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Turns out, WrestleMania 36 will go on as scheduled, albeit without Tampa providing the stage for the global sports-entertainment spectacle.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the WWE announced in a brief statement Monday evening that its annual signature event will be held as scheduled on April 5, but on a closed set in the company’s training facility in Orlando with only “essential personnel” allowed to attend. The 7 p.m. event will be available via pay-per-view and on the WWE Network.
All ancillary events, set to be held at various venues including Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center in the week leading up to WrestleMania, are off. They included the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony and at least two nationally televised weekly live productions.
Shortly after the announcement, the Tampa Bay local organizing committee issued the following statement:
"Our community has waited 36 years to host WrestleMania, and while we are saddened that this unforeseen situation has led us to today’s announcement, this is totally the right call for the safety and security of everyone involved.
A huge thank-you to all of our local leaders and our friends at the WWE, as we collectively worked through the unprecedented fluidity of the last few weeks. The Team Tampa Bay-WWE partnership has never been stronger."
Later Monday evening, WWE’s Monday Night Raw ― broadcast live each week from a packed domestic arena on USA Network ― aired from the company’s same empty Orlando training facility, with footage from previous pay-per-view shows thrown in.
Monday’s announcement represented a second straight gut punch to the region and Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which also was set to host first- and second-round action of the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament (A.K.A. March Madness) starting Thursday at Amalie Arena.
WrestleMania was ranked the world’s sixth most valuable sports brand by Forbes.com in 2017. An economic-impact report commissioned by the WWE indicated the 2019 WrestleMania at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium produced $165.4 million in visitor spending in the New York/New Jersey region last April.
Despite its inevitability amid a global pandemic, the decision to call off this mass gathering at Raymond James Stadium — where a crowd of more than 75,000 was expected — was lethargic compared to the action of other major sports leagues.
Thursday, the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group, which includes Sheriff Chad Chronister and Tampa mayor Jane Castor, chose not to call off WrestleMania but said it would re-visit the issue in a week. Earlier that day, the NCAA had called off its championship basketball tournaments, and the NHL and NBA had suspended their seasons indefinitely.
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“I’m hoping that (WWE majority owner and chairman) Vince McMahon and WrestleMania and WWE make the call themselves," Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller told reporters after that meeting.
“But a week from now, if they’ve not done that and we’re still in the situation we’re in, we’ll probably have to pull the plug on that.”
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