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TAKING A DEEP LOOK INTO THE FLOSPORTS VS. WWN SITUATION

By Mike Johnson on 2017-09-22 11:56:00

The news that FloSlam has filed a lawsuit against WWN, the parent company of EVOLVE and so many other companies has brought a lot of questions and a lot of speculation, so let's dive into all that.

The lawsuit alleges that WWN management falsified information in order to make their content appear to be more valuable than it actually was, getting FloSports to pay "hundreds of thousands" to WWN.  If that's the case, certainly, it would be fraudulent behavior.  If I told you my baseball cards were worth $1000 and they were only worth $10, I've lied to you.  So, if WWN indeed falsified records to include the same iPPV buyer and even DVD purchases to boost their numbers, and FloSports can prove that in court, WWN is in the wrong.  

When you flip the hourglass, however, you do have to ask several questions about FloSports.  One, if the records were falsified to the point that the same buyers were listed as multiple, different buyers and if DVD purchases were itemized as iPPV buys, why did FloSports still enter into a relationship with WWN?  Who was responsible for signing off on a deal with such blatant "false" information and are they being held responsible in any way, shape, or form?    I used the baseball card analogy above and while I would be lying to a buyer if I said the cards were worth $1000 as opposed to $10, there has to be some form of responsibility from the buyer for not doing their due diligence and being dumb enough to go along with it.  So, how much of this situation is simply buyer's remorse because the FloSlam streaming service has failed to bring in numbers that are pleasing FloSports management?

The FloSlam service has been a haphazard, at best, service since it began.  I can only speak for my own experiences, but they include purchasing an annual subscription and paying $150 up front only to learn that none of the Roku devices I owned would correctly interface with the service.  I had to go and purchase a Roku Express in order to finally be able to stream the events without issues.  The interface is fine for finding live streaming but the VOD aspect is clunky and cluttered.  If I want to watch a House of Hardcore event, I have to try and find that promotion, then figure out how to find the actual event I want, as nothing is in chronological order and random matches are tossed into the selection higgly-piggly.  In a world where consumers want their content immediately so they can enjoy, FloSlam isn't exactly conducive to that.

I can't compare Roku to any other platform because, for FloSlam, there's been no real launching of apps for other platforms - not even places like Playstation or Amazon, both of which are extremely important.  There's been absolutely no marketing of FloSlam to any outlets.  They have a Twitter account, which you have to discover and follow.  They have an email list that pushes what's coming up on FloSlam, but you have to be a paid subscriber to receive it.  Unless you are already choosing to be inside the FloSlam bubble, there's no attempt to reach you and tell you that the service even exists.  FloSports chose to exist in that bubble and failed because of it.

I've already noted that I am a paid subscriber to the service, but remove that from the equation and think of this.  There has never been one press release issued to PWInsider.com by the service touting itself.  Not once.  Hell, Google for yourself and you'll find there has never been one press release issued to any pro wrestling website, period.  There's no evidence of any advertising taken out even on sports websites pushing that FloSlam exists. [Update: PWInsider.com has since been told the service did sponsored advertising on Facebook.]  They did a few interviews a year ago when it launched with several outlets, including The Taz Show, but that was pretty much it.  In fact, my initial attempt to reach out to a FloSlam representative (who appeared on the Taz Show the same day I do) led to him publicly complaining about me (on Twitter) contacting him and referring me to their PR department.  The PR department has never returned that email.  That representative was later fired from the company.  11 months later, not one FloSlam exec has ever reached out to PWInsider.com.

When you compare that to the Fite App or the WWE Network or The Highspots Wrestling Network, all of which do their own outreach and advertising and marketing campaigns and have built relationships with PWInsider.com and similar websites, it's been apparent that FloSports for some time has completely stalled in that regard - so if they are upset at a lack of subscribers and a lack of growth, that has to fall on their own shoulders, not WWN or any other partner promotion.

In pro wrestling, there's such a thing as a "sold show."  If I am a promoter and I sell a show to a venue or organization, I am paid a flat fee that I use to budget the event I am bringing in.  I pay my expenses and my wrestlers.  That's my responsibility.  Sure, I will promote the event, but the actual responsibility for the event's success falls on the organization and venue.  If, for example, The Brooklyn Cyclones pay to bring in ROH, it's on them, not ROH to tell their regular fans and their surrounding neighborhood that ROH is coming to town and try to get them interested in the show.  FloSports didn't do that.  They didn't even attempt to do that.  They bought the shows and let them die on the vine.  Again, not the fault of their partner promotions.

It's sad to see what the FloSlam service has become considering how many people were so excited and had, as Han Solo might say, delusions of grandeur about how the service was going to change things for independent wrestling.  It was going to give wrestlers and promotions a place to be seen on a major scale and was going to drive up the price of content that WWE might want.  It was going to be something that was going to mark a new chapter in pro wrestling, some people said.  None of that happened.  None of that is going to happen - and that's no one's fault but FloSports.

