE Over Pay Dispute
This is my first blog in a while and I'll deviate from poker for a bit to talk about a story in wrestling that has come to a head in the past week.
Ryan Reeves, better known to the WWE Universe as Ryback, recently announced that he is "no longer doing business" with the WWE.
Ryback has been off of TV for a few months now after WWE officials sent him home over a dispute over pay.
He's been contending for a while that mid- and lower-card wrestlers should be paid better than they are and, while I can understand his beef, at the same time he doesn't really seem to get the realities of the pro wrestling world.
Wrestler Pay Is Definitely Unequal
In case you don't know how pro wrestlers are paid, all are considered independent contractors and are each under individual contract.
The contract a wrestler signs is based on several factors such as experience, popularity and the ability of that wrestler to make money for the company.
Top superstars like John Cena, HHH (when he was wrestling), Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar make millions each year.
Wrestlers also get a cut on their merchandise, video sales etc. That's one reason why Rey Mysterio stayed with the WWE as long as he did as his merchandise was insanely popular among kids even if he wasn't heavily featured on the card.
Your lower-tier wrestlers, such as Heath Slater, make significantly less. WWE Divas sometimes have been known to get as little as $50k a year in the past. Since wrestlers are independent contractors they also must cover all of their own travel expenses, food and the like.
Yes, some have that covered by the WWE but that is in their contract. To give the difference in pay scales, let's compare a couple of popular wrestlers.
Paige, a 2-time Divas Champ, gets $65,500 a year while Nikki Bella gets $112,500 with first class travel covered.
Current WWE Champion Dean Ambrose has a contract paying just $80,145 a year (certain to go up soon) while John Cena, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar make $2 million each.
Pro Wrestling Mimics Sports in Pay
Inequality in wrestler pay has dated back to the early days of wrestling and has always been the norm. But if you compare wrestling to other sports, the pay scale isn't that dissimilar -- although one can argue that low-tier sports stars tend to start with better contracts.
Look at Major League Baseball. The league minimum is somewhere in the neighborhood of $500k. Contracts go up from there with some players making $5-$10 million a year or more.
It is extremely difficult to argue that a random utility outfielder has the same value to the team as the star cleanup hitter or the ace of the pitching staff. Players get paid according to their performance and how valuable they are to the team.
In wrestling, performers get paid based on popularity and the ability for them to make money for the company. One will never pretend that the Heath Slaters of the world are as valuable to the WWE as John Cena, Randy Orton or even The New Day.
Equal Work Doesn't Mean Equal Pay
Ryback gave up a contract paying $655,500 over a combination of creative differences and a lack of equality in pay among wrestlers.
The ironic part about this is that Ryback is better paid than R-Truth, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Golddust, Bray Wyatt, Big E, Cesaro and the Usos as a team.
He argues that the low and mid-card guys should get as much money as some of the elite wrestlers because they put in the work and make the big stars look good in the ring.
In a utopian society, maybe that works but in business that's just not reality. Wrestling, like any other business, is going to reward those that can make the company the most money.
It doesn't matter if you're the best performer in the company. If you can't connect with the fans and improve the company's bottom line, you're not going to go anywhere.
That's why talents like R-Truth never get the big bucks. They are solid performers but fans don't come out just to see R-Truth. You won't see the WWE offer ticket refunds if R-Truth or Sin Cara no shows an event (with the exception of their home state / city).
Ryback wants something that just doesn't exist in the wrestling world, or even the sports world. There's no such thing as equal pay or even pay based on performance.
As he will find out the hard way from this point on, your marketability is the only thing that matters. Sadly, Ryback's gimmick barely worked in the WWE and after the novelty of seeing Ryback wears off on the Indy circuit, he is going to probably rethink his position.
Don't be surprised to see Ryback return to the company sometime in the next 2-3 years - at probably half the rate he was getting when he left.