TAMPA — A year after the pandemic took away Tampa’s opportunity to put on professional wrestling’s biggest annual spectacle, the city again will have its chance to host WrestleMania at Raymond James Stadium.
The WWE announced the next three host cities Saturday night, and Tampa will host this year’s event, which will be spread out over two days April 10 and 11, and include limited seating capacity.
Initially, this year’s event was slated for SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., outside Los Angeles. Inglewood now will now host in 2023, and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will host next year.
WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon thanked Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tampa mayor Jane Castor for their “graciousness and flexibility.”
“WrestleMania will bring tens of millions of dollars to the Tampa area, and we look forward to hosting more sporting and entertainment events in Florida this year,” DeSantis said in a statement provided by WWE.
How many fans will be allowed to attend has yet to be determined — the Bucs played home games this season at 25 percent capacity in a stadium that seats almost 66,000, and Florida is one of the few states allowing stadiums to have fans. The event certainly won’t have the packed-house atmosphere that past WrestleManias have been known for. But by expanding to a two-day event, it will not only allow WWE to expand the card, but give more fans the opportunity to attend while following health and safety social distancing protocols.
“No two WrestleManias have ever been alike,” said John Saboor, WWE’s executive vice president of special events. “And we look forward to creating another unprecedented experience for fans attending at Raymond James Stadium. Our job is clear for the presentation of WrestleMania, and that is to create now a two-day journey of sights and sounds meant to stimulate every one of our fans’ senses and to offer a memorable experience that will be designed in every respect to put smiles on people’s faces of those attending.
“I have no doubt, given our history and the heritage of this event, that it will be special, unique and unprecedented in its own way.”
Saboor said WWE will announce more details on ticket availability and safety protocols in the coming weeks.
“Safety is our absolute top priority,” he said. “We will do everything in terms of coordinating the entire plan and presentation with our local partners and government officials.”
Tampa finally landed last year’s WrestleMania after a decade-long pursuit of the event, which has taken place in Orlando twice and Miami once. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, shuttering all professional sports and mass gatherings, WrestleMania was relocated from Raymond James Stadium to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, where it was produced on a closed set.
The conversation about a return to Tampa never stopped. While closed-set shows currently are being produced across the bay at Tropicana Field, WWE wanted to return to a live stadium atmosphere for WrestleMania. And over the past several months, another opportunity to host the event locally materialized.
“After Team Tampa Bay’s more than 10-year pursuit of WrestleMania ended with us not being able to safely host this past April, we naturally could not be more excited to have WrestleMania 37 land right back at Raymond James Stadium a year later,” Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said.
While the area won’t benefit from the economic boon of a fully-attended event, Higgins said this still might be the time when Tampa Bay needs WrestleMania most to help a tourism and hotel and hospitality industry that has been devastated by the pandemic.
“We’re thrilled with not only the timing of this, but also the fact that this will be the first-ever two-night WrestleMania to take place at a stadium, which is the exact type of history our community loves to make,” Higgins said.
The return marks the latest chapter in a growing partnership between the area and WWE. Last month, the WWE relocated its ThunderDome set to Tropicana Field, and the company is producing its Monday Night Raw, Friday Night Smackdown and pay-per-view events there through the end of March. The WWE’s first developmental center was based in Tampa, and several prominent wrestlers — past and present — call Tampa Bay home.
Though the WWE’s ThunderDome setup was designed to integrate fans virtually through large LED boards outside the ring — allowing them to reserve spots on the set and see themselves on broadcasts as they log on through video — the company has been preparing for fans safely returning to the stands.
“We have been studying, collaborating and planning for the return to live events, and part of that exploration has been sharing best practices with contemporaries within the world of sports and entertainment,” Saboor said. “So while we have been focused on our presentation of ThunderDome and the associated fan experience for that, we have been all the while working in earnest, to develop our strategies practices and presentation of live events when that became available.”
The announcement comes at a time when the local sports and entertainment landscape grapples with how to begin bringing people into arenas and stadiums as coronavirus positivity rates rise and vaccines begin to roll out.
The Toronto Raptors played four home games at Amalie Arena with just 3,800 fans in the stands last month, but just before the Lightning’s season began this past Wednesday, the arena pivoted and decided it would not allow fans in the building through at least Feb. 5. Amalie still has shows scheduled for February, including Mike Epps’ Super Comedy Jam and concerts by Christian hip-hop artist TobyMac.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that he planned to bring “as many fans as we can safely” to Raymond James for Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7. The Rays announced Friday that they plan on opening the upcoming season with about 7,000 fans each game at Tropicana Field.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard