How WWE discovers the superstars of the future
Last summer, when the NCAA decided to change its name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules to allow college athletes to profit from their reputation, the floodgates for brand collaboration were immediately opened. TikTok's famous Fresno State women's basketball twins Hailey and Hana Krawind signed with Boost Mobile; Beats by Dre signed Jackson State University's outstanding quarterback Shiedeur Saners (and the son of coach Deion); and 1-800-Got-Junk signed basketball star Megan Lee.
Now, sports and entertainment giant WWE is using rule changes to completely change its talent and recruitment, announcing its new NIL program-called "Next In Line"-which aims to collaborate with college athletes from different fields Partnerships to strengthen the background of the recruitment process movement. Just like paid internships for professional wrestling, these new athlete partners will enter the WWE Performance Center in Orlando throughout the year and organize business training and resources, including brand building, media training, live event promotion, and community relations. After completing the NIL program, selected athletes may be awarded a full-time WWE contract.
According to Pauline Levi, Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy and Development at WWE, one of the biggest recruitment challenges is the non-traditional nature of the business. Although the channels for basketball, football, and baseball to enter professional teams from high school, college, and minor leagues have been long, there has never been a clear path to becoming a WWE star.
"We immediately saw it as an amazing recruitment tool because it allowed us to show athletes a path to WWE and interact with them in a way that they can learn more, we can learn more about them , Work together at the same time and find out if it is appropriate before they finish college and before they need to make any decisions about the next stage of life," Levi said.
He should know. Levi is better known as the legendary WWE superstar Triple H. He first started wrestling in the early 90s when he met weightlifter and professional wrestler Ted Asidi while managing a gym in New Hampshire. (Ted Arcidi), the latter gave him a phone number for the former wrestler killer Kowalski. Levi called Kowalski to pitch for Kowalski's professional wrestling school in Massachusetts. "In my generation, even recently, you have to know someone," Levi said. "We have put a lot of effort into recruiting and searching for athletes to let them know that if they are interested and passionate about WWE, WWE is a potentially lucrative opportunity for them."
For example: Olympic wrestling gold medalist Gabriel Steve, who has been a fan of WWE since high school, signed a multi-year WWE NIL contract in September, ostensibly snatched from UFC or NFL suitors Up him. This deal allowed him to complete his senior year at the University of Minnesota and defend his NCAA Division I title while learning for his future WWE career.
In a recent trial, Levi saw an athlete named Isaac Brown and was very impressed. "When we finished the trial, I thought, ‘great, let’s bring this kid in now’, but he turned out to be still in school," Levi said. Brown is a shot putter at the University of Alabama, and he has one year to study. "That happened near NIL, so we reached an agreement that he will be far ahead because he will do a lot of things during his time in school."
How the athletes in WWE's NIL program are compensated depends on the individual, what they bring, and the potential the organization sees in them. "These deals may start at the low end, which still helps them to make ends meet during school," Levi said. "Of course, if you put the Olympic gold medal on the table, that's another matter."
Ultimately, just like any internship, WWE's new NIL program provides a mutually beneficial opportunity for athletes and organizations to try each other before making any major commitments. Levi believes that the new NIL plan is the key to WWE's future success.
"It exposes us to a world of athletes that we have never been able to connect with in this way," he said. "For us, the next generation of superstars will stand out from this project.”