A few years ago, my protégé Gabe Sapolsky, whose stellar work in discovering and developing great talent cannot be overstated, called me in the middle of the night and asked, “What do you think about me putting on a show during WrestleMania week?” My answer, at the time, caught him off guard. “I wouldn’t do it,” I cautioned my prize pupil from my days as the owner and creative head of ECW. “It’s WWE’s week. Unless you can steal the audience away, or draw a bigger house (sell more tickets, generate more revenue at the box office), you’re just riding WWE’s coattails, exploiting their week, and even if your show is infinitely better, you can’t be perceived as being any better than second place. Why ever be number two, especially in direct competition?”
Since that advice was given, it seems the entire pro wrestling community wants a bite of that WrestleMania apple. As World Wrestling Entertainment gears up for the biggest week of the year in sports entertainment, the number of events, conventions, appearances, meet-and-greets, et al. headed to Orlando is mind-boggling. People will be flying in from all over the world to attend WWE’s annual showcase, and almost everyone who has a stake in the industry itself is setting up shop in Orlando to capitalize on the opportunity to audition their presentation and/or gain access to all that available cash coming into one centralized location. Even WWE’s very own developmental brand, NXT, presents its biggest shows in conjunction with the parent company’s most celebrated event.
The amount of money a non-WWE affiliated promotion can pull in during WrestleMania week has become so lucrative, the dynamic has now changed. To not offer your product to the WrestleMania consumer base is to leave so much money on the table, you are depriving yourself (and your investors) of much-needed revenue and a chance to actually become an event for which fans will set aside a portion of their budget for your shows and merchandise the next time a major city is taken over by a WWE mega-event. The competition is no longer with the multi-million dollar WWE production, but with all the other offerings that are taking place that week.
I am of the opinion we are quickly approaching the over-saturation point, and the fight for the elusive expendable dollar will intensify, weeding out those whose product doesn’t stand up against the others. There’s only so many events one can attend, only so many T-shirts you can bring back home. So which events do I recommend or endorse this week? Whichever ones entice you to spend your money, allocate your time, warrant your participation. My concentration is on the most anticipated match of the year, the final showdown pitting WWE Universal Champion Goldberg (defending not only the title but also the greatest championship level comeback in modern history) versus my client Brock Lesnar.
So, if by some chance I were to be asked that same question again by Gabe, what would my answer be? Well, despite the sheer economics running a non-WWE event during WrestleMania week, I submit to you that I would still opt to sit the week out; concede the attention solely to the billion dollar publicly traded global conglomerate who has spent the past 52 weeks building up to this one.
The only way I could envision running a non-WWE affiliated event during WrestleMania week would be if I had something so huge, so potentially profitable, so newsworthy, my product/presentation could steal everyone’s attention away from the big game in town, and divert the post-Mania conversation to the upstart that went up against the giants and had something up its sleeve that could change the entire industry and cut into a fraction of WWE’s dominant market share.
Now wouldn’t that be …. what’s the word I’m looking for here?