It’s an event that started in Madison Square Garden, spent over two decades largely confined to arenas, before blossoming into stadia across North America. Of course, we’re talking about WrestleMania – an event that has now seemingly developed a bidding process not unlike the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics (only without any allegations of corruption!)
By this time next week, 2016’s WrestleMania will be a memory, and we’ll all be looking ahead to WWE’s return to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. In the meantime, cities across North America are preparing bids to host future WrestleManias, with an eye on the thousands of tourists that flock to the city for the WWE’s annual showcase (and those who attend the fringe independent events that also tag along). In recent years, the likes of Philadelphia, Minnesota and Toronto have been credited with interest in hosting the event. A few weeks ago, a flippant comment on Twitter added another extremely unlikely potential bidder:
There’s two reasons why this is never going to happen, and I’ll start with the least obvious one:
This tweet came during a Q&A session on Twitter with the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It is worth noting that Johnson is at the tail end of his time as mayor, with the next set of elections being held on May 5, 2016. Johnson isn’t standing for a third term as mayor, having been voted in as an MP in last year’s British General Election (on a selfish note: also representing the area where I currently live)
So, with that in mind, even if Boris was interested in bidding to bring WrestleMania to Wembley Stadium (or any of the other large stadiums in or around London), he’d need to hope that his successor shared the same views on hosting such an event. As “just” a Member of Parliament, Johnson’s remit is quite reduced, particularly when his constituency doesn’t have any suitably sized venues for him to even champion (Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena fall outside of Johnson’s Uxbridge & South Ruislip constituency).
Those issues can at least be worked around, but then comes the more obvious issues… time zones. This year’s WrestleMania will start at 7pm Eastern (with the pre-show starting an hour earlier on USA Network and the usual array of online sources, including the WWE Network), whilst the event itself is set to run beyond 11pm Eastern. For those of us watching the show in the UK, that translates into a start time of 11pm (for the pre-show) and a finish after 4am – something that probably wouldn’t convert into a good crowd. It’d also result in a horrid journey home, given London’s public transport system doesn’t yet run through the night.
Given how slowly changes are made to both WWE’s status quo – and also to public services, I’d say that 888sport’s odds of 6/1 for WrestleMania to be held in London before the end of 2020 are incredibly short. Trust me, when you’re in a city whose subway system threatens strikes at the drop of a hat, and seems to use anything that’d affect the public as something to hang over the city’s head… this is a headache that London would not want to entertain.
WWE did recently hold a live “pay-per-view”/Network special from the UK, in the form of last December’s stellar TakeOver special from Wembley Arena. But there’s a massive difference between airing live from the UK with an early start time for a NXT special… and doing the same for the biggest show of the year. Given how risk averse WWE is on their main shows, I don’t exactly blame them. After all, if WWE’s not likely to change the formula they’ve used for years in terms of booking, they’re not exactly likely to pull a 180 and make such a drastic change, just for the sake of being able to say that “WrestleMania has gone international!”
Of course, WWE has already held a standard pay-per-view in the UK – in the form of SummerSlam 1992. But the wrestling landscape in 2016 is a lot different to back then – particularly for pay-per-views, WWE has little trouble filling seats, regardless of the state of creative. This year’s WrestleMania is proof of that – with over 85,000 tickets sold, in spite of the product being really cold – so why would WWE take WrestleMania to another continent, just for the sake of saying that?
There’s the theory that WWE will take SummerSlam back to the UK, in order to throw a proverbial bone. However, with SummerSlam locked into Brooklyn for the next few years, that’s out the window. It seems for now that WWE’s got no intention of bringing a major event to the UK – save for any NXT shows. The addition of a mystery Wednesday night show at London’s O2 Arena in September – barely four months after their traditional post-WrestleMania tapings of Raw and SmackDown – hints at a possible future special event for the WWE Network, particularly given that the names announced for said show (AJ Styles, New Day, Sasha Banks) are not NXT talent.
But for the “long suffering” WWE fans in the UK whom – Takeover: London aside – have seen a steady diet of nothing-happening shows on these shores. Since the first ever Raw/SmackDown tapings in the UK in October 2004, television tapings have gradually become stale, with ticket sales quickly reflecting the lack of appetite to see a show in the early stages of the post-WrestleMania lull, or a show building up the Survivor Series. As Raw and SmackDown went stale, so did the UK shows, especially since WWE tapes more television shows in the UK every year than they do in the states of Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington and several others (albeit that is down to WWE doing shows back-to-back in the same building).
So, going back to the original point – will WWE ever bring a “main show” to the UK? The advent of the WWE Network has meant that the traditional “Sunday, 8pm ET” pay-per-view start time doesn’t have to be a fixture. However, existing contracts with pay-per-view and television partners around the world would mean that any major show taking place in a foreign time zone would likely need to be aired on tape-delay (or at least, with a tape-delayed replay). When you add in that WrestleMania isn’t a show they’re going to mess with, and that SummerSlam is seemingly locked to Brooklyn for the next few years, WWE will either need to tweak their touring schedule so that April and November aren’t the defacto European tour months, or move one of their B-shows to the UK. Hmm… Somehow, I can’t see Battleground filling out Wembley Stadium, and therein lies the issue.
Only WrestleMania has a brand name big enough to fill out a stadium almost anywhere in the world, and unless WWE gets really cold, to the point where the established “Sunday pay-per-views” become money losers, none of these are likely to be trialled outside of North America… and should WWE become hot again, then international shows will fall even further further down the WWE’s “to do” list. Barring a large financial incentive from any host city outside of North America, it would seem that if you want to go to WrestleMania, you’d be better off saving up for flights, hotels and tickets, rather than a train to London anytime soon.