Pay attention to what happens when fans attend WWE events meant for media

The lines between media and journalism are blurring every day and allowing fans to attend media events is only going to benefit the WWE.
WWE Announces Matches With Tyson Fury And Cain Velasquez At Crown Jewel Event
WWE Announces Matches With Tyson Fury And Cain Velasquez At Crown Jewel Event / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Media is in a compelling place, but that is truer when it comes to professional sports. The politicization of sports and media is crashing together every day, and professional wrestling hasn’t escaped that development. Recent allegations against Vince McMahon, John Laurinaitis, and the WWE tested media members’ abilities to ask tough questions of the promotion’s leadership. Heading into WrestleMania 40 there’s a lot of talk about the Kickoff Party scheduled for Thursday, February 8. It is especially important when talking about the direction of wrestling journalism and media.

WWE announced the availability of two levels of access open to fans to attend this event. The Gold and Champion passes are $500 and $2,500 respectively and come with a variety of benefits. For example, the Gold level promises access to the media event while the Champion level includes a photo opportunity with Triple H, front row seating, and more.

At first glance, this seems like an innocuous thing. Just another revenue grab by a company where the bottom line is always king. But when it comes to media coverage within a space, it is important to review what has happened at press events for the UFC, a company that is also owned by Endeavor and recently merged with the WWE.

There was once a time when the UFC ran to media coverage, seeking any platform that would dedicate available time to cover the promotion. But as the company became the biggest platform in combat sports, that has changed. Now, the organization looks for favorable coverage first. What originally started as avoiding the platforms that would ask difficult questions, the UFC outright attacks those groups with vitriol, frequently leading its fans online to do the same thing. Think of how Donald Trump frequently weaponizes his followers against his media opponents, the UFC is a black belt in that same practice.

This has translated to the UFC media events becoming a place that is unwelcoming of actual journalism. Now, it’s typical to hear fans at media events boo media members who have been deemed “the enemy” when they ask critical questions about the UFC or any of its fighters. Take the recent press situation with Sean Strickland when he made derogatory comments about trans and gay individuals. The media member who asked that question was verbally berated, and booed by those in attendance, and the behavior continued online for days after. This is a common occurrence for anyone asking questions that are deemed of the “gotcha” variety.

So how does this relate to professional wrestling’s media events? The UFC has long allowed fans to attend its media events and lets those fans ask questions. Many of those fan questions take precedence over media questions. Allowing the fighters and decision-makers to avoid any difficult conversations in front of the camera. If WWE makes a shift in its press conferences before and after major events, expect the same trajectory. Media members who may ask about the McMahon allegations will now have to compete with fans who want to ask about a wrestler’s love life or some other ridiculous question.

There is already a blurred line when it comes to media and journalism. As that line gets blurrier, only those in powerful positions benefit. That is what’s at stake as the WWE announces these packages that can lead to more “fan-focused” media events.