Boston mayor Marty Walsh’s decision in May to suspend all large-scale gatherings until September 7 meant TD Garden would be closed to everyone, including the WWE. Rather than cancel its SummerSlam event, scheduled for this weekend, the Vince McMahon-helmed company pressed on, determined to meet its television contracts and make good with sponsors.
“It was never a question of if we were going to continue it was just how we were going to continue, and how do we do it safely for our superstars and our employees,” said John Brody, WWE’s executive vice president of global sales and partnerships.
WWE found a way, and will now host SummerSlam without fans at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., which is normally home to the NBA’s Magic. That team is playing in the NBA’s bubble in nearby Disneyworld.
SummerSlam will be the first event hosted outside of the WWE’s performance center since events started taping there in March after the entertainment company was declared an ‘essential service’ by Florida Governor Ron Desantis. And though there will still be no fans, sponsors are lining up.
The WWE was able to continue its programming without interruption, the company said in its most recent earnings report, and amid the pandemic earned $5.6 million less in sponsorship revenues for the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier. WWE was able to secure sponsorships for SummerSlam from Cricket Wireless, Hyundai, Wargaming, Applebee’s, Hulu and Unilever. Both Cricket Wireless and Wargaming will serve as co-presenting sponsors for the event, and this will be Cricket Wireless’ fourth-straight year tied to SummerSlam.
“We’ve been consistent in reminding our partners that we’re open for business,” Brody said. “Whether its access to over 250 superstars, the ability to custom create content… we’ve been able to continue to deliver and our partners are supporting us by continuing to spend and market around WWE.”
Wargaming, maker of the popular online game World of Tanks, has expanded its relationship with WWE. The game maker, which previously offered WWE-themed content in World of Tanks, earlier this month produced a ‘SummerSlam Showdown’ event that featured WWE talent “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Kofi Kingston, Big E and Lacy Evans cooking, playing the game and speaking with veterans. The event, which benefited military veterans and was streamed across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitch.
Brody told Sportico that the WWE’s encouraging attitude about operating in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic helped it maintain momentum. When the sports world began to shut down in early March, it was the WWE that put on the first sporting event without fans, WrestleMania, which was recorded on March 25 and 26 and aired on April 4 and 5.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon decided to host all events at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, which was converted into an arena that could host all three WWE shows (Monday Night RAW, Friday Night Smackdown, and WWE NXT). Initially, the WWE’s three shows were prerecorded but due to TV contracts requiring a number of live shows per year, live programming had to resume.
An estimated 35% to 40% of the WWE’s revenue comes from TV deals, and the company produced more than 600 hours of programming for television, streaming and social/digital platforms during the second quarter, the company said in the earnings report.
Continuing on during a crisis is nothing new for the WWE. During the 1999 pay-per-view event “Over the Edge” WWE Superstar Owen Hart died when he fell 78 feet into the ring and still the event continued. Two years later, after 9/11, wrestling proceeded in Houston a couple days after the attack.
SummerSlam will take place on Aug. 23.