With WrestleMania 36, Tampa lands a WWE whopper

The event’s economic impact could rival that of the Super Bowl, CFP national title game
Titus O'Neil takes the stage Thursday during the announcement that WrestleMania 36 will be held in Tampa  on April 5, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium. The Tampa Bay Sports Commission pursued the opportunity to host WrestleMania for 10 years. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
Titus O'Neil takes the stage Thursday during the announcement that WrestleMania 36 will be held in Tampa on April 5, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium. The Tampa Bay Sports Commission pursued the opportunity to host WrestleMania for 10 years. MONICA HERNDON | Times [ Tampa Bay Times (2019) ]
Published March 7, 2019|Updated Jan. 27, 2020

TAMPA ― For all the spectacles ― from Super Bowls to Frozen Fours ― his group has helped the bay area land, Rob Higgins had a white whale frothing and flourishing in the sports/entertainment expanse, eluding his dogged pursuit.

For 10 years, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission’s indefatigable executive director couldn’t quite snag a WrestleMania. Until now.

“I would say it’s probably the biggest event that we haven’t had the opportunity to host yet,” Higgins said Wednesday, “so this is why this is such an incredible announcement for our hometown.”

That announcement arrives later this morning, when Higgins, other local leaders and officials from World Wrestling Entertainment confirm that WrestleMania 36 will be held at Raymond James Stadium on April 5, 2020.

PREVIOUS STORY: WrestleMania 36 coming to Tampa in 2020

Slide over, Super Bowls. Create a space, College Football Playoff national title game. In terms of crown-jewel sporting events (or in this case, sports entertainment events), WrestleMania possesses every bit the luster of any to previously descend upon the bay area.

“Tampa enjoys a special place in sports entertainment history and has produced many of its iconic figures,” Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn said in a statement released by the TBSC. “We look forward to WWE fans from around the world converging on our city in 2020 to enjoy all that we have to offer.”

Three and a half decades after the inaugural WrestleMania, staged at Madison Square Garden at the dawn of the WWE’s (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) evolution into a global brand, the event has burgeoned into a week-long extravaganza.

Ancillary events will include WrestleMania Axxess (an interactive fan festival similar to the NFL’s Super Bowl Experience) at the Tampa Convention Center, the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and a presentation of NXT TakeOver (the WWE’s third flagship brand).

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“We are now a true seven-day-long celebration,” WWE official John Saboor said.

That celebration could attract upwards of 150,000 fans. The Canadian research firm contracted by the WWE to measure a community’s special-events windfall indicated WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans generated $175 million in economic impact for the city and Louisiana, according to Saboor.

Higgins said he estimates WrestleMania, previously held three times in Florida, will generate between 40-50,000 hotel and visitor-room nights. When asked if that occupies the same stratosphere as the other major sporting events hosted by Tampa, Higgins said, “It is right there.”

“Over the past 12 years, WrestleMania has generated more than $1.2 billion in cumulative economic impact for our host cities,” said Saboor, the WWE’s executive vice-president of special events.

“Of course, we’re incredibly bullish on Tampa Bay, given the strength of the destination, and we’d expect to meet or even exceed our most recent economic impact result in 2020.”

Those dollars will arrive on the heels of at least a decade of investment by Higgins and his community partners

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Unlike other major events, which required formal (and often creative) bid presentations, the acquisition of WrestleMania was more of a chipping-away process.

Higgins said his group has submitted “a ton of information” over the years to the WWE regarding what a Tampa-based WrestleMania would look like.

Saboor concurred, saying the WWE’s discussions with bay area officials were ongoing for the better part of 10 years. When Higgins initially revealed last May the Tampa Bay Sports Commission was bidding for a WrestleMania, he said the hope was to land one in 2023, ’24 or ’25.

“There’s nothing in particular that accelerated this timeline,” Saboor said, “just more an ability to engage one another over what has been almost a decade of consistent and solid dialogue between the two entities.”

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Ultimately, the area won the WWE over with its available venues (RayJay, Amalie Arena, the convention center), infrastructure (Tampa International Airport, hotel-room quantities, etc.) and the “level of involvement from the public- and private-sector leadership,” Saboor said.

“And certainly important in our decision-making process,” Saboor added, “is your community’s past resume in hosting other major events.”

Thirteen months from now, that resume will include a whale of a wrestling showcase.

“We are honored to bring WrestleMania back to Florida,” Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan said. “The week of WWE events will not only bring excitement to fans, but also generate a significant economic boom for Tampa Bay’s economy.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.