wrestling / Columns

Csonka: The Coronavirus’ Impact on Wrestling & Canceling WrestleMania

March 12, 2020 | Posted by Larry Csonka
Roman Reigns Goldberg WrestleMania 36

This won’t be a lighthearted, fun column, because I’m here to talk about something serious, the Coronavirus. It also may feel scattered at times as I was writing as things unfolded. I’m not here for doom and gloom either, but I have stated on the podcasts when discussing the Coronavirus that this is more serious than most think, but unfortunately many in the US have lived by the “it’s not here, so it’s no big deal,” mantra… until cases started t appear in the US and people were detained on cruise lines.

There are still some, and we’ll call them fucking morons to be polite, that will tell you that the virus making the news is a hoax, and that it’s convenient how quickly everyone forgot about Brexit, America vs. Iran, Trump’s impeachment trial, the protests in Hong Kong, North Korea developing nuclear weapons and, South East Australia being on fire it’s apparently a misdirect that is filled with fake deaths because “I don’t know anyone who has it,” as the reasoning. Well, I’ve never been to this mythical place I hear about in books & TV called Africa, so it must not exist either. Don’t get me wrong, I will freely admit that there has been over reaction, people buying hand sanitizer in extreme bulk to apparently drink and bathe in it, but also way too many that think it’s no big deal.

Italy has extended its emergency coronavirus measures, which include travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings, to the entire country. Later, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that the country is under a lockdown/quarantine now as there have been over 400 virus relate deaths. On March 10th, it was announced that all upcoming professional soccer games in Spain, France and Portugal, as well as some in Germany and a European Championship qualifying match in Slovakia, will be played in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus outbreak; yeah, we’re just having a normal one because sports franchises and leagues LOVE losing money.

The CDC & World Health Organization are issuing warnings, travel advisories, urging against huge public gatherings while reminding people about the basics like washing hands and not going to gatherings if you’ve had the basic symptoms or have been in contact with anyone that has been to countries where affected people have been. Hell, Coachella & SXSW were rescheduled/cancelled and the 2020 E3 was as well. But I’m not here to talk specifics of the Coronavirus in medical terms, just it’s impact on professional wrestling, because I’m not a doctor, I just play one on the Internet…

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JAPAN

Due to where the Coronavirus started, the Japanese wrestling scene was hit first and hit the hardest, with multiple show cancellations in many promotions. Financially speaking, while NJPW & STARDOM have cancelled many shows, including the entire New Japan Cup (14 shows), they will be fine as Bushiroad owns them. In theory, NOAH & DDT should be fine since they have big money owners with deep pockets as well, but in both cases, lower card talent who are not on guaranteed deals, will suffer. But promotionally, they will be fine. It’s the smaller promotions that will suffer.

WRESTLE-1 already shut down, not due to the Coronavirus, but due to financial reasons. Comparatively to the promotions owned by conglomerates/big business, the smaller companies, AJPW, Dragon Gate, and many others will be the ones to suffer. BJW continues to be the only “major promotion” in Japan to not cancel shows, and I feel that this points to them potentially being unable to survive if they don’t run. Attendance has been bottoming out for the smaller promotions in recent years in terms of the ones that have continued to run. This Coronavirus crisis may eventually sink one of if not many of the smaller promotions.

For me, the bottom line is that if this isn’t contained, and I say this with no exaggeration, that if this isn’t contained quickly, it could cause a catastrophic impact on the lower end of the Japanese wrestling scene, and ruin the careers of many. This obviously isn’t the biggest concern overall, but in terms of business, it could theoretically destroy several lower level promotions.

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WRESTLEMANIA WEEK

And now I think we need to discuss what has become the biggest wrestling week/weekend of the year, WrestleMania week. The Hall of Fame, Smackdown, Takeover, WrestleMania, & Raw put on by WWE within five days, and that doesn’t include the AXXESS events. There are people that will right away say that WWE will never cancel the shows, and I partially agree, because if left up to WWE I am sure they will bull through and run the shows, but it may not be up to them, because in Japan, the government got involved and that could happen here. This would obviously be a blow to WWE, don’t get me wrong they will be fine financially, but canceling Mania week would be something no one ever saw coming in the past and disrupt the year for them.

For those that are saying there’s no way it happens, the NBA is discussing not only the scenarios that include moving some games to cities that have yet to suffer outbreaks, including opponent arenas or neutral sites, but also cancellations or empty arena games with only essential personnel. If Mania week is cancelled/postponed/moved, it will not only disrupt WWE’s schedule, but also hurt the host city as WWE regularly has an economic impact of well over $100 million a year for their host city. It’s such a huge international travel weekend, that I could see the government, at least locally, getting involved.

