WWE Holds On to WrestleMania Lifeline As Other Pro Leagues Pause

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  • North American ticket sales accounted for 75% of WWE’s live event revenue in 2019, led by WrestleMania.
  • The company’s upstart rival, AEW, has also not yet canceled any events.
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Photo Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment

(An earlier version of this story reported that SmackDown live will go on as planned. The show has been moved to Orlando and no audience will be present. )

A majority of North American sports leagues have postponed or outright canceled play this week in response to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving fans with slim pickings compared to a typical mid-March slate of games on television. 

The NHL, NBA, and MLB are officially on hiatus for at least a few weeks, while NASCAR and UFC have opted to carry on without fans in attendance.

WWE additionally moved Friday’s SmackDown Live from Detroit to its training facility in Orlando where no audience will be present.

As of March 13, the company is still committed to hosting WrestleMania 36 on April 5 – albeit with contingency plans in place in case Tampa Bay or state officials in Florida step in, the company said.

Cancelling WrestleMania, WWE’s flagship annual event, would have a severe impact on the company’s bottom line by the end of 2020. Live events – comprising ticket, advertising, and sponsorship sales – generated $125.6 million in revenue for WWE in 2019. That amounts to 13% of the organization’s total earnings last year. 

North American ticket sales also accounted for $94 million of its total live events business in 2019, about one-third of which was earned in the company’s second-quarter when WrestleMania takes place. 

“The company [WWE] is currently unable to quantify the potential financial impact of COVID-19, but the financial impact to the company may be material,” it said in a public memo Thursday, adding that it is withdrawing both its first quarter and 2020 guidance.

Government leaders across the U.S. in cities like New York and Chicago have already banned large gatherings of more than 500 people.

“The health and safety of our fans, performers, and employees are our top priorities, and we are monitoring the situation closely with our partners and government officials in Tampa Bay,” WWE said in an emailed statement.

The sports and entertainment company also acknowledged that coronavirus (COVID-19) could impact important facets of its business, including ticket sales and the sale of merchandise at those events. WWE also warned that an unknown number of its shows could be postponed, relocated, or canceled.

Last year’s WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium welcomed 82,265 fans and broke the New Jersey venue’s record for the highest-grossing entertainment event, producing $17 million in revenue. 

WWE’s live events business was down 13% year-over-year in 2019, due to hosting 56 fewer events worldwide and less attendance. 

Meanwhile, WWE’s upstart rival All Elite Wrestling has also forgone the cancellations of its events. AEW has instead relocated a couple of its shows in response to coronavirus, including its March 18 event in Rochester N.Y. that will now take place in Jacksonville. 

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An AEW spokesperson said planned events would be managed under a restricted attendance policy.

“We appreciate [fans’] understanding as the safety and well-being of our fans and talent is always our top priority,” the company said in an email. “We will continue to closely monitor this evolving situation related to COVID-19 and be guided by government officials, health organizations, and venue management.”