by Rich Tate and Larry Goodman
November 17, 2007
Since January 22, 1926, professional wrestling has been a staple of entertainment for wrestling fans in Georgia, when promoter John Contos first began promoting weekly events at the old Atlanta Municipal Auditorium. Even after the WWE takeover in 1984, wrestling continued around the state, with many smaller independent groups finding success in various spots. As of today in 2007, there are more than twenty promotions regularly running in small towns all over Georgia or along the border line in surrounding states.
However, based on a recent proposal of strict regulations set forth by the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission, the business here may be coming to an end as we know it. On Friday, Kelly Farr, Executive Director of the GAEC, sent out a letter stating that new rules were being proposed, and that an open forum will be held on December 18, to give an opportunity to anyone wishing to speak before the board in regard to what is being proposed.
As observers of the local wrestling scene, we believe it is safe to say that the business will definitely be coming to a close if many of these items go into effect. Although GWH supports anything that improves the opportunity for a safe environment, we see no reason to even attempt to pass some of the items as proposed. Through open negotiations between the promoters and the commission, we also see no reason a healthy compromise cannot accomplish goals to benefit everyone involved. That is, of course, unless ending pro wrestling in Georgia is the intended result.
Breaking down the proposed items (rules in bold, our comments in italics):
(1) All promoters must have a valid Professional Organization License issued by the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission.
— The proposed regulations set the cost of licensure at $100. This would be an entirely reasonable cost if not for the prohibitive costs wrestling promoters would incur if some of the items that follow are put into effect.
(2) A Surety Bond of not less than $10,000 must be on file with the commission before the event.
— The way we understand it, this would cost a promoter about $300-$400. It is not an unreasonable practice, and it makes sense from a business standpoint, but this may be one of the dealbreakers for a promoter to consider whether to continue operations. Still, if this and item number 1 were the only ones that cost the promoter money, it would be more likely they could stay in business if they were willing.
(3) At least (10) days before the scheduled event you must notify the Commission, in writing, stating the time, date and location of your proposed event.
— There is nothing unreasonable about this, and since it is one of the items being proposed that does not request money from the promoter, this is highly reasonable.
(4) Within (10) days after your event each promoter is required to complete and return a regulatory fee of 5% of the gross proceed of the event. This 5% fee is on ticket sales at your event.
— In order to offset this cost, promoters would essentially have to raise ticket prices by five percent. In some cases, that will drive away fans, making it more difficult to continue operations. Why is this fee necessary? Are the other costs the promoter is now required to pay not enough?
(5) Before any event can take place a physician must be at ringside and stay at ringside throughout the event. The physician fee is paid by the promoter. Also, an ambulance with 2 EMTs must be present at ringside throughout the event. There must be adequate security personnel in the arena to control fans and the wrestlers.
— In the days when local wrestling was big business, the commissions, where active, used to assign and pay medical personnel for the events. Now that promoters barely break even, they are required to pay. Though we agree a legitimately injured person, whether wrestler or fan, may require immediate attention, a more likely acceptable proposal would be to require no wrestling event to take place outside of a specific distance from a hospital. This is possibly the single worst item here, as no promoter can possibly afford to staff a physician and two EMTs, as well as an ambulance for the duration of its event.
(6) Wrestlers MAY NOT deliberately cut themselves and all wrestlers must be over (18) years of age.
— We agree with the age limit. Although some of the most well designed programs in the colorful and theatrical world of pro wrestling involve the use of blood, the advent of deadly blood borne pathogens make the elimination of deliberate bleeding an entirely reasonable provision as it relates to the safety of the wrestlers.
(7) No one under the age of 18 is allowed in any area of the venue other than their seat except when accompanied by a guardian.
— This makes sense, except of course, when a sixteen year old has to go to the rest room during a match. They now must have someone over eighteen escort them to not only do that, but to also buy a hot dog and a drink. This is highly unlikely to be something even the fans would want to agree to, much less the promoters.
(8) A Commission representative may be assigned to your event to monitor activities. The cost for this representative is $100 and is paid by the promoter. This fee can be paid along with the same CHECK or MONEY ORDER for the 5% fee.
