Inside WWE's massive video vault
WWE owns, quite simply, the largest library of professional wrestling content in the world.
Since buying out WCW in 2001, the titan of sports-entertainment has acquired the tape libraries of major promotions, including ECW, AWA, World Class Championship Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Florida, Smoky Mountain Wrestling and many others. But who is responsible for curating this priceless collection? How is it organized and stored?
Bryan Staffaroni is WWE’s Director of Media Technology. In this role, he is responsible for the massive undertaking of digitally archiving each and every match that WWE owns.
“Whether it was a WCW Nitro episode or some MSG show from back in the day – if it aired, we ingested it in that project,” Staffaroni explained.
As WWE’s Director of Asset Management, George Germanakos oversees the content of what is currently owned, while also keeping an eye on what independent libraries WWE might be interested in acquiring in the future.
“When someone in the company is looking for a certain piece of footage, they’ll come to me,” Germanakos said. “Whether it is years, dates, venues, names, whatever they need. Call my department up and we’ll get that information and that footage.”
Together, these two men allow the WWE Universe to consume rare wrestling footage and also provide the information needed for historical video packages seen on WWE programming today. On a rainy June day, WWEClassics.com and WWE Hall of Famer Howard Finkel were given a tour of WWE’s top-secret tape library and storage facility. Join us to discover what we found inside.
A huge portion of wrestling history is guarded by a robot
“This is the digital archive robot,” Staffaroni told us as we were led into a climate-controlled room housing a state-of-the-art and highly complicated large machine. “It has more than 4,000 slots inside with data tapes that we use to store footage. These tapes can hold approximately 24 hours of footage and that’s just one physical tape.”
We did get the opportunity to see the robot in action. Arms slid back and forth, grabbing tapes and moving them backwards. In the back, green lights indicated the drives that read the tapes.
“When media managers go to archive the high-resolution version of any type of content, it grabs one of these blank tapes, puts it in the drive and records high-res,” Staffaroni explained.
When we asked for the doors to be opened so we could get up close, we were swiftly denied. Maintenance workers were tending to the machine and we were told that very few people have access to open the doors.
“The maintenance in this room is non-stop,” Staffaroni continued. “It is not set to be working automatously in the background. There are people running this thing. Media managers are archiving. Our restoring engineers are constantly upgrading software, and even just mechanically tweaking this thing. There is a lot of maintenance that goes along with the digital robot.”
The tape library contains 48,658 tapes
WWE’s central tape room features a series of floor-to-ceiling shelves that move along a mechanical track, allowing the company to pack more than 40,000 tapes into a tiny room for easy organization and access. On our visit, we noticed that many of the lower shelves were curved and asked if the heavier items were kept on the bottom.
“You may think gravity and the weight of the tapes is weighing down the shelves and that's why they’re bowed, but if you notice the bow stops at a certain height. That’s because the library guys get up here like this,” Staffaroni said as he began to climb the shelf.
Walking through the room, we were stunned to see ancient relics like AWA film reels and long lost footage from Jim Crockett Promotions. The room is a wrestling fan’s dream.
Some footage is stored in a nuclear bomb-proof mountain
In addition to WWE’s main facility in Stamford, Conn., a large portion of the company’s tape library is kept at Iron Mountain in New York State’s Catskill Mountains. Sixty-thousand assets, including tapes, film reels and other media are stored in this ultra-protected facility.
“It’s literally a cave you walk into and there’s water dripping,” Staffaroni told us. “To see all of this wrestling footage just sitting there in the middle of a cave and there’s this deafening silence is pretty cool.”
“It’s also fire protected,” Germanakos added. “If there’s a fire in the building, we have a gas that’s released in this room. Foam fills up the room that saves a tape from fire.”
That’s right, your favorite WrestleMania matches could survive the devastation of a nuclear war.
Including some other minor storage facilities, WWE owns a total of more than 125,000 tapes and more than 130,000 hours of footage, including one Phantasio match!
Tapes are decaying and are being archived quickly
Some items in the archive don’t have much of a lifespan remaining, so if a specific item or match is required for a project, the entire tape will be digitized just in case.
“A lot of our three-quarter-inch tapes, for example, are so old,” Germanakos told us. “If we need to get footage off of it, we put the tape in the deck and just hit play. It will record the whole reel. We’re not sure if we’ll be able to rewind it or get anything else from that reel. It sheds.”
WWE footage in the library begins at approximately 1971, but the library contains footage from other organizations as far back as the 1950s and ’60s.
Footage is still being found and acquired today
“There are boxes of stuff that nobody ever went and touched,” Staffaroni admitted. “We owned so much of the WCW library, but we just never opened some boxes, because we just had so much stuff.”
The team has a term for that material: Hidden gems. This includes rare Andre the Giant footage that the WWE Classics on Demand service jumped for joy over.
“We had things that people had never seen on the east coast,” Germanakos revealed.
Recently, WWE acquired one of the few North American organizations it had yet to own: Mid-South Wrestling, headed up by the legendary WWE Hall of Famer “Cowboy” Bill Watts. Negotiations for other acquisitions are currently underway, giving wrestling fans access to more and more content. So, while footage of the famous match in which Bruno Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers for the WWE Championship is still lost to time, it may turn up as WWE’s massive library continues to grow.