Comparable to American football’s Super Bowl, cycling’s Tour de France and Wimbledon for tennis fans, WWE WrestleMania is the pinnacle of the wrestling calendar.
Long-running feuds reach boiling point and aged stars return for one last rumble, whipping fans of the sporting soap opera into a frenzy.
Expect much of the same this Sunday, as the 34th Road to WrestleMania reaches its conclusion at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Despite leaving his hat, coat and gloves in the ring at the end of last year’s event, seemingly suggesting that it would be his last, long-term WWE star The Undertaker is reportedly set to take part once again this year.
Daniel Bryan, currently the General Manager of WWE show SmackDown, will also be making his return to the ring.
To those that don’t follow the action-packed storylines of WWE’s scriptwriters, that probably doesn’t mean all that much. However, it meant a lot to the wrestling shows’ army of fans.
Following confirmation that Bryan will wrestle on Sunday, prices for remaining WrestleMania tickets jumped above $300 according to the Wrestling Observer.
With around 700 tickets remaining, it is likely that the Superdome will reach its 75,000 capacity on Sunday. However, many more WWE fans will be watching from the comfort of their homes.
The sheer size of WrestleMania
WrestleMania 33 was the most watched WWE event in history, attracting 1.95 million viewers through the WWE Network subscription service alone.
However, given that the subscription model is a relatively new foray for WWE and difficult to compare to other sports, we’ve looked at WrestleMania’s pay-per-view purchases, which is more frequently used in traditional sports.
WrestleMania 28 (2012), where WWE poster boy John Cena clashed with the former face of the organisation The Rock, is the most purchased event in WWE history. On that occasion 1.22 million people paid to watch the event.
At a cost of $54.95 per purchase or $64.95 in high definition (which made up 34% of all orders), WrestleMania 28 generated approximately $71.2 million in PPV buys in 2017.
WrestleMania 23 (2007) and WrestleMania 21 (2005) are the only events to come close to matching WrestleMania 28 with 1.2 million and 1.09 million purchases respectively.
WrestleMania 27 and WrestleMania 24 (both 1.06 million) make up the top five most purchased WrestleMania events.
How does this compare to other sporting events?
WrestleMania’s record falls well short of the PPV record, currently held by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao’s meeting in the boxing ring back in 2015. Despite failing to live up to expectations for many fans, 4.6 million people paid to watch the fight.
However, WrestleMania comes closer to matching the biggest mixed martial arts events.
For example, the second fight between Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor at UFC 202 in 2016 set the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s PPV record at 1.65 million.
WrestleMania sits in 18th place in the list of best-selling boxing, UFC and WWE events in history according to Business Insider. It sits alongside Evander Holyfield’s controversial fight with Lennox Lewis (1.2 million), Mike Tyson’s clash with Bruce Seldon (1.15 million) and former UFC star Ronda Rousey’s comeback fight against Amanda Nunes (1.1 million).
WrestleMania 32 was WWE’s most attended event to date. The organisation reported that 101,800 fans packed in to the AT&T Stadium in Texas in April 2016 to watch Roman Reigns defeat Triple H for the heavyweight title.
In comparison, that same month, approximately 93,000 turned out to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix over the course of three days. Just 32,500 turned out on race day.
Likewise, UFC 198, mixed martial art’s biggest event of 2016, attracted just 45,200 spectators.
Of course, that isn’t to say that attendance at UFC events is low. UFC 198 maxed out the Arena da Baixada. However, it is likely that the organisers would opt for a 105,000 capacity stadium too if they felt that the event was capable of filling it.
Given that attendance was up 32% on the previous year at WrestleMania 32, it came as little surprise that gate receipts have climbed too. Higher ticket prices, coupled with a larger number of available tickets, pushed event day revenue up to $17.3 million from $12.6 million the previous year.
In comparison, boxing’s biggest fight of 2016, Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitscho filled the 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium. However, the event only took around £7 million in gate revenue.
Why is WWE WrestleMania so popular?
WWE attracted an army of fans throughout The Golden Age, New Generation Era and Attitude Era between 1982 and 2002. With stars like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, André the Giant and The Rock, the show reached its peak during that period that it has struggled to replicate in recent years.
The popularity of wrestling as a whole has declined since. According to wrestling news publisher Gerweck, WWE’s SmackDown and Raw broadcast received Nielsen ratings (percentage of US households that tuned in) of 4.01 and 3.52 respectively on average in 2002. Those figures fell to 2.08 and 1.76 in 2017.
However, according to wrestling news website 2xzone, WrestleMania pay-per-view buys have increased.
Between 2002 and 2013, WrestleMania PPV buys climbed from 840,000 to 1,050,000.
While the stars of WWE’s heyday have since retired, they are likely still part of the reason why WrestleMania continues to produce consistent viewership figures, despite interest in the sport falling overall.
It isn’t unusual for former stars to return to take part in WrestleMania, seemingly to provide enough nostalgia to lure those that are less interested in WWE’s current crop of stars back.
The past five years of WrestleMania
2017 – The Hardy Boyz
2016 – The Rock, Shane McMahon, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels
2015 – The Rock, Hulk Hogan
2014 – The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan
2013 – The Rock
WWE WrestleMania celebrities
As well as stars of the WWE, the organisation also drafts in outsiders for the big night.
Celebrities to have appeared at WrestleMania events range from socialite Kim Kardashian to the current President of the United States Donald Trump.
Trump body-slamming WWE CEO Vince McMahon, throwing him over a table and shaving his head is just one of many memorable celebrity moments to have taken place at WrestleMania events.
Five foot eight boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. facing the seven foot giant Big Show was another stand out moment.
Other notable stars to have showed their faces at WrestleMania include rapper Snoop Dogg, former boxer Mike Tyson and A-Team actor Mr. T.
WrestleMania is essentially WWE’s season finale. The show’s biggest storylines come to their conclusion after months, if not years of build-up.
The fight between John Cena and The Rock at WrestleMania in 2012 (the most purchased WrestleMania event in history) had 14 months of hype. The Rock announced his return in February 2011 and spent the month after clashing with Cena to get fans ready for a big finale, which was concluded in 30 minutes.
WrestleMania provides all the trimmings of traditional sports. There are rivalries, titles to be won and commentary that makes it feel authentic. However, it isn’t.
For the millions of wrestling fans that tune in, that isn’t a bad thing. Unlike traditional sports, where you never know how exciting a match might be, action is guaranteed at WrestleMania.