Comparing the Business of WWE WrestleMania to Rest of the Sports Universe

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterMarch 31, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 29:  WWE Superstars Erick Rowan, Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman with NYSE Global head of capital markets Garvis Toler (3rd from left) ring The New York Stock Exchange Opening Bell in honor of WrestleMania 32  at New York Stock Exchange on March 29, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Everything is massive at WWE WrestleMania—the muscles, the pyrotechnics displays, the crowds and the amount of money the company pulls in.

Pro wrestling may not always get the respect of its sports brethren, but WWE's annual megashow outdoes the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament, World Series and College Football Playoff in a number of categories. There is often comedy, melodrama and over-the-top silliness in spandex between the ropes at the events. WrestleMania's financial value, though, is serious stuff.

The annual pay-per-view and squared-circle spectacular fills NFL stadiums and is preceded by a flood of hype. It's not surprising it's often referred to as the Super Bowl of pro wrestling.

The Show of Shows certainly does well financially, but that's not a fair comparison. As much as WrestleMania rakes in, it doesn't compete with the Super Bowl. Nothing does. The NFL's title game is a beast when it comes to dollars and cents.

The Super Bowl remains the leader in sports business, but WrestleMania is no economic slouch.

WWE's top show lays the smackdown on many a sporting event. 

Attendance

WrestleMania brings in big crowds. Whether it's the Georgia Dome or AT&T Stadium hosting, The Show of Shows inspires swarms of fans to come from around the world.

Comparing the attendance numbers for the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament Championship Game, the Super Bowl and WrestleMania between 2012 and 2016 provides proof that pro wrestling is no niche industry:

Attendance for NCAA Title Game, Super Bowl, WrestleMania (2012-2016)
YearNCAASuper BowlWrestleMania
201270,91368,65878,363
201374,32671,02480,676
201479,23882,52975,167
201571,14970,28876,976
201674,34071,088101,763
WWE.com, NCAA.org, The Football Database

It's difficult to judge these events year by year, though, because they are in stadiums of varying capacities each time out.

But even when WrestleMania and the NFL traveled to the same venue, sports entertainment beat out sports. Levi's Stadium hosted Super Bowl 50 and was the site of WrestleMania 31. WWE brought in over 5,000 more fans to the home of the San Francisco 49ers. 

It helps that the setup for a wrestling event takes up far less space than a football or basketball game. A ring, the announcer's area and an entrance ramp is essentially all WWE needs. That leaves plenty of extra room for seating, allowing WrestleMania to outdo even the NFL in attendance.

Fans cheer on Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX.
Fans cheer on Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX.Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Keep in mind, however, that WWE is known to artificially bump up its numbers. The WrestleMania III figure of 93,173 fans in the Silverdome has widely been distrusted. More recently, Brandon Howard of Fightful.com, citing the Arlington Police Department, noted that WrestleMania 32 actually welcomed 80,709 fans to the PPV, not the 101,000-plus WWE reported.

Even so, the number Howard revealed still beats out what the NCAA and the NFL did in its final contests that year.

Economic Impact  

Economists debate the validity of the numbers, but WWE and the NFL are proud to display the eye-catching figures concerning the economic impact of their biggest events.

When the Super Bowl comes to town, so do plenty of towel-waving, face-painted football aficionados. WrestleMania and its fan events in the week leading up to it, called WrestleMania Axxess, have a similar effect. And all those fanatics have to book hotels, eat at restaurants and pay for transportation.

How much money does that incoming fanbase bring? The answer is a lot, but far more so in the case of the annual battle between the NFC and AFC:

Economic Impact for Super Bowl, WrestleMania (in Millions)
YearWrestleManiaSuper Bowl
2012$102.7$278 (Indianapolis)
2013$101.2$480 (New Orleans)
2014$142.2$600 (NY, NJ)
2015$139$295 (Glendale, AZ)
2016$170.4$350 (Bay Area, CA)
WWE.com, NFL.com, Forbes

WWE has reason to beam regarding those numbers. They certainly make The Show of Shows an event cities want to host. There's a reason places like New York, Houston and Orlando have welcomed multiple WrestleManias.

The Super Bowl, though, is on a level of its own.

The Big Game's economic impact is staggering. It's a reminder of how powerful that brand is and that football is truly America's sport right now.

Like with some of WrestleMania's attendance figures, however, there needs to be an asterisk on at least one of the NFL's numbers. Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College, told NJ.com that the process used to calculate the $600 million worth of impact that Super Bowl 48 had on the New York/New Jersey area in 2014 is flawed. "There's false science behind it," he said.

But even if you halved the number, it would still trump what WrestleMania brought to New Orleans in 2014 or New York and New Jersey the year before. 

TV and Network Numbers

Other than its scripted nature, the biggest difference between WWE and sports is the revenue surrounding broadcasting rights.

TV networks hunger to land events like the College Football Playoff or the NCAA Final Four. WrestleMania, meanwhile, is shown on WWE Network and pay-per-view. WWE head man Vince McMahon owns the former and has made strides to move away from the latter.

Jacob Pramuk reported for NBCNews.com that ESPN has committed $610 million a year for the rights to air the College Football Playoff.

And as noted on NCAA.com, CBS Sports and Turner extended an exclusive contract for the rights to broadcast all things March Madness. The total rights fee for the deal is an eye-popping $8.8 billion for eight years. 

WrestleMania isn't touching those numbers, no matter if Stone Cold Steve Austin returns or Undertaker announces a retirement match.

The Show of Shows' figures in this department are modest in comparison to college's big games.

WWE attributed $4 million worth of network subscribers to WrestleMania 32, per PWTorch. In the previous year, network subs and PPV buys for WrestleMania 31 added up to $4.9 million. That event also earned a million bucks for TV revenue.  

As grand as WrestleMania is, this is an area where sports dwarf it. 

Brand Value 

Overall, WrestleMania outdoes a number of traditional sports, "fake" stigma and all. 

Forbes puts out an annual list, dubbed the Fab 40, of the most valuable sports brands, events and athletes. TV revenue, advertising income and ticket sales are used to determine who sits where.

WrestleMania has climbed onto the list and placed in the top five for the past two years:

  • 2014 (No. 8; $105 million )
  • 2015 (No. 5; $170 million)
  • 2016 (No. 5; $180 million)

In 2016, WWE's top event ranked higher than the World Series ($148 million), Final Four ($155 million) and College Football Playoff ($160 million).

Baseball may no longer be America's pastime, but it's still an upset that pro wrestling beat it out here. The Summer Classic tops WrestleMania in tradition. The numbers say, though, more folks are forking over their money on the latter.

The king of the brands is none other than the Super Bowl, valued by Forbes at $630 million. Neither the Summer Olympics nor all the squared-circle action in the world can touch that. 

Even so, WWE will again cash in when WrestleMania travels to Orlando, Florida, on April 2.

WrestleMania 33 will see Roman Reigns look to take down Undertaker, Bray Wyatt fight Randy Orton to retain the WWE Championship, and the rest of the Raw and SmackDown's roster try to tear down the house. Along the way, WWE is going to bank big time, clocking financial numbers more impressive than a moonsault off the top of a steel cage.

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