Art and Commerce Doesn't Mix in Wrestling
As broken yesterday by Mike Johnson at PWInsider.com, Anthem, the parent owner of Impact Ventures, LLC, which produces and runs Impact Wrestling, has sent a cease-and-desist order towards Ring of Honor and Matt and Jeff Hardy for the rights to the “Broken Universe”, a series of characters that not only helped keep Impact afloat in 2016, but rejuvenated the Hardys as performers in the world of wrestling.
Anthem has taken claim that due to the characters being created in their company while being aired on their programming, combined with the Hardys now attempting to do them all over the world of wrestling, in spite of the fact that Impact did not resign them to contracts, they own them. That would mean “Broken” Matt Hardy, Brother Nero, Queen Rebecca, Vanguard 1, King Maxel, and Senor Benjamin.
Reby Sky, the wife of Matt Hardy, has taken to her Twitter page and gone absolutely berserk, basically giving Anthem the riot act for all the Hardys did for Impact Wrestling in 2016, including funding shows on the Hardy property for segments and even episodes of Impact. In truth, I do not blame her.
As a guy who has lingered around the lower level independent scene for ten years, I’ve always detested creativity and commerce coming together as one. Especially on the mainstream level of pro wrestling, the corporate mentality of businessmen running a wrestling promotion drives me insane.
In my opinion, ever since the World Wrestling Federation went public with their business on October 19, 1999, pro wrestling on a mainstream level has changed completely. WWE has been officially the only global game in town since March 26, 2001, when World Championship Wrestling’s parent company AOL Time Warner sold their assets, trademarks, and tape libraries to them. WWE has also purchased the assets and tape libraries of Extreme Championship Wrestling, the American Wrestling Association, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, and countless others to help jump start their WWE Network on February 24, 2014.
Without being officially labeled a monopoly in the corporate world, all independent and outlaw wrestling promotions all realize that the WWE holds a figurative stranglehold over the professional wrestling (or sports entertainment, whatever you prefer) industry. In truth, I don’t have a problem with that. In that regard, business is business. WWE made business dealings to strengthen their brand and ultimately have the true visual database of professional wrestling.
What I DO have a problem have is how the company has now completely structured their day-to-day operations with the creative portion of their televised product. With more Hollywood writers on staff instead of veterans from the ring in booking positions, combined with scripted promos, heavily produced matches, and regimented characters, have led to an environment where the creative freedom of the performers have been at an all-time low.
I once heard a line from Conan O’Brien on the Johnny Carson: King of Late Night documentary from PBS that really struck me.
“It’s always going to be a tricky marriage - art and commerce. It’s always going to be fraught with tension. It just is. It’s built into the system. That’s what happens, you know?”
So many talents that are great entertainers always strive for creative freedom. They know the characters they play inside and out. They grasp the abilities to take a simple one-dimensional character and truly get into the role; ultimately conforming it into a multi-layered gimmick. In WWE, that is really unheard of, especially in the “publicly owned” era.
That’s why I genuinely appreciate what Matt and Jeff Hardy were able to do in Impact Wrestling in 2016.
Throughout last year, Total Nonstop Action, founded in 2002 by Jeff and Jerry Jarrett and owned by Dixie Carter, daughter of Bob Carter from Pandy Energy, came the closest they ever came to folding. The behind the scenes drama between Carter, Anthem, Aroluxe Marketing, and Billy Corgan took away from the latest reboot for the company on POP TV. The performers and production weren’t getting paid, and a true case of “Who’s in charge?” was on the mind of every person on the roster.
Yet, the genius of Matt Hardy practically gave Impact Wrestling a shot in the arm during the summer. Thanks to “going mad” after losing the TNA World title and being put through a table by his brother Jeff, Matt became “Broken” and turned into this borderline psychotic figure. Combined with his wife Reby, infant son Maxel, and his gardener/landscaper/battlefield preparer for massacre Senor Benjamin, “Broken” Matt DELETED Jeff during the Final Deletion in July, rendered him OBSOLETE, helped bring out Jeff’s inner BROTHER NERO, implemented a Great War in “DELETE OR DECAY”, and set up a Tag Team Apocalypto during a Total Nonstop DELETION episode. Matt got green beans, an old rowboat, a drone, and his lake popular with hardcore fans.
