Over the course of the last decade, WrestleMania has evolved considerably. The biggest card of the year is now more than just that: It's the centerpiece of a week-long gathering of fans from around the world.
The weekend was expanded considerably by the addition of the WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and WrestleMania Axxess convention. Part autograph session, part WWE live event and part traveling Hall of Fame, it's a unique part of the WrestleMania experience.
This year's Axxess is different in that it's the first time the event has been held in a hockey/basketball arena instead of a flat convention hall.
In an exclusive, WWE has provided Bleacher Report with the first look at what exactly Axxess will look like, in the form of the event maps that will be given out to attendees as they arrive to each session.
WWE Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson spoke to me about the difficulty in finding a a suitably large and accessible location for Axxess 2013.
The nearby Meadowlands Exposition Center, which was subsequently booked for the independent WrestleCon, was way too small for an event the size of Axxess, while mid-town Manhattan's popular Jacob Javits Center was booked years in advance.
"We looked at everything," she said, "from the armory in [New York City], to Chelsea Pier to hotel ballrooms to the Intrepid. We looked at every imaginable space, we looked at the Beacon, and nothing had a large enough footprint [of 175,000 feet] for what we were looking for. I was convinced we could find something in New York City, but we couldn't, so that's how we ended up at the Izod Center."
Figuring out how to configure the arena for an event of this kind proved to be a unique challenge. "As you can imagine, when we realized that convention center space wasn't available, I certainly for myself in having the responsibility for overseeing this, wanted to make sure that we were really delivering at least an equal fan experience, if not better.
"So when we were faced with the fact that the Izod Center was really our best option, we took a step back and thought 'How do we make this even better than convention center space?', which you can imagine is not an easy thing to do."
Once the Izod Center was chosen, one element of the location became key: It's the site of Monday Night Raw the night after WrestleMania. "How do we kind of leverage that into a unique fan experience? That really became the core of the idea and the core of what's different. So when fans come into the Izod Center, the first thing they're going to see is that the Monday Night Raw set, including the ring, is going to be set up as you see it on television."
To take advantage of this, each of the seven four-hour Axxess sessions will include a two-and-a-half-hour live event "programmed by Paul Levesque's team," featuring both main-roster WWE stars and developmental talent from NXT. In addition, the VIP ticket-holders will get:
- An exclusive autograph session and photo opportunity with a top WWE star.
- Backstage tours of Raw that end in getting their photo taken professionally making their entrance at the top of the ramp.
- Ringside seats for the matches during Axxess.
Wilson added, "We think we may want to do this [again] instead of a convention center space, believe it or not, because it ended up being such a 'lemonade out of lemons' situation that we really love the idea so much. If it goes over well, we may do something similar in New Orleans next year."
WWE Fan Axxess starts this Thursday evening, April 4, with seven sessions taking place through Sunday afternoon.
General admission tickets to each session are $45, with children under two years old entering free of charge. VIP tickets are sold out, as are general admission tickets to the Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon sessions. Ticket information, a list of attractions, autograph signing schedules and more are available at WWE.com.
David Bixenspan is the WWE Team Leader and Assignment Editor for Bleacher Report and has been with the site since August 2011. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and check out his pro wrestling interview podcast, "Loser Leaves Town," at LLTPod.com.