How Much Money WWE – and Tampa Bay – Lost When WrestleMania 36 Was Moved

“There may be some other business that gets saved by going on with WrestleMania on the scheduled date,” Brandon Thurston of WrestleNomics tells TheWrap

When Vince McMahon elected to move WrestleMania 36 from Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium to Orlando’s empty WWE Performance Center amid the coronavirus pandemic, he didn’t just lose a live audience — he lost money. And though WWE is missing out on tens of millions of dollars in revenue, Tampa and its surrounding area must forgo exponentially more.

Last year, WrestleMania 35 sold out at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium and drew $16.9 million at the gate, according to WWE. Only WrestleMania 32 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas out-grossed WrestleMania 35, the sports entertainment giant said.

On Tuesday, Raymond James Stadium announced that all WrestleMania tickets would be refunded at the point of purchase. It is reasonable to assume ticket revenue would have been down for the now-scrapped event, as MetLife’s capacity is 82,500 and Raymond James’ is 65,890. (AT&T Stadium holds 80,000 fans.)

Plus, revenue for WWE’s domestic live events is currently down. In the most recently wrapped quarter, WWE’s ticket sales were down 20% year-over-year. (For 2019 as a whole, live-event revenue is more like -13% vs. 2018.) Now, some of that is due to WWE having staged fewer events than in the past, but average attendance is down 15% per live event. Ticket prices were essentially flat.

Brandon Thurston of WrestleNomics estimated for TheWrap that WrestleMania 36 at Raymond James Stadium would have drawn a gate of around $15 million. He believes the four adjacent shows at Amalie Arena would have contributed another $4 million.

The last two years, the WrestleMania quarter generated an extra $3 million for WWE in merchandise sales, which brings the as-originally-planned WrestleMania 36 value to around $22 million, tacking that revenue on to Thurston’s numbers.

“Refunds for all WrestleMania Week events are available at all original points of purchase. If you purchased your tickets through Ticketmaster, you will automatically be refunded in the next 30 days,” Raymond James Stadium said in a Tuesday statement. “If you purchased your tickets at the ReliaQuest Ticket Office at Amalie Arena, refunds will be made available once the ticket office reopens. Currently the ticket office is closed for safety reasons due to the current COVID-19 virus situation.”

Last year, WWE announced that 82,265 fans made WrestleMania 35 a sell-out, though WWE-announced attendance is usually taken with a grain of salt. Thurston is one such skeptic. He estimates attendance was more like 63,000 paying customers, using WWE’s own numbers to get there.

WWE did not respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment on this story. TheWrap also reached out to the Tampa Sports Commission with questions about the local-market impact of WrestleMania 36 being moved out of the area, but we did not immediately hear back.

“In coordination with local partners and government officials, WrestleMania and all related events in Tampa Bay will not take place,” WWE said in its Monday relocation statement ahead of “Raw.” “However, WrestleMania will still stream live on Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network and be available on pay-per-view. Only essential personnel will be on the closed set at WWE’s training facility in Orlando, Florida to produce WrestleMania.”

In November, N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy said WrestleMania 35 and its side events generated $165.4 million in “direct, indirect and induced impact” in April for the New York/New Jersey region. Thurston thinks those numbers, which were generated by a study from the Enigma Research Corporation, are also significantly overstated — but he himself does not estimate local-economy impact.

By Murphy’s numbers, the 2019 event was the eighth-straight WrestleMania to generate more than $100 million in economic impact for its host region.

There’s no reason to believe that trend would have stopped, though it makes sense that the Tampa Bay-area take would be down from New York/New Jersey. Again, the crowd traveling to attend WrestleMania itself would be lighter than last year, the market size is significantly smaller and the cost of living in Tampa is much lower than in the New York City metropolitan area.

Here are some more points pulled from the Enigma study:

  • More than half (52%) of WrestleMania 35 attendees were from outside the region. They stayed an average of 4.6 nights, spending $23.9 million on hotels and accommodations.
  • Visitors to the region spent another $6.6 million at area restaurants.
  • The “derived” impact was equal to the creation of 1,534 full-time jobs for the area.

So Tampa is missing out on some presumably smaller version of those economy boosters. (But hey, you’re probably getting Tom Brady now!)

Obviously amid the coronavirus pandemic, WWE could not responsibly hold WrestleMania 36 in a packed Raymond James Stadium, and if McMahon didn’t shut it down, the local government likely would have. (The Tampa Bay council has its next meeting set for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET, and WrestleMania alternatives were on the agenda.)

What WWE could have done, however, was postpone its biggest event of the year — that’s what almost everyone else is doing. But with talent booked and storylines set to pay off in a few weeks, that is admittedly a little tougher to do in sports entertainment than it is in pure sports. As one WWE insider told TheWrap, due to ongoing COVID-19 situation, the reality was that no one inside the company believed 65,000 people will be able to be crammed in an arena “anytime soon.”

On Monday, President Donald Trump warned the coronavirus pandemic could last until the summer, a much more sobering estimate than we had previously heard.

The audience-free ‘Mania is not all doom and gloom, Thurston says. For starters, WWE should be able to cut costs with a very scaled-down production.

“There may be some other business that gets saved by going on with WrestleMania on the scheduled date, including the agreement they have with Mars to make Snickers the official sponsor of the event,” he said.

Thurston also pointed out that it is possible venue deposits can be transferred to a later date — maybe for a future Royal Rumble pay-per-view event. Raymond James Stadium isn’t the only Tampa Bay pirate ship that is owed (through no one’s fault) a make-good, however: WWE had planned to run four events at the Amalie Arena, the former Ice Palace.

Perhaps McMahon can find some money in the couch cushions of his Stamford, Conn. office. One real place he might want to look for more revenue is his streaming service, WWE Network.

Fans will still want to watch this audience-less WrestleMania, which includes matches like John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, Goldberg vs. Roman Reigns, and Shayna Baszler vs. Becky Lynch, among others.

“Going on with ‘Mania, as weird as it will be with no fans, gives WWE some hope of still attracting the annual bump in WWE Network subscribers they would otherwise expect,” Thurston said.

Though: “The uncertain conditions probably hinder the negotiations to sell streaming rights of WWE pay-per-view events to a major streaming player,” Thurston acknowledged.

McMahon previously said any such deal could be completed by the end of this month.

WWE could use the revenue: Its stock price is way down. At the time of this writing, shares of WWE were trading just south of $35 apiece. While WWE stock is having a good individual day, it’s had a rough year. WWE shares had traded as high as $100 within the past 52 weeks.

WWE did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment on this story. TheWrap also reached out to the Tampa Sports Commission with questions about the local-market impact of WrestleMania 36 being moved out of the area, but we did not immediately hear back.

“In coordination with local partners and government officials, WrestleMania and all related events in Tampa Bay will not take place,” WWE said in its Monday relocation statement ahead of “Raw.” “However, WrestleMania will still stream live on Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network and be available on pay-per-view. Only essential personnel will be on the closed set at WWE’s training facility in Orlando, Florida to produce WrestleMania.”

WrestleMania 36, which will take place from the Performance Center, streams Sunday, April 5 on WWE Network.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • tony.maglio@thewrap.com • Twitter: @tonymaglio



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