Major League Wrestling's Court Bauer Talks Running a Wrestling Promotion During COVID-19

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic sports leagues are looking to salvage their seasons, people look for live sports, and networks continue to search for content to fill time slots.

It's a tough time for everyone, with special challenges facing those in the wrestling industry. While stay-at-home orders are in effect, most promotions across the world have ceased operations. Those with network partners don't have new content to air and the wrestlers themselves often are waiting for their next pay day or out of work altogether.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) continue to have live and pre-taped episodes from one venue with only essential workers, but that's a decision that Court Bauer, CEO and founder of Major League Wrestling (MLW) won't make for his promotion.

MLW is a mid-size promotion based out of New Rochelle, New York, with Bauer's headquarters just a mile from the epicenter of where the first COVID-19 outbreak happened in the state. Seeing the pandemic spread first-hand made his decision to shut down operations easy.

"I looked at [the situation] pragmatically and talked with my network partner and they were very comfortable with my strategy to fill content," Bauer told Newsweek.

MLW's weekly television show, Fusion, airs every Saturday at 10 p.m. on beINSports and Bauer's strategy is to deliver over 70 episodes using footage from their library that date back to 2002 when the promotion first began.

According to Bauer, this will give beINSports content deep into 2021.

"Live television has value," Bauer explained. "But because of the pandemic you don't know if people are going to covet live sports programming the same way without having something that's taped for moments like this or be more forward thinking to have a docu-series like The Last Dance."

Bauer believes that this situation will change the mindset of networks in the future and that wrestling should do the same. And as The Last Dance's ratings prove, people will watch sports even if it isn't live.

"Without The Last Dance, I don't know what ESPN looks like," Bauer quipped.

It's this strategy that Bauer believes will make MLW stronger and in a good position when the world comes out on the other side of the pandemic without putting his athletes and crew at risk.

mlw alexander hammerstone openweight champion
MLW Openweight Champion Alexander Hammerstone Basil Mahmud/MLW

CHANGING DIRECTION TO WEATHER THE STORM

Last November, MLW was coming off its first broadcast pay-per-view, and the promotion was looking to expand internationally and domestically.

So the timing could not be worse, but while the pandemic has put a halt to a lot of what the wrestling industry is doing, Bauer is seeing some unexpected growth in other avenues.

"When you have disruptions like this it can be disruptive to your business, but we've found opportunities that we did not anticipate" Bauer said. "We are in a strong position coming out of this, whenever that date is."

Earlier this month, MLW announced a new partnership with Fight Globe, the industry leader for distribution of combat sports content. The multi-year agreement will see Fight Globe represent the distribution of MLW programming in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa as well as Canada and Mexico.

These rights deals have softened the blow of not running events, which are the largest expense for MLW. Coupled with an increase in merchandise sales in March and April, and MLW is continuing to push forward in its plans for expansion.

Bauer says that while the pandemic has slowed international business, MLW closed deals in Poland, France and the Middle East.

"2020 is a big year for us to grow our footprint with local and international tv deals," Bauer said. "This pause has allowed me to focus on the business of MLW a little more."

CONTENT IS KING

With no new wrestling under the MLW banner, Bauer is looking to create new content to keep fans engaged. Aside from an anthology series that will show matches and backstage clips from the start of the promotion in 2002, Bauer says that there are three concepts he, his crew and the athletes are working on.

One he can't talk too much about, but all he can say is that it goes in a "totally different direction" than what MLW normally does.

The others include a talk show similar to what fans may see on ESPN's First Take, and a cooking show starring one of the promotion's biggest stars, LA Park. The Mexican luchador and his sons stream themselves cooking Mexican cuisine, which has become one of the promotion's highest rated segments of Fusion. Bauer can see it becoming a 30-minute weekly series or even giving it a limited run.

"These things weren't on the slate for 2020, but because of the situation we find ourselves in we're doing a food show even though we're a wrestling league," Bauer said. "At our heart we are content creators. We're a content factory. Right now, in the US or anywhere in the world, people need content and we're trying to fulfill that."

The new series of content with the wrestlers is how Bauer plans to keep MLW in fans' consciousness until the promotion can start putting on events again. But with wrestling shows, continuity and stories are the key and if a promotion is going to be on hiatus for months it should have a way to connect the shows pre and post-pandemic.

Bauer says MLW filmed segments for its last episode of this current season remotely in Los Angeles and New York. It'll act as a cliffhanger to what happens to MLW to explain why the promotion will be gone for months.

From there, Bauer will look to build viral campaigns to keep fans interested. In the mid to late 2000s, Bauer worked on the viral campaign for Chris Jericho's WWE debut so he'll like to do more marketing like that to kick off the restart of MLW whenever that comes.

In the meantime, Bauer is using MLW's social media presence and Radio Network that houses some of the top sports podcasts in the country to engage fans and even high-profile names like Mike Tyson. Bauer confirms that after he put out an invitation to Tyson there have been talks of getting "Iron Mike" into an MLW wrestling ring for charity.

With a roster full of former MMA fighters and MLW Heavyweight Champion Jacob Fatu, Bauer says he can come up with ideas for Tyson matches "in his sleep." And since the invite another former boxing heavyweight champion approached him about a possible Tyson match, so fans will have to wait and see what happens.

RE-OPENING MLW

Sports are trying to return as soon as possible. The major four sports are looking at options for games without fans while WWE and AEW continue to run with only essential workers.

However, fans of MLW shouldn't expect any empty arena shows from Bauer.

"In wrestling the key component is the fan participation. Who are the stars of the show? One of the biggest are the fans," Bauer said. "If they're not there it's like watching a movie without a soundtrack. It can happen but should it? It's kind of perverse."

Bauer applauds New Japan Pro Wrestling for how it handled the pandemic, and will continue to monitor how other promotions and sports leagues try to re-open. He was interested in this past weekend's UFC 249 to see how they put on a show with no fans, but Bauer feels that a system of quarantines and testing is the only way to get back to normal.

And that's not just for the athletes and the crew, you have to worry about hotel workers, EMTs--for if someone gets hurt during tapings--and so many more people.

"I don't think it's possible. I'm sure you can throw a lot of money at it like some major organizations will, but at the same time, it's not foolproof," Bauer explained. "I'm dictating my own pace because I have great network partners and we have a built-in solution. A lot of people in my position are tempted because temptation is a big part of the decision-making process. I'm not tempted at all, I'm not in the position to be tempted. I'm comfortable waiting for things to get as normal as possible."

Major League Wrestling's Court Bauer Talks Running a Wrestling Promotion During COVID-19 | Sports