For wrestling fans around the world this is the biggest week of the year, culminating in a showcase of immortals this weekend – WrestleMania.
On April 2, more than 70,000 fans are expected to pack the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, to witness “pro” wrestling on the grandest stage of them all.
But it is not just the crowds, the wrestlers and their moves that are big – this is a business where profits are huge.
Pulling the strings for this show is WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) which has exploited emerging forms of media to drive business to the biggest wrestling show of the year.
Pay-per-view was new in 1985 when the first WrestleMania went to air. The PPV price at the time was just $9.95 (although the price point may have varied among providers), a relative bargain to watch Hulk Hogan and Mr T take on Roddy Piper and Paul Orndoff in a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York City. The inaugural event drew $3.8 million on PPV.
Since that first WrestleMania, and a massive gamble by CEO Vince McMahon, the pay-per-view audience grew to peak at 1.2 million buys and $62 million in revenue for WrestleMania 23 in 2007. That was for the event headlined by Donald Trump and Vince McMahon, each putting their hair on the line in a match where they were represented by Bobby Lashley and Umaga; title matches on that show were John Cena v Shawn Michaels and Undertaker v Batista.
In 2015 WWE made the bold choice to let go of PPV and launch its own Netflix-like over-the-top service, the WWE Network. Since then most PPV purchases have been cannibalised.
WWE has been more popular at different periods in its history, such as the Hulkamania Era of 1986-1989 and the Attitude Era of 1998-2001. While popularity of the WWE product has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years it has never returned to the levels of those two boom periods. But the WrestleMania brand is more profitable than ever, cashing in on the children it appealed to in the 80s and 90s, who are now independent adults with money to burn. Many don’t just attend when the circus comes to town, but travel across the globe to the yearly super event’s mix of modern stars and nostalgia. Their money doesn’t only go on tickets: there are plenty of related events and, of course, merchandise.
Extra ticketed events this weekend include the Hall of Fame ceremony, NXT Takeover, Raw, Smackdown and Axxess events. WWE sold about $4 million worth of wrestling-related paraphernalia last year during WrestleMania weekend. Orlando will also benefit from the money spent at non-WWE events over the weekend. The WWE claims that over the past nine years Wrestlemania has generated more than $700 million for its host cities.
Live attendance is the one stream that’s remained constant throughout WrestleMania history. Even though WWE’s popularity waned after the early 2000s, attendance at WrestleMania was buoyant. Since 2007 the show has been held at a stadium each year at ever-increasing ticket prices. A standard ticket goes for $115 but VIP packages range from $1000 to $3000. Even a parking spot can set you back $280.
For devoted fans WrestleMania has turned into an annual tourist event with travellers converging from all corners of the globe. A new venue every year helps boost the event’s tourist appeal. Last year’s WrestleMania32 attracted a record 101,763 spectators and grossed $17.3 million. That is roughly double the top attendances during WWE’s most popular era.
Wrestlemania kicks off at 5pm in Orlando on Sunday (9am AEST on Monday). – Kamilia Hanna
Top image: promotional material issued by WWE.