— This item is quite vague. It states a representative “may be assigned”, making it appear as though the commission may choose to send someone to the show. However, the succeeding sentence makes it appear as though it is at the discretion of the promoter, as long as they pay $100. It can be read that the commission may opt to send someone out, forcing the promoter to pay $100, or it could be interpreted as the commission believes the promoter may enjoy paying $100 to have the representative attend as an invited guest. We don’t know what to make of this.
(9) The promoter shall be liable for ensuring that all statutes and rules promulgated by the commission are strictly observed and carried out.
— Simple enough.
(10) Before the beginning of a wrestling show, all changes or substitutions in the advertised program of wrestling shall be posted at the ticket window and at the entrance to the facility.
a. Changes or substitutions shall also be announced in the ring before commencement of the first match along with the information that any ticket holder desiring a refund based on those announced changes or substitutions shall be entitled to receive a refund before commencement of the program.
b. Purchasers of tickets shall be entitled, upon request by them, to a refund of the purchase price of the tickets, if the request is made before the commencement of the first match.
— This is reasonable, as it appears to be a way to protect fans from promoters billing a big star despite the fact they may have never even contacted said star. However, this does not seem to be a common practice with the current promoters. The major downside is wrestlers sometimes run late for an event, or may be in a situation where they cannot appear and do not properly communicate in enough time for the promoter to be compliant. This scenario should be tweaked to allow the fans the opportunity to file a grievance directly with the commission, whereas the commission then allows the promoter to offer their argument as to why an advertised event did not occur as planned, with the commission acting as arbitrator for the complaint.
(11) A physical or verbal threat of aggression shall not be directed toward any member of the audience.
— We understand that no wrestler or staff person should ever become abusive in a legitimate manner with fans. However, in the colorful world of professional wrestling, the drama is built based on the heel being able to obtain heat from the fans, and in most cases, this is borne from them having verbal communication with the fans. The fans also enjoy this, and if it was to be disallowed, storylines would be drastically limited, as would the fans’ enjoyment of the shows. Unless that is the intent of the commission, this should be reworded to detail physical abuse, and/or at least explain that verbal abuse should be reasonable.
(12) All wrestling or entertainment shall take place either in the ring or within the partitioned-off portion of the gym or arena. Physical activity shall not be permitted between wrestlers, referee, or wrestling event staff in the audience or outside of the safety partition.
(13) The commission shall decide all questions arising out of a contest not specifically covered by the statutes and these rules. In all other respects, wrestling shall be subject to the statutes and rules governing this sport.
— Simple enough.
(14) Wrestlers Equipment
a. A wrestler shall be clothed in clean apparel.
b. A wrestler may wear two (2) pairs of trunks, one (1) over the other.
c. If a wrestler wears shoes, they shall be fitted with soft tops, soft smooth soles, soft laces and equipped with eyelets only.
d. A wrestler may not have any grease, lotion, or foreign substances on the body.
e. A female wrestler must wear trunks and a top.
f. The inspector present at the event may disallow the use of inappropriate attire or disqualify a wrestling participant for the lack of appropriate attire.
— This works for boxing, but not professional wrestling. Many characters are driven by the gear they wear in or to the ring. If the theater is removed, it becomes colorless and drives away fans.
(15) Contestants shall have their fingernails trimmed closely.
— Huh? The commission needs to get their priorities straight. What about the need to keep any cuts or abrasions covered to prevent the spread of infection?
(16) Ring Barrier.
a. A ring shall be enclosed within a barrier which shall be erected between the ring and the seating area in the arena.
b. The barrier shall be at least:
i. Six feet (6′) away from the ring; and
ii. Four feet (4′) away from the first row of the seating area.
c. The ring barrier shall conform to the following requirements:
i. Be constructed of metal or other shatterproof material;
ii. Be designed to prevent a wrestler from exiting through the barrier into the seating area during a contest;
iii. Be built to a height of at least forty-two inches (42″) from the floor of the arena; and
iv. Be stable.
d. The ring barrier shall be approved by the commission or the commission’s representative before its use during a contest.
— Agreed, although it is interesting to note that the regulations fail to address the cover of the ring. Dirty mats are a great way to spread infections.
(17) Time Limits
a. A wrestling match shall have a maximum time limit of sixty (60) minutes.
b. The commission may authorize any other time limit.
— Matches with advertised time limits of over thirty minutes rarely go to the designated limit. For the purpose of storyline development, sometimes an advertised ninety-minute time limit is used, and is effective toward furthering the storyline. We see no safety value in enacting this provision.
