It would be fair to say that the novel coronavirus has been a… erm… novel challenge for pro wrestling promotions to navigate, whether they be corporate or independent. That’s no less true for a promotion that awkwardly straddles that divide, with Progress having cancelled all their shows up until October, including an American tour and what promised to be their biggest ever Super Strong Style 16 weekender.
Even though fans were still chasing them for refunds from WrestleMania weekend (a delay apparently caused by their American partners), Progress used the cancellation announcements to encourage fans to donate so that the promotion could “keep the lights on” and help the pro wrestlers who were missing out on paydays do the same.
This was in addition to having launched a Twitch channel that is airing archival and partner content with the explicit purpose of supporting the salaries of Progress’s staff members that would otherwise be redundant without shows to support. This, despite the fact that their VOD service and merchandise e-shop have continued to trade during the pandemic.
But as has been shown so many times during this pandemic, just because people and companies can ask or access help, doesn’t mean they should. And when you look at Progress’s finances, they are far from being the scrappy underdog they claim to be.
Billed under their shoot name, JJG Partners, Progress’s 2018/’19 accounts, which have finally been published on the British Government’s registry for corporate information, show that the promotion paid a dividend of £273,000 to the (then) three owners: Jon Briley, Glen Joseph, and Jim Smallman. This was a significant increase of the dividend paid in the financial 2017/’18, which was “only” £155,000.
For those unfamiliar with corporate nomenclature, a dividend is the share of the profit that is paid out in cash to the owners. That means over the past two years owners have paid themselves over £400,000, not including any salary they received for their staff roles in the promotion, nor their jobs with NXT UK.
But there’s more on Companies House than just the 2019 accounts. We finally have confirmation about the terms of Jim Smallman’s exit from the company. He did indeed cease to be a director at the end of July 2019 and was bought out of his shares.
Based on documentation showing that Smallman was paid £80,000 for his shares, we can calculate that the owners value the company at slightly more than £355,000. Interestingly, the purchase was done in a way where the shares were bought by the company itself, in theory allowing for them to be resold at a later date. This despite Smallman’s replacement in creative and as emcee, Matt Richards, having said that he was not receiving an equity stake.
Obviously one does not begrudge anyone making a living, but this does raise several questions. One has to wonder how Progress has made so much money, and whether their relationship WWE is behind the significant increase.
Several years ago I was told that Progress had received as much as £50,000 for their rights library, but there are rumors that the current relationship is much more lucrative. When it comes to the current circumstances, one has to wonder whether paying out such aggressive dividends left the company under capitalized.
Likewise if the owners have had such profitable years recently, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect them to support workers during the current crisis rather than organizing fundraising drives? After all, in 2016/’17 they loaned the company £40,000, so it’s not like they have to make it a gift.
From its name, to its claim to be Punk Rock Pro Wrestling, Progress has long claimed to embody certain values. But what is progressive about not fairly sharing the fruits of their labors with the workers? It surely cannot be right that such a successful company is still paying performers as little as £50 per show, or paying artists as little as £25 for merchandise designs. Let alone pleading poverty, to encourage fans to make donations in the middle of a pandemic. It’s time for Progress to realize that they’re no longer a passion project deserving of charity, but a lucrative company that through its own efforts could actually help put more food on people’s tables.