The business of professional wrestling has not been spared in the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like all pro sports, the largest hurdle wrestling has faced over the last few months is related to the presentation of the product — wrestling companies have been forced to run shows without an audience and, therefore, without any gate revenue.
In WWE, the lost gate revenue is expected to be significant. The full extent of the financial impact will be addressed during a conference call with investors and media on Thursday. As part of cost-saving measures, multiple wrestlers and behind-the-scenes personnel were either released or furloughed by WWE in April.
One of the affected was producer Lance Storm, who also wrestled for the company between 2001 and 2005.
When Storm left WWE as a wrestler in 2005, he opened his own wrestling school in his native Calgary called the Storm Wrestling Academy. For nearly 15 years, Storm helped produce the next generation of wrestlers, including current WWE talent Peyton Royce, Tyler Breeze, Chelsea Green and Oney Lorcan.
In the summer of 2019, Storm announced he would be shuttering his school in the fall after accepting a job with WWE as a producer, where he would be working under WWE senior vice president of talent relations John Laurinaitis.
Storm officially started with the sports entertainment giant this past December.
"All my former students asked, ‘Do you miss (the school)?’ I said, ‘I haven’t had time to miss it,’" said Storm. "I wrapped things up, I got out, and started on (some) new things. It was just on to something new and busy."
Just as Storm was getting comfortable in his new role, the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America. As WWE was gearing up for WrestleMania 36, an event that needs an all-hands-on-deck approach for all members of WWE, Canada issued an advisory warning against non-essential travel, but not yet banning it.
Doing some due diligence, Storm called to check on his travel insurance, making sure he would still be covered while working in the U.S. but was told, according to Storm, "no, if you leave the country now and have COVID-related issues abroad, you’re not covered. My wife was concerned, and pointed out that if I get hospitalized in the States, we could blow our entire retirement fund."
Storm informed WWE of the predicament and he says the company was "super understanding." However, less than a week later, "poop hit the fan."
Canada implemented a travel ban on March 21, grounding Storm in Calgary. Meanwhile, WWE had stopped running their traditional travelling shows on March 13, beginning with a live edition of SmackDown from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla.
Approximately one month later, WWE began releasing and furloughing employees, including Storm.
"I got the phone call with the news and they said, ‘We’re letting people go. Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring you back.’"
Storm’s contract granted him 90 days of pay following the furlough, but then the pandemic worsened in the United States, and after 90 days Storm confirmed via Twitter on July 19 that he was unemployed.
"I’m certainly open to the idea (of returning) and was of the impression that that is a possibility," Storm told Sportsnet. "But the border has to open up and (WWE) have to get back to running a full-time schedule with fans and travelling again before they’re going to be in need all of the producers again. I can’t imagine that that’s going to be any time before 2021."
Storm noted that he and WWE "parted on good terms," but that won’t stop the rumour mill from debating where Storm may end up next.
Despite being closed for less than a year, Storm has said that he has no plans of re-opening the Storm Wrestling Academy. Long-time friend, fellow Canadian and wrestling superstar Chris Jericho currently stars for All Elite Wrestling, making a Storm-to-AEW rumour easy to disseminate. Storm is also close with several front-office personnel in Impact Wrestling, including executive vice president Don Callis.
Storm told Sportsnet that if another job opportunity were to come up, he would strongly consider it. However, if Storm were to take a job with one of the bigger wrestling companies, he would undoubtedly be faced with the same issue that left him unemployed in the first place.
"My family is not comfortable with me going to the U.S. and coming back and interacting with (other members of) my family, and that is not currently workable with any of the companies’ models," said Storm. "Until it is safe for me to travel to and from the United States without having to quarantine, I won’t be working in the U.S."
Should Storm eventually return to WWE, the former Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion would relish the opportunity to continue working with talent he was just getting comfortable with.
"I think the talent and I were just getting to the point where we developed a trusting relationship," said Storm. "They trust and respect your opinions, and that you’re looking out for their interests and so forth.
"There’s a real relationship required for the creative process."
While Storm had worked with several WWE wrestlers previously, including tenured stars like Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Lashley, he was also acquainting himself with some of the newer stars.
"A guy like Seth Rollins, I have to earn his trust, and he has to find that relationship with me," noted Storm when talking about the former WWE Champion. "I got to (produce) him a lot of times and I think we got there, (but) now you have to sort of start over."