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MAJOR CHANGES COMING TO THE WWE NETWORK AND THE EUROPEAN WRESTLING SCENE: BREAKING IT ALL DOWN

By Mike Johnson on 2017-01-19 11:49:00

"Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing" - Bob Dylan

Since Tyler Bate captured the WWE UK championship this past weekend, the big question has been what is next for WWE and the UK scene?

Well, what is next is a lot of changes, both for WWE and the European wrestling scene.

As we broke on Monday afternoon in the Elite section of PWInsider.com, the landscape of the WWE Network is expected to change as all signs are that Scotland's Insane Championship Wrestling will soon debut as programming on the WWE Network and that other promotions could follow.  The belief is that ICW has a multi-year deal (depending on who is talking, the deal is believed to be 2 or 3 years) and that PROGRESS Wrestling in Great Britain and potentially others will soon follow. 

The move is one that WWE has been discussing internally since last year, with the idea of adding independent wrestling material to a new tier of the WWE Network that would be available for a higher price point (believed to be $14.99) with discussions internally within WWE about everything from licensing indy content from existing television shows to paying promotions to create content.   We are told feedback and viewing numbers for last weekend's the UK Championship Tournament were going to be a strong factor in determining how WWE moved forward with that plan.   With the WWE Network about to hit it's three year anniversary next month, it makes sense that an announcement could be timed sometime soon.

Over the course of last weekend, the talk overseas was that WWE had all but completed a deal with Mark Dallas' Insane Championship Wrestling.  The belief is that it's weekly "Fight Club" series would migrate to the WWE Network and air via VOD with disclaimers and a parental warning on the content, similar to how WWE Attitude Era material and the original ECW are featured on the Network.  Fight Club currently streams on the Fite App, but the belief among many over the past week is that a deal is completed and could be announced at any point.  There is no word whether the deal would also bring the company's major events, such as their annual Fear and Loathing show (which was carried via streaming platforms last year) to the WWE Network as well. 

The step forward is a major one for WWE as they could not only be a content producer on the WWE Network but would take a step towards being a content distributor.  All the talk of WWE being a monopoly could be shut down by WWE simply pointing to smaller promotions that they work with - and pay for - as a way to show that they are not elbowing everyone else out of the equation.  Now, not only would they get to sign and groom talent but they would have the ability to curate independent wrestling by legitimizing the promotions that are streamed on their Network.  The WWE connection pretty much saved WWNLive, which was slowly dying on the vine, but legitimizing it to an entirely new group of fans that discovered it and began supporting it.  WWE can do that for any independent promotion it decides to showcase on their Network - and there isn't an independent promotion in existence that doesn't want the rub from WWE.   WWE means the greatest potential revenue and when you are an independently funded company, it isn't often you are finding the greatest potential revenue in your coffers at the end of the month.  

The deals with ICW and PROGRESS make a lot of sense from the WWE perspective.  They are two distinctly different promotions that utilize a lot of the talent that appeared on the UK Championship Tournament and each have a lot of buzz of their own.  While undoubtedly WWE will look to continue to run their own branded material in Great Britain - after all, Triple H himself said that the plan here was to have a weekly series out of the UK - forging deals with ICW and other promotions will give WWE partner promotions that can showcase the talents who were signed to the WWE UK contracts.   WWE can easily have Tyler Bate defending his UK championship in partner promotions as they work out plans for their own weekly series on the Network.

There have been discussions of all sorts of other promotions potentially being part of the WWE Network, but the one that has been primarily discussed beyond ICW has been The UK's PROGRESS Wrestling, which is believing to be in discussions with WWE currently.  What makes that interesting is the timing that PROGRESS will be making its United States debut over Wrestlemania weekend in Orlando, Florida as part of the WWNLive.com events there with a number of talents from the UK Championship tournament already announced.   There are also plans for an EVOLVE vs. PROGRESS event that weekend, obviously on Flosports' streaming service.

 What will also be interesting in the months to come is that PWInsider.com has heard that WWE's contracts with UK talents that appeared on the UK Championship Tournament will prevent those talents from appearing on streaming material that would be considered opposition to the WWE Network (Flosports immediately comes to mind here), so there will be changes to the UK scene because of this.  We will start to see contractual obligations and promotional boundaries appear that the local UK scene did not have to deal with prior to 2017.  Sure, there were always promotional rivalries but this will be an entirely different animal.   There are absolutely going to be cases where Tyler Bate, for example, can no longer appear for promotion X because Promotion X is going to be streamed live.  After all, WWE is not going to have their contracted talent appearing on opposing streamed events.   We've seen that already.  When WWE talents appear at EVOLVE, they aren't on the EVOLVE iPPV broadcasts.  So, there will be talents who won't be able to appear for certain promotions beyond dark segments and that will start to change things for those promotions in terms of talents they will be willing to book and how those talents can be utilized when they are booked.  So, things will be changing locally in the scene.

It's important to note that both ICW and PROGRESS have existing on demand subscription channels, so it will be interesting to see if they are maintained and continue to be updated or if WWE deals will mean the end of those platforms for either of those promotions or any others who sign up with WWE.

The other promotion that is major to the scene that has been talked about a lot when it comes to a potential WWE deal is Over the Top Wrestling in Ireland.  OTT promoter Joe Cabray was in attendance at the first night of the WWE UK championship tournament, but beyond a buzz locally that a deal is imminent, we have yet to hear that there has been any actual offer.  It should be noted that OTT had been working with Flosports on a per-event basis, so if they continue on with that deal, it's likely WWE contracted talents will no longer be able to appear on OTT iPPVs.  The promotion - and any others that want to work with WWE - will have to weigh the positives and negatives of having access to WWE talents and the money that will come with a WWE partnership vs. the ability to remain completely independent and making money via other platforms, their own or a third party like Flosports, while also losing access to a number of talents they have been regularly using.

While there have been rumors of Rev Pro (which will be running it's own debut event in the United States as part of Wrestlecon in April), we are told that they were not part of the current discussions with WWE.

It's also important to point out that we are told by multiple sources that ITV, coming off their 12/31 two hour pilot broadcast, is currently trying to formulate what their plan is for the World of Sports revival as they have had discussions of doing a weekly series in both a one hour and a two hour format, as well as potentially doing quarterly specials.   Once the financials are worked out (we are told that there is no final decision even made on where the series might air), the plan is to try and offer talents contracts for that series if and when it is officially picked up, which means that those contracts will only make things even more complicated for the UK scene.  The ITV pilot led to WWE pushing their plans for the UK tournament up several months and certainly there will be talents that play two ends  - WWE and ITV - against the middle to see where they can get the best possible deal.

So, the scene may be going from one where everyone could work for anyone they want to a scene riddled with obstacles due to where talents are signed, where those talents can appear, who talents can face, who they can lose to, etc.  It could very easily become very complicated.  That's what happens when competition arises.  While it's a completely different animal on a greater scale, it reminds me a lot of the Philadelphia indy war of the early 2000s.

Over the last several years, the European scene has gone from an under-reported and underestimated source of great professional wrestling talent to becoming ground zero for one of the biggest stories as we enter 2017.   What has been a golden age for the UK, Ireland, Scotland and other countries will soon evolve and change - it will be impossible to predict every move and how every ripple effect will play out, but as Bob Dylan famously sang, indeed, "times they are a-changing."

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