WrestleMania sets off bidding frenzy

14 cities hope to pin down WWE event

WrestleMania won’t eclipse the Olympics or the Super Bowl anytime soon, but World Wrestling Entertainment’s annual showcase of its top stars is creating a bidding frenzy among cities who want to host the event.

Fourteen cities are now competing to land WrestleMania through 2014. The reason: Previous hosts Orlando and Houston each enjoyed a $50 million boost to their economies from wrestling fans opening their wallets to book hotel rooms, eat in restaurants, shop and buy tickets to area attractions like theme parks and museums.

And that kind of coin is expected to have gone into the coffers of Phoenix and suburb Glendale, Arizona, as well, after setting up WWE’s ring over the weekend.

“It’s like a four-hour infomercial,” said Jeffrey Gaines, assistant general manager of Reliant Park, whose Reliant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, was the site of last year’s 25th anniversary of WrestleMania.

It’s one of those rare commercials people are willing to spend a lot of money to watch.

WWE earned $6.9 million, mostly from ticket and merchandise sales, from WrestleMania 25, making it the company’s highest-grossing live event. Of the 72,744 that attended, about 60%, or 45,000, visited from other states or countries and stayed at least three nights.

That same show earned $21 million in pay-per-view sales from 975,000 buys last year, and WrestleMania 24 sold 1.1 million buys, earning $23.8 million, before that. It sells at a premium price of $55 (up $10 from previous years), with some selling it more for the HD broadcast.

In the months leading up to WrestleMania, host cities are shown off with loving aerial shots and verbal shout outs that are plugged across the WWE’s weekly TV shows, websites and magazine, and during the PPV, are also given more exposure with footage from the various events that take place during the week, like the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, wrestlers visiting hospitals, promoting WWE’s reading program at libraries, hosting an art show or appearing at fanfest Axxess.

More recently, the logos for Mania have also been designed to tie-in with the characteristics of each host city.

On Sunday, 72,219 fans flocked to Phoenix to gather ringside at WrestleMania 26 inside the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Roughly 1 million more viewed it via pay-per-view. Atlanta will host next year’s show and a week’s worth of other WWE-backed events. Phoenix and Atlanta hadn’t hosted Mania before.

Miami, Los Angeles, New York City, Detroit, Toronto, Tampa, Vancouver, New Orleans, St. Louis, Jacksonville are now in the running to lock down WrestleMania 28 and beyond. Orlando and Houston are also hoping to host again.

Other interested cities, like Dallas, had to pull out of bidding the next two years because they were hosting events like the Final Four NCAA championships, but are eying other Manias. Houston and Orlando are also bidding to host again.

Miami-Dade Sports Commission officials “pushed really hard” to set up the show in Miami in 2011, offering up its Miami Beach Convention Center, American Airlines Arena and Land Shark Stadium, but lost out to Atlanta.

The event was also spread out across Phoenix, with Mania at the Glendale stadium, fan Axxess at the downtown convention center, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Dodge Theater and the following taping of USA Network’s “Monday Night Raw” from the US Airways Arena.

“There’s so much power behind it,” sports commission chair Jose “Pepe” Diaz told the Miami Herald. “To us it’s huge; financially it’s incredible,” which is a boost to cities that were hit hard by the recession, and don’t have sizeable marketing dollars to tout their cities anymore.

The growing interest from cities forced WWE to rethink how it handles bids.

After Orlando, WWE hired John Saboor to serve as senior VP of special events and plan the process, which in the past had focused on brokering deals with individual stadiums and arenas, not entire communities.

Saboor had been instrumental in setting up WrestleMania in Orlando, when he was was running the regional sports commission there and seeking out major sports events.

“It was certainly a watershed event for Orlando,” Saboor said, with the event generating $51.5 million for the city. Not only did it fill the Citrus Bowl at a time of year when the stadium sits idle, “it served as a showcase opportunity for Orlando, not only for the fans who attended the show from around the world but the audience that tuned into the pay-per-view.”

After he joined WWE, Saboor realized WWE needed to set WrestleMania in cities that could serve as vacation destinations for its fans, and enable the show to turn into a week-long series of events and generate more revenue for the company, as a result.

And the cities. WrestleMania “came at a particularly good time,” said Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “2009 was a soft year to begin with and to have this picked up the spring a lot.”

It also got consumers think of Houston as more than just oil and gas companies but “a great place to visit,” Ortale added.

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