MLW CEO talks the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and what the future holds.
MLW.com: The COVID-19 pandemic hit close to home for you and MLW HQ.
Court Bauer: Yes, we have been hit very hard here in New York. Our offices are a half of a mile from the first containment zone in the country. It’s surreal.
My admiration and thoughts go out to everyone on the frontlines from the medical end saving lives and looking for medical breakthroughs, to those keeping the supply chain going along with essential services, first responders and all who risk their lives for us. They are true heroes. They’re incredibly brave and selfless. This is a dark hour but because of them we’ll see it through and eventually return to a normal, healthy everyday existence.
MLW.com: How has the pandemic impacted MLW?
Court: As we all sit at home doing our part to not spread this virus, we need distractions. We need to escape. I hope MLW can play a part in that with what we offer our fans during these hard times.
On the business end, it’s fluid. I mean, I’d imagine almost every business is experiencing some form of disruption. Even if it is business as normal here, the company you’re engaging may have a different situation. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some unexpected opportunities.
Beyond the disruption to live events, we had a few athletes slated to compete in Japan, Europe and Mexico, which is now delayed. Some of that complicates programming strategies, but it’s more of a postponement than anything. For some in our locker room, it was their first tour and that is heartbreaking, but I expect everything will continue as planned upon a return to normalcy.
Operationally having to hit pause on temporarily promoting live events was inevitable. The question was just when with that question shifting to: for how long? Promoting events takes up operational bandwidth which we now have redirected towards other priorities and opportunities.
MLW.com: What’s MLW business like during the pandemic?
Court: It’s different, but not radically so. I have told my staff health and family comes first. Our offices here are near the epicenter of one of the first outbreaks here in New Rochelle so we have been working remotely for about a month. We’ve had some close calls with family members very ill. For real. I have never seen someone that sick in my life, but thankfully they pulled through. It puts things in perspective, for sure.
As for the nuts and bolts of our business, we’ve had time to continue discussions to expand our domestic content offerings, plus focus on some ambitious projects as well as growing our global footprint. These are always priorities but right now we’ve been able to make significant progress on these fronts.
We just closed deals in Poland, the Middle East, North Africa and will have more deals done soon. Now more than ever there is a thirst for content and we’re happy to take those calls and see where it takes us.
We’re also pursuing deals here in the states as well investing in our TV production operations. If you watch FUSION over the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed some of the upgrades. More are on the way.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the MLW Radio Network has also kicked off a new spring line-up. We’ve rolled out several new podcasts including: Talk’n Shop hosted by Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows and Rocky Romero as well as shows from Dutch Mantell and a few more on the way. Including some familiar faces from MLW.
MLW.com: Can you elaborate on the ambitious project you mentioned earlier?
Court: (Pause) Maybe a little. I introduced an idea to some of my friends and frankly some competitors where we would unite for what some may consider the spiritual successor to the 1995 World Wrestling Peace Festival. The wrestling world coming together to celebrate the return of the sport and help those in need is a powerful and exciting notion. Unity in general is something the world needs now more than ever.
It is very early and a very ambitious project. I could see it going down in America or Mexico…. Or perhaps Europe or even Japan. That said, it is unknown what suggested group gathering guidelines will be initially… so, we’ll see but there’s great enthusiasm among my colleagues.
Right now, I think we all crave and cling to hope. That’s the essence of this project.
MLW.com: You mentioned discussions to expand MLW programming here in America. Can you give us a bit of an update on this?
Court: I have been told by our agency I can’t comment specifically on anything pertaining to the rumors out there. Let’s just say things are happening; it’s very encouraging. The ebb and flow of deals and discussions isn’t what it typically is because of the pandemic but things are progressing. We have calls set for this week, in fact.
We have the good fortune of one of entertainment’s best agencies representing us and they’ve been very active.
MLW.com: What does the future of MLW on beIN look like?
Court: BeIN is a great partner. I expect the relationship to continue to prosper. beIN came in 2 years ago and enabled MLW to grow into a property that regularly sells out in Dallas, Chicago, New York and Philly.
The rights fee we receive from beIN enables us to continue to grow and prosper and they’ve matched that by pouring a lot of marketing dollars into promoting us on their network. You can’t watch beIN without seeing a commercial for Fusion.