Although ratings didn’t rise up to maximum levels, the Broken Hardys gave Impact a shot in the arm of relevance. TMZ started covering some of their exploits. Wrestling critics admired the creativity of what was happening with the Hardys. During a year where Impact was running out of funds and garnering negative feedback behind the scenes, the Hardys made their company cool.
The outlandish attitudes were unique. The amazing creativity in producing by both men and TNA mainstay Jeremy Borash gave an element of unpredictability. The wrestling fans embraced them and truly rejuvenated the Hardys from a career perspective, after the personal issues that plagued them for years. This was truly a fresh way on how pro wrestling should’ve been filmed and produced. Most definitely, this was an “outside the box” vision that clicked.
So when Anthem officially purchased the shares from Dixie Carter by the end of 2016 and started running tapings in 2017, it seemed that the Hardys would resign and continue onward, especially after starting the Expedition of Gold for tag team dominance. However, contract talks were mired and mixed, and the Hardys became free agents. Almost immediately, Ring of Honor signed the brothers to contracts and the Broken Hardys seemed to pick right back up, winning the ROH Tag Team Titles at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City against the Young Bucks just this past weekend at Manhattan Mayhem VI.
However, mere hours before ROH’s 15th Anniversary pay-per-view, Anthem, according to PWinsider’s Johnson, sent a cease-and-desist to ROH, the Hardys, and all pay-per-view providers that “the Broken Universe” was their intellectual property and that there would possibly be legal ramifications if the company would use the duo as “Broken” Matt and Brother Nero. Coincidentally, Matt applied for a trademark of the “Broken” Matt Hardy name on March 1, the day after the Impact contract expired on March 1, 2017.
Regardless, Matt and Jeff were recognized as the Hardys, not as their alter-egos, and performed and retained their ROH Tag Team Titles last night.
This is where I get riled up. After everything the Hardys had done for Impact, in regards to funding the events and moments the company had on their compound, giving the promotion relevance in a dark time, and really putting the company on their back last year, the company pulls a power play with the “intellectual property” card. All the creativity and true art that the brothers gave prior to the company ownership switch seems all for naught with a “business” power play, not allowing the performers to go forward with characters they had immense creative direction with.
I truly feel that Anthem is in the wrong. In spite of the ownership switch and the change of creative teams, the company did not do the performers right. I understand that “the intellectual property” might be Impact’s, but the creativity was all from the performers. It isn’t right that the blood, sweat, and tears of the wrestlers are being held from them due to a business decision. It makes me violently ill.
That is why pro wrestling is on a downswing on a business level. Performers are not allowed to take characters they created on the mainstream and national level outside of where they wrestled. WWE trademarks the names and characters the performers portray for their personal gain, and continue to allow the independent contractors to develop something new on their own after the company releases them from their contract or doesn’t resign the respective individuals. The passion and creativity of the performers are basically held captive so that the company can market every last cent on that name. It’s a very toxic situation.
I am a major proponent of individual branding. Developing characters and ideas should be the intellectual property of the performer creating them. The content, words, and characters created within the realm of the performer should be the IP of the entertainer. I understand the hindsight of the business maneuvering behind it, but it’s not fair to the individual who innovatives a vision. It truly feels that the creative freedom behind a character from a performer and business perspective is dying out more and more in the world of professional wrestling.
Art and commerce doesn’t mix in wrestling. The further a performer goes in the mainstream, the less and less they get in a creative mindset. The lure of big money is important, which is why hungry wrestlers sign a contract, but losing your vision of characters and the brand you build while in that promotion is flat out wrong. The Hardys might be the biggest example of getting shafted for their hard work. And it’s wrong.
Build your brand independently. It’s a worthwhile investment.