As Tampa’s WrestleMania date nears, WWE watching coronavirus

Stephanie McMahon and other WWE officials visit Tampa on Thursday for a status update on the upcoming WrestleMania 36.
Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer for the WWE, speaks at a luncheon at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, 36 days before WrestleMania 36 in Tampa.
Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer for the WWE, speaks at a luncheon at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, 36 days before WrestleMania 36 in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 27, 2020|Updated Feb. 27, 2020

TAMPA — Thirty-six days before WrestleMania 36, everything is on track for the WWE’s main event in Tampa on April 5.

Around the world, however, wrestling fans at the WWE’s Super ShowDown in Saudi Arabia wore protective face masks as the country on Thursday tightened its borders amid a global coronavirus epidemic.

That prompted a question WWE and regional officials would rather not face just weeks from WrestleMania: With visitors from more than 60 nations expected to visit Tampa, is the biggest show in sports entertainment ready for the coronavirus?

“The health and safety of not only our fan base, but also our superstars, really does come first,” Stephanie McMahon, the WWE’s chief brand officer, said Thursday in Tampa. “We don’t want to put anyone in a bad situation ever, regardless of the circumstance. Those are not risks worth taking.”

Related: Though Tampa Bay tourism unaffected by coronavirus, some travelers worry

McMahon and other WWE officials were in Tampa for a luncheon with business and community leaders at Raymond James Stadium, where they outlined a few of the more than 40 community events and charity initiatives expected to take place during WrestleMania week.

Among them: A 5K fun run in downtown Tampa on April 4, at which fans will be encouraged to dress as their favorite WWE personalites; a free block party featuring music and celebrity appearances outside Raymond James Stadium on April 5; and various classroom, hospital and Boys and Girls Club appearances.

But the increasing likelihood of a coronavirus pandemic threatens to loom over professional wrestling’s version of the Super Bowl.

“Given the number of live events that (WWE) does, it’s constantly monitoring global events,” said John Saboor, WWE’s executive vice president of special events. “There are active and ongoing discussions at play internally, like there are in any sector of American business, and certainly families as a whole. So I think those will continue.”

Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said his group is working with the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and Tampa International Airport to ensure fan safety in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania.

“You’ve got to be nimble, and you’ve got to be ready,” Higgins said. “Thirty-six days is a long time, so it’s hard to predict. I think we just continue to information gather as much as possible, so that we are as prepared as possible.”

“And if necessary,” McMahon added, "enact those measures."

Everything else on the WWE’s WrestleMania timeline is moving right on schedule, McMahon said. Over the next few weeks, the fight card will fill out as multiple story lines play out across the WWE’s brands. The WWE will announce more inductees into its Hall of Fame, as well as celebrity appearances and performances.

At this point, Saboor said, the WWE is focusing on “refining the blueprint to welcome the world to Tampa Bay."

“We’re spending a lot of time in the last 36 days messaging fans who are coming, talking about the attributes of not only what WrestleMania week has to offer, but what Tampa Bay as a destination has to offer," he said.

WrestleMania is not sold out, Saboor said, but they expect it will be, with more than 70,000 fans in attendance. Beyond that, he said the event’s maiden foray into Tampa has gone smoothly enough that it might not be long before they start talking about a return.

“We don’t do it to do it once,” he said.

Staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.

WrestleMania 36 events

• WWE Hall of Fame, 6:45 p.m. April 2 at Amalie Arena

• WWE Friday Night SmackDown, 7:45 p.m. April 3 at Amalie Arena

• WrestleMania 5K Fun Run, 7:30 a.m. April 4 at Amalie Arena. Sign up here

• NXT TakeOver Tampa, 6 p.m. April 4 at Amalie Arena

• WrestleMania 36, 5:30 p.m. April 5 at Raymond James Stadium

• WWE Monday Night RAW, 7:30 p.m. April 5 at Amalie Arena

• Tickets for WrestleMania events here and here