It’s been a win-win relationship. We give them 52 weeks a year of great sports content and they’ve entered into a relationship at the ground floor with a league that today outperforms almost everything on their network except games like Barcelona vs. Madrid. Think about that.
MLW.com: What’s your strategy for producing programming on the horizon if the pandemic goes on for some time?
Court: Wrestling is the greatest sport there is. It’s also a wonderful device to use to escape reality. For as long as this thing lasts, it’s my goal to hopefully provide that escape through MLW and make people laugh, get excited and distract.
As for strategy… we have a plan and it ties into something the fans have been demanding since we relaunched in 2017. We have at a minimum 50 episodes being mapped out. We could comfortably go into mid 2021 without promoting a live event.
I pray the world overcomes this pandemic sooner than that timeline and everyone can return to enjoying life in good health. But I have to prepare for every scenario.
We are building business models for a return as early as June, one that anticipates a return in 15 months and a few in-between that range. We need to be ready for several scenarios. There’s no playbook for what we’re going through, so we just have to be nimble, prudent and realistic about this.
MLW.com: From a matchmaking perspective, how has the pandemic impacted things?
Court: You stay centered. This is an incomprehensible chapter in the world with so many suffering and dying. Your heart goes out to the victims and their families. It’s our job to try to be there to lift spirits and do what you can in some small way to distract from the struggle everyone is enduring.
We are more or less sliding things back and staying on course. The downtime has allowed us extra time which gives us more opportunity to enrich things for when we come back. You aren’t afforded that luxury when you’re going at the normal speed as guys are getting injured, shows are coming up fast, etc.
MLW.com: You brought up MLW’s international endeavors. A lot of people have wondered now that MLW has an alliance with Dragon Gate, what does that mean for NOAH?
Court: Surprise, surprise. We remain in business with NOAH. We actually had some talent teed up to come in and vice versa before the virus hit Japan. I understand it’s come back pretty bad in Japan which is dispiriting.
I should also give a quick update on Dragon Gate, as many fans are excited for their introduction. Because of the pandemic, visas and the process which enables them to legally be able to work in America has been significantly delayed. Things will pick up in due time but we’re at the mercy of the realities of the world and government processing applications.
Beyond Japan, I also want to praise Dorian Roldan and his team at AAA in Mexico. It’s been an incredibly positive relationship. We’re planning on some exciting collaborations on the horizon. I can’t wait for everyone to see the MLW / AAA Super Series on MLW Fusion.
MLW.com: What are some of the big fights we can look forward to once live events resume?
Court: Davey Boy (Smith) has been pushing hard for a crack at Fatu’s belt. Of course, National Champion Alex Hammersotne has been making his own case for a title versus title match on Twitter. They’re both huge matches. Both are in the mix.
In the tag team division, Lawlor and Garrini want a shot at the belts and I know the Von Erichs are on board, but I’d like to see Team Filthy formally enter the division with some matches before we go there.
The future of Myron Reed as World Middleweight Champion is up in the air. Why reward Myron after the Pillman thing? Some would argue stripping him of the belt is in order. We were planning on a possible Pillman-Reed title fight but we very well could strip Reed as punishment. I’m in no rush to make a decision.
MLW.com: What are some of the concepts you may introduce when live events commence?
Court: A live broadcast is a possibility. We may also do a live draft to shake things up. Depends on the timing. Depends on the opportunity.
MLW.com: When can we expect the next Pay-Per-View?
Court: SuperFight was a home run for us both in the ring and hit the mark on our projections for buys. However, we have held back doing another as we are in talks to shop our rights and that means everything including big tentpole events like a SuperFight. Future Pay-Per-Views could end up on a streaming platform, as network specials or remain on Pay-Per-View. So, it’s up in the air until we close the deal, but more are on the way.
MLW.com: Before we wrap this up, what are you doing and what are you streaming to pass the time while social distancing?
Court: Hanging with the family, walking the dog, catching up on some reading and trying but failing to do some home projects.
As for what’s on my watch list at the moment? The Righteous Gemstones, Cold Case: Hammarskjöld, Ozark and Homeland. Definitely missing the NBA and baseball starting up along with just seeing friends, family and everyone at MLW and of course I miss promoting.
MLW.com: Any last thoughts or items we didn’t cover?
Court: Stay strong. Stay united (from a distance). Stay at home. We’ll get through this dark hour together.