(18) A timekeeper shall begin the beginning of the time limit of contest upon the referee’s signal and shall sound the bell at the referee’s command.
— This is pretty much the way it works already, though not as tightly as it is written. As this is entertainment, and not pure sport, there is no purpose for the commission to be this strict. Still, this is a gnat compared to the other items that promoters should be concerned with under this proposal.
(19) Conduct of Wrestling Contest.
a. A wrestling contest shall be determined by:
i. One (1) fall; or
ii. Two (2) out of three (3) falls.
— This is pretty much the way it works already, although Ironman matches would be eliminated.
(20) Scoring a Fall.
a. A fall is scored by a wrestler when the wrestler’s opponent has both shoulders touching the mat for a count of three (3) seconds.
b. The referee shall signal the wrestler scoring a fall by immediately slapping the mat.
— Unless, of course, the storyline calls for a double disqualification, or a countout, or… Again, this is not a true contest between two people actually trying to win a match. This is getting too technical to impose on the promoters.
a. A wrestler:
i. Shall break a hold when instructed by the referee;
ii. Failing to break upon instruction by the referee, the offending contestant shall be given a count of ten (10) to release the hold; and
iii. Failing to release the hold after the count of ten (10), the offending contestant shall be disqualified and the opponent shall be awarded the match by the referee.
— As in the case of items 17-20 before this item, these rules are pretty much commonplace in the business, and vary depending on the storyline being developed during a match. To enforce such rules in writing in this manner removes a lot of flexibility for the promoter to keep fans transfixed on the characters and angles in which they are involved.
(22) When any part of a contestant’s body is touching the ropes or is outside the ropes or if, in the judgment of the referee, the contestant is no longer able to properly protect him/herself, the referee shall call time and the contestants at once shall release any holds and return to the center of the ring to standing positions and resume the bout.
— See item number 21.
(23) Prohibited activities:
a. The following actions are prohibited:
i. Inhibiting breathing by covering the nose and mouth at the same time; and
ii. Unsportsmanlike or physically dangerous conduct.
b. A wrestler continuing to engage in prohibited activities after sufficient warning may be disqualified by the referee.
c. No wrestling contestant shall use a foreign object(s) or prop(s) with the deliberate intent to lacerate himself or herself, or one’s opponent. No animal blood or human blood, other than that of the wrestling contestants that is incidentally introduced during a match, may be used as a prop or special effect in any wrestling match. Vials, capsules or any vessel containing a gel substance appearing to be or simulating blood may be used as a prop or special effect during a wrestling contest so long as the container cannot cause lacerations upon breakage.
d. The intent to use a foreign object(s) or prop(s) during a wrestling match must be disclosed to the commission prior to any wrestling contest and shall be subject to the approval of the commission. This shall include any vial, capsule or container holding a gel substance that is meant to simulate blood.
— If anyone was unprofessional enough the attempt “A-I” of this item, they would be opening themselves up to never wrestling again for any promoter, as well as a lawsuit from the victim, so this is pretty much not going to happen in a wrestling ring, at least not legitimately. As for the rest, unsportsmanlike conduct is expected by the fans, because without a heel, you may as well attend an amateur wrestling event instead. It seems contradictory for the commission to specifically allow blood capsules for dramatic effect while prohibiting so many of the other theatrical devices that are part and parcel to pro wrestling. This item also prevents characters from using foreign objects, or props, without advance disclosure to the commission. This is an unnecessarily cumbersome approach. Restricting the use of tactics which are commonplace in pro wrestling only serves to decrease the entertainment value. If the intent is safety for the wrestlers, the regulations should simply and specifically ban chair shots to the head.
(24) Refusal or Inability to Continue.
a. If a wrestler refuses or is physically unable to continue a match, the match shall be ended and the decision awarded to the wrestler’s opponent.
— See item number 21.
