On Wednesday, FloSports, a venture-backed company best known for its streaming services bringing non-televised amateur sports to your TV, unceremoniously ended its year-long experiment with professional wrestling. Dubbed FloSlam—they company has used “FloWrestling” for years for collegiate grappling—it cannot be seen as anything other than a massive failure, and one that will likely make wrestling promoters considerably more cautious about dealing with venture capital-backed companies. The writing had been on the wall since September, when Flo sued WWN, the parent company of the promotions providing FloSlam’s anchor programming, alleging that they defrauded their way into the deal with falsified business data; FloSports promptly canceled all other broadcasts. In the interim, FloSlam made a push towards its website being a pro wrestling news destination, something that had seemingly been planned all along but never actually set in motion. Oh, they also sent some emails to former customers asking them to return and watch the (zero) events they had scheduled.
Whatever FloSlam staff was left has been let go; Brent Brookhouse, best known to Deadspin readers for his investigative mixed martial arts reporting at sites like Bloody Elbow, was the most well-known name among those. In the absence of any remaining staff, the website has not been updated in any way to reflect that it has folded; it stands, now, mostly as a monument to the company’s disorganization and lack of planning. The listing for the job that Brookhouse ended up holding frames the position as one covering FloSlam’s in-house events on top of reporting on the entire wrestling world, although there was minimal investment in the site going in the latter direction until the WWN split. Some job duties, like how “You’ll seek out and utilize the best freelancers you can find, and help them create killer content,” never really materialized. And while the job was heavy on video production, the listing said that knowledge of video editing software was only “preferred.”
Regardless, the WWN breakup and lawsuit clearly led to the end of the wrestling service and vertical. Initially, when the suit was filed, the sentiment among fans was largely in FloSports’ favor: In the grand scheme of things, it’s easy to believe that pro wrestling promoters would try to defraud a startup with deep pockets to get more money. That perception changed on Wednesday, just before the news of the FloSlam closure, when I reported at Fightful.com on the various items that Flo filed in this case a few days earlier. Flo had filed both the spreadsheet of WWN internet pay-per-view buy data that they were alleging was fraudulent and a copy of the contract that the two parties signed. By and large, the numbers were in the range of what most people familiar with the indie wrestling landscape had figured the WWN shows were generating.
The contract being filed alongside the spreadsheet also served to confirm rumors that the deal was worth $3.14 million across a five year term, with escalating payments each year. At $500,000 for 2017, with FloSlam having a monthly subscription model instead of putting on internet pay-per-views as WWN had before, the WWN deal needed to generate well over 2,100 subscribers just to break even. (And that’s not knowing how much Flo nets on a $20 monthly subscription, or what percentage of subscribers went with the discounted lump sum annual subscription.) Only three WWN shows had topped 2,100 buys in the previous two years; most 2016 events from Evolve, their flagship, barely got halfway there.
Once all this came out, the sentiment on the wrestling scene turned sharply against Flo; this was compounded by the layoffs. Even in the event that WWN juiced the numbers—and right now, it doesn’t seem like they did—Flo entered into a nonsensical contract, and one from which, thanks to an out clause that favored WWN, they couldn’t even be free of until January 2019. Instead of a tale of wrestling promoters grifting “money marks” who didn’t know the business, it became a story of a brash venture-backed startup making an incredibly stupid deal and the brass panicking when it became more clear just how stupid the deal was.
As the day went on, the indie wrestling world continuously, gleefully proceeded to ether FloSports on Twitter. Joey Janela, one of 2017’s breakout indie wrestlers, produced and headlined a show, “Joey Janela’s Spring Break,” that aired on FloSlam in a midnight time slot during WrestleMania weekend. It was a rousing success, generating the most buzz of any indie show that weekend, and according to Janela, Flo wanted sequels. But they wanted to do it without his friends at Game Changer Wrestling, who actually promoted the show.
GCW promoter Brett Lauderdale confirmed the story with a screenshot of a text message with a Flo staffer (who was laid off alongside Brookhouse):
Meanwhile, Jeremy Botter, a former FloSports editor who helped develop FloSlam, half-jokingly tweeted that he had 50 FloSlam shirts and would sell them to wrestling fans as a kitsch item...
...only to get numerous legitimate takers in his replies and actually go on to sell them. For indie fans, it looks like it’s about to become the rough equivalent to wearing XFL gear.
FloSlam imploding hasn’t been all bad. Powerbomb TV, an indie streaming service operating on a revenue share basis, had been slowly rolling out in a soft launch for much of the year. FloSlam dropping all future programming happened right as Powerbomb rolled out new content deals and introduced live streaming; they also started carrying Beyond Wrestling, which had been on Flo in the past. As a result, Powerbomb has been booming better than expected.
Still, that’s just about the only net positive here. There had, for whatever reason, been little to no venture capital presence in wrestling before FloSlam. After FloSlam, given how badly the parent company understood wrestling and how egregiously non-WWN promotions got lowballed once Flo’s bosses saw how bad a deal they’d signed, it will be an uphill battle for VCs or VC-funded companies that want to get involved in wrestling. They’ll have money, of course, but finding partners might be another story.