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Florida deeming WWE 'essential' draws criticism, political ties examined


This post was updated at 11:15 PM Eastern.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis' decision to deem "professional sports and media production with a national audience" as essential businesses, clearing the path for WWE, AEW, and UFC to run events, drew criticism Tuesday with Linda McMahon coming into focus.

WWE resumed their regular weekly TV schedule at the Orlando, FL, Performance Center Monday, just three days after Vince McMahon changed his mind on the doorstep of a multi-day taping that would have covered the company for weeks.

Questions were raised at how they were able to make that decision given the state's previous order that only essential businesses remain open. On Monday, that was answered as it was revealed during a Monday press conference with Orange Country Mayor Jerry Demings that WWE was now considered essential per the governor's office.

"With some conversation with the governor's office regarding the governor's order, they were deemed an essential business. And so, therefore, they were allowed to remain open," he said.

The state government issued an executive order on April 9th that all professional sports could return to business if the location was closed to the public. Coverage of the decision was featured in a variety of news outlets that don't normally cover wrestling like CNBC, The Guardian, USA Today, and more. 

Stephanie Coueignoux and Jon Alba of Central Florida's Spectrum News 13 performed a further investigation into the situation Tuesday, noting that the Orange County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to the PC in both March and April, advising WWE they were not in compliance with the previously existing order and would have to close down.

However, Spectrum News 13, providing a timeline, found that the change of heart came on the same day as a pro-President Donald Trump super PAC (political action committee) announced that they were going to spend $18.5 million in both the Tampa and Orlando markets. That super PAC is headed up by Linda McMahon, Vince McMahon's wife, and the former head of Trump's Small Business Administration. DeSantis has been known as an ally of Trump, a WWE Hall-of-Famer and friends with Vince.

Vince's decision to resume live WWE programming at the PC happened the next day.

A spokesperson for the super PAC told ABC News that the connection was an example of "looking to connect some sort of dots that simply don't exist" and that the $18.5 million ad buy was planned more than a week before the updated executive order was issues.

In a statement to Spectrum 13, DeSantis' office said WWE was critical to Florida's economy and the employees at those locations benefit. WWE was set to hold WrestleMania in Tampa this year, generating millions for the local economy, before having to move it to the PC. No return date was announced as next year's event is scheduled for Los Angeles, CA.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump said at a press conference that Vince and UFC president Dana White would join a group of sports commissioners and dozens of other business leaders in a variety of industries in helping figure out how to get things "re-opened" in the country.