(25) Tag Team Wrestling
a. “Tag Team Wrestling” means a contest between two (2) teams each composed of two (2) or more wrestlers.
b. The time limit for this type of contest shall be a maximum of sixty (60) minutes.
c. A team shall be awarded a fall when a member of the team scores a fall against a member of the opposing team.
d. A two (2-) minute rest period may be permitted between falls.
e. A tag team contest shall be conducted as follows:
i. The contest shall begin with one (1) wrestler from each team inside the ring while the respective partners remain outside the ring on the apron;
ii. The wrestler(s) outside the ring may not enter the ring unless a fall is scored or his/her partner has tagged his/her hand.
iii. In order to be eligible to receive a tag, the wrestler’s partner shall be outside the ring on the apron in the proper corner with both feet on the ring apron and only receive the tag over the top ring rope;
iv. When the tag is made, the wrestler making the tag shall leave the ring as the partner enters the ring;
v. Only two (2) wrestlers from opposing teams shall be permitted to be in the ring at any one (1) time;
vi. After the scoring of a fall a wrestler may relieve the partner;
vii. If a wrestler is unable to continue; the wrestler’s partner shall continue the contest alone;
viii. The referee may call time after an injury to permit the injured wrestler to be removed from the ring; and
ix. Release the rope provided in the team corner until officially tagged by the partner.
— Too much enforcement of rules already utilized, which vary depending upon the promoter and a specific situation during storyline development. This would also remove the ability if doubleteaming, which is often one of the more entertaining aspects of a tag team match, often leading to the culmination of the bout. Remember, this is entertainment.
(26) The referee shall warn a team of any prohibited conduct and may disqualify a team for persisting in prohibited conduct after a warning.
— See item number 21.
(27) A wrestler may have a second who:
a. Shall remain in the wrestler’s corner outside the ring enclosure; and
b. The referee may immediately eject from the ring area any second engaging in prohibited activities after sufficient warning.
— So much for having a manager or valet at ringside. This is going overboard, and removes some of the entertainment value. Often, the heel wins through methods of interference, doubeteaming, foreign objects, etc., which builds the storyline to the next step. Remove this, and you have removed the heel, and all reason for the fans to get excited.
a. The referee shall have the authority to conduct the contest and enforce the regulations of the commission;
b. Referees assigned to officiate a contest shall:
i. Be properly attired thirty (30) minutes before the scheduled time of the opening contest; and
ii. Remain attired and available until all matches have been concluded.
— For the most part, this is already in effect. However, the referee is also often used to miss a call, playing off of the heel, for the sake of entertainment. Too much enforcement. We agree the ref should call it as they see it in the event a wrestler fails to hit a spot, or something goes wrong during the match, as it removes the appearance of legitimacy if they do not, but there are times when the referee is called upon to purposely not be perfect.
(29) Responsibility of Promoter.
a. A promoter shall be responsible to the commission for the conduct of its representatives and employees, including officials and contestants affiliated with the event.
b. The promoter shall be responsible for conducting the wrestling contest in a safe, peaceable, and orderly fashion.
c. Violation of the commission’s regulations by a representative or employee of the promoter, including officials and contestants affiliated with the event, may be grounds for disciplinary action against the promoter.
— Agreed and understood, but will there be any promoters left if the majority of these items go into effect as initially presented?
Let’s face it: the cat was out of the bag many years ago. The fans of today don’t believe what they are seeing at a wrestling event is not a legitimate contest, but they want to, so they disrespect a promoter or wrestler who removes that suspension of disbelief as they simply look for two hours of entertainment on a Saturday night. These items as presented will not only ruin the theater and drama, but the constant need for a promoter to not only pay the commission for various items, as well as share its revenue, will ruin the business anyway, so maybe it does not matter at the end of the day.
Still, hopefully the commission will rethink some of this. Perhaps the promoters and wrestlers will fill the building on December 18 and present their case as to how this will ruin the business as we know it. We all want the wrestlers and fans to be safe, but we also do not want to see the business go away.
When it comes to WWE, they won’t notice a licensing fee of $100, or the cost of a $10,000 surety bond. They may notice they are paying part of the ticket revenue, but it won’t mean much to them, based upon the millions they make each year. They probably always have medical staff ready to go, and if they don’t, being forced to have them now won’t be much for them to accommodate.
However, the local guy who charges $10 per ticket (on the higher end) and draws 100-200 people (a rarity) most definitely will. Gates of more than $2,500 are rare for wrestling promoters in Georgia. There will be no way for the current independent wrestling promoters to stay in operation if the proposed regulations are put in place.
The fat lady hasn’t sung yet – as it appears the December 18 meeting will allow discussion of these items, which may prompt the board to reconsider some of what they have laid out on the table – but she is warming up in the dressing room right now.