NEW YORK — Smackdowns, hammerlocks, body slams — and we’re talking about WWF’s executives, not its wrestlers.
The World Wrestling Federation and satcaster DirectTV went public Friday with a bitter contractual dispute that could result in the cancellation of all of the WWF’s monthly pay-per-view events to DirecTV’s 10 million subscribers, starting in September.
“The WWF is acting like a playground bully,” said Michael Thornton, VP of programming for DirecTV. The conflict centers on “serious contractual violations” by the WWF, he said, that are cheating the satellite distributor out of “substantial sums of money.”
Thornton declined to get more specific because he said an arbitration association has imposed a gag rule as it sifts through names submitted by both parties for the creation of a three-judge panel that he hopes will rule on the charges by DirecTV. One of the clauses in the WWF contract calls for the convening of an arbitration panel to resolve disagreements when the parties are at loggerheads.
“I’m insulted by the charges,” WWF Entertainment prexy and chief operating officer Stu Snyder said. “These are allegations, not facts.” Snyder claimed that DirecTV has not acted in good faith, resorting to arbitration rather than “sitting down and discussing issues openly.”
What brought the conflict to a head was Friday’s “industry alert” faxed by the WWF to, among others, In Demand, the largest PPV distributor in the U.S., and to wrestling fan clubs.
“Please be advised,” the alert said, “that the Aug. 19 ‘Summerslam’ event will be the last WWFE pay-per-view distributed on DirecTV until further notice.”
The alert went on to predict that DirecTV’s subscribers “will actively seek alternate means to purchase” the Sept. 23 “Unforgiven” PPV event and subsequent monthly slamfests.
The disappearance of WWF events from DirecTV could galvanize cable operators to generate opportunistic ad campaigns urging DirecTV customers who are wrestling fans to scrap their satellite dishes and become subscribers to cable.
Finding substitute fans willing to pony up $29.95 for a WWF pay-per-view event is important to Snyder because if only 100,000 of DirecTV’s 10 million households buys the grunt-a-thon, the total take would come to $3 million, of which about half gets returned to the WWF.
The WWF and DirecTV have not scheduled any meetings to hash over their differences. But the alert is not completely pessimistic, saying in the last paragraph, “WWFE continues to make efforts to come to an equitable resolution with DirecTV.”