All that said, if WWN is proven to have falsified their records in any way, it's still fraud.  Not only that, it would be fraud of a company that the publicly traded WWE has invested in at the same time its Vice President of Talent Relations, Creative and Marketing Gabe Sapolsky has been building a relationship with WWE's Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative Paul Levesque.  Think about the ramifications of that if it's in any way true.  It's mind-boggling and insane if any of that turns out to indeed be the case.  The ripple effects of it being proven correct could not only kill WWN, but any of their execs from having a position elsewhere in professional wrestling and for Sapolsky, it's the genre he's been working in since he was in college.   

Even if the WWN allegations are false (and remember, innocent until proven guilty), they could still end up hurting WWN, as the initial impression will always remain.  After all, how many wrongly accused criminals end up on the front page only to see the retractions buried somewhere in the middle of the paper?  FloSports has lobbed some heavy accusations at Gabe Sapolsky and Sal Hamaoui, but what if Flo is wrong?  There's no way to measure the hit their reputations will be taking over the course of this process.  Think about how badly exposed Dixie Carter looked after Billy Corgan sued Impact?   It didn't matter that Corgan didn't win, Carter was exposed.  This could be no different.

If I am WWE, a publicly traded company, wouldn't I think twice about wanting to work with WWN due to the stench of these allegations?  If you think the answer is no, you may want to look up how corporate America works.

Of course, the one question I will ask (and I am shocked that no one has asked this one before me) is why has it taken FloSports nearly twelve months to bring up these allegations? 

Think about this for a second: Flosports entered into business with WWN in October 2016, so how is it that they were unable to sift through the records and find that the numbers weren't adding up?  If WWN claimed that their records were deleted or lost, as FloSports alleges in their lawsuit, why didn't this raise red flags to begin with?  FloSports had no problem paying what has amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars for live streams of WWN events that were taking place in small venues before, in some cases, sparse crowds, and they are now, a year later, gobsmacked to realize that wrestling at that level doesn't result in thousands upon thousands of iPPV buys?  Really?   They announced in August of 2016 they had over $21 million in new financing - did none of it go to vetting their potential partners in a new section of their service?

A quick Google search and some common sense would tell anyone what realm independent wrestling exists on, with the rare exception of weeks like Wrestlemania where the indy realm gets to plug into the mass of humanity that WWE brings in to a market.  If FloSports entered in the indy wrestling world without knowing what they are getting into, well, no one told them to do that without doing their proper research.  If you enter the haunted cabin in the woods, as Ash and his friends did in Evil Dead, well, no one forced you to walk in there.  No one forced FloSports to launch FloSlam.  They did that of their own accord.  If they did so in a way that they are not happy with a year out, well, that's something they need to address internally.

Earlier today, WWN's attorney Samuel Heller issued the following statement to PWInsider.com regarding the lawsuit:

"While we prefer not to litigate cases in the media, it is clear that FloSports is attempting to use the press to create leverage in this dispute by spreading false, defamatory and misleading statements about WWN.  In reality, FloSports has wholly failed to honor its contractual obligation to promote WWN’s events, and has been unable to successfully integrate WWN into its mismanaged and failing subscription streaming platform.  At no time has WWN provided incorrect, false or misleading information and this lawsuit is nothing more than a transparent effort by FloSports to avoid its responsibility to WWN, its talent and its fans.  We are confident that the litigation will result favorably to WWN."

Without seeing the contract (which, given WWN intends to countersue, we may soon have a chance to see), there's no way to know exactly what FloSports did and didn't live up to in terms of their agreement with WWN.  It's quite possible they didn't.  We won't know until there are additional court filings.  Over the last 48 hours, there's been talk that this lawsuit could be FloSports' way of getting out of paying WWN the remainder of what they are owed or even trying to strong-arm WWN into taking a lesser fee.  Certainly, those are possible reasons for why the lawsuit was filed.    Hell, if WWN wants to get out from under this deal and go work with WWE (which, at least in the case of Gabe Sapolsky, looks to be the case), all of this could be in their best interest.  We won't know for sure until all this works it's way through the court system.

At the end of the day, it will come down to what FloSports' forensic accountants have pilfered from the WWN records they claim were falsified and whether it can be proven WWN actually did something wrong.  Until we see what WWN's response to this is, legally and on the record, we only know a piece of the story (and we know there's going to be some REALLY awkward moments at this weekend's EVOLVE events when FloSlam employees arrive), but in the end, we can already state one thing with certainty.

Once again, opportunities to better professional wrestling have been lost and as always, when a big opportunity goes to hell, it leaves a stain on pro wrestling that could prevent the next big opportunity from even happening, because these type of allegations are the exact type of thing that allows pro wrestling's bad reputation to continue to exist  Even if every allegation here is false, the implication that pro wrestling is a scuzzy business has been reinforced yet again.

Whether FloSports mismanaged FloSlam badly or not, whether WWN misled FloSports or not and no matter who takes the blame and the responsibility, when all the dust settles and the case is completed, once again, it will be pro wrestling and the people that love it, who end up hurt yet again. 

Great, just great.

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.  He invites any Floslam representative to reach out to him.

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