WWE is looking into this, and recently instituted a “no touching rule” due to the coronavirus over the for Superstar signings and appearances, but have stated that the company is committed to hosting WrestleMania 36 next month, and that they are carefully monitoring the situation. I see no way that WWE voluntarily cancels/postpones/moves Mania week, there is too much on the line and Vince refuses to budge under pressure, so if it happens, it will be because of some form of government pressure, and Tampa is having meetings in regards to possibly postponing/canceling big scale events going forward.

But WWE isn’t the only game in town, they are the biggest and the draw of the week, but there are also approximately 4,397 indie events happening that week. If Mania week is cancelled/postponed/moved, will anyone still make the trip for these shows? Tickets and flights and hotels are purchased and booked, and in theory, the indie shows may be able to get around “big event bannings,” and fly under the radar due to the small scale size of the shows. For some of these companies, Mania week is a goldmine, a windfall that helps them out financially for the entire year. But there are also shows every year that lose their asses. Many of these companies may fall into the same category as the smaller Japanese promotions and may not be able to afford not running. When considering the indies, for these shows, there are a lot of likely nonrefundable plane tickets bought and event-specific merchandise manufactured which would all result in huge losses.

According to various rumors/reports, as you would expect, WWE already has contingency plans set in case they have to cancel/postpone/move Mania. This includes such rumors of a possible postponement to the summer, or even just making a scheduled MSG show into Mania. The concerns are real. I have talked a lot on the podcast that the Coronavirus will have an impact on wrestling and that it will be bigger than most think, but as we get closer to Mania, I didn’t quite think we’d be actually talking about the potential cancellation/postponement of the biggest weekend of the year.

The World Health Organization declared that the Coronavirus COVID-19 is now classified as a pandemic. NCAA president Mark Emmert has announced that all championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, will take place with only essential staff and limited family in attendance. This is notable because there were first and second round matches scheduled for Amalie Arena (where WWE will hold Raw, Smackdown, NXT, & The Hall of Fame Ceremony).

BUT… as of this writing, the City of Tampa and Visit Tampa Bay Twitter accounts made public comments today, stating that as of now, WrestleMania 36 is planned to move forward as schedule.

“WrestleMania 36 currently remains on schedule. If you have any additional questions, please reach out to [email protected] for more details.”

BUT THEN, Tampa mayor Jane Castor has a much less equivocal statement. Speaking with 102.5 FM, saying that while they hope to hold the event as planned, they are still assessing the situation.

It’s a scary situation, people don’t know how to handle it and it has gone to extremes; on one hand you have the people hoarding and drinking hand sanitizer to cleanse themselves and apparently Coronavirusis started by a dirty ass judging by the toilet paper purchases. And the you have the “it’s fine, saying that you’re all sheep, fear mongers, more people die each day from ‘X, Y,& Z’ to make themselves feel better” crowd. Yes, you may be fine, you may survive and thrive, but what if you carry it to someone who doesn’t?

Donald Trump has announced that effective this Friday at Midnight, all travel from Europe to the U.S is suspended (this does not include the United Kingdom). The NBA postponed the rest of the season after Wednesday’s games. The Jazz and Thunder were quarantined for now in the arena as the Jazz’s Gobert tested positive for Coronavirus. Also, WWE MAY pull the plug on this Friday’s Smackdown taping in Detroit, Michigan and will instead broadcast Friday Night Smackdown and 205 Live this week from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. WWE statement on reports of Smackdown being moved or canceled this week: “WWE has not cancelled Friday Night Smackdown in Detroit, however, based on the current situation, we are putting contingency plans in place in the event that upcoming WWE shows are cancelled by government officials, civil authorities and/or local venues.

I don’t like to deal with extremes, I think it’s ridiculous, but I also feel that at the rate this thing is growing and spreading that hard choices have to be made. I know it ruins months of planning from the companies, the fans traveling, the city logistics, companies & fans along with myself will lose money so I don’t say this with reckless abandon, but I am on team cancel WrestleMania week, it just feels like the responsible thing to do for the fans, the wrestlers, the city of Tampa and healthy care workers. Some things are more important than wrestling…

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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The 411 on Wrestling Podcast returns to the 411 Podcasting Network for episode 98. On the show, 411’s Larry Csonka & Steve Cook review the latest episodes of NXT & AEW TV, look the Coronairus’ Impact on Wrestling, & preview the ROH weekend events. The show is approximately 105-minutes long.

* Intro
* The Coronairus’ Impact on Wrestling: 2:05
* AEW Dynamite (3.11.20) Review: 33:10
* NXT (3.11.20) Review: 58:40
* The Head to Head Comparison: 1.12.20
* ROH Weekend Preview: 1:18:42

* iTunes
* Spotify
* Stitcher
* Google Play

– End scene.

– Thanks for reading.