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A Peek Behind The Curtain: The Business Of Indie Wrestling During WrestleMania Weekend

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A Peek Behind The Curtain: The Business Of Indie Wrestling During WrestleMania Weekend

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: WWE) will hold its flagship event, WrestleMania, this Sunday at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey. The 35th iteration of WWE's event is slated to break history for the company with its first women's main event, featuring former UFC fighter Ronda Rousey.

Last year’s WrestleMania broke the record for the highest grossing event at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, generating $14.1 million and besting its own $10.9 million sum in 2014.

This year’s event brings scores of wrestling fans to the New York/New Jersey area from around the world -- many of whom won't even attend a single WWE event. Instead, they will take part in the several independent wrestling events held in the area.

See Also: John Oliver Roasts WWE Again, This Time About Health Benefits And Independent Contracts

Battle Royale

In recent years, WrestleMania's host city began to bring scores of independent and international promotions hosting their own shows. New and established independent promotions offer fans numerous events each night, featuring some of the top talents in the business not in WWE.

For fans, the scores of promotions in town give them more of what they love. Often, these shows vary from WWE's product. For those in the business, WrestleMania week offers benefits in the form of career growth and earning potential.

One of the more unique promotions on the independent scene is Kaiju Big Battel, where wrestling meets Godzilla-style Japanese kaiju monsters. Since 1997, the promotion has had regulars and world-renowned guest wrestlers performing as costumed monsters including Silver Potato, Dusto Bunny and the primary villain, Dr. Cube.

Perry Von Vicious is an 11-year industry veteran and has wrestled for Kaiju Big Battel for roughly two years now. He considers WrestleMania weekend an opportunity different from the rest of the year.

"This is the weekend where I'm in front of the most fans in a single weekend, but it's also where I didn't bring any of my merch because at the show I'm on, it's not going to sell." He added, “There are way bigger names, and at Kaiju, no one knows it's me in the suit.”

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American Beetle (Steve Huey). Photo by Andrew Ward.

Everybody's Gotta Price

Depending on the promotion and its promoters, the reason for being here varies slightly. Mike Quackenbush is a 25-year industry veteran, serving as a wrestler in addition to opening his own Philadelphia-based training facility. In 2002, he founded the promotion Chikara Pro, which held an event during WrestleMania week in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Quackenbush noted that a wrestler could have a "very profitable" week if they're willing to travel between shows in New York and New Jersey, which he said comes with its own anxiety.

He doesn't see the week being profitable for a promotion.

"I think as the overall cost of being part of the 'Mania week conversation only balloons astronomically over the last three years, it's not directly profitable to be involved anymore as a promotion,” Quacknebush said.

Renting space was a pain point Quackenbush singled out.

“Outside of the WWE bubble, it's, sort of, maintained by just a handful of people. It is up to them to decide what fair market value might be.” He elaborated, “If this person this year could get away with charging $4,000 for the venue rental well, next year could we get $5,000? Could we get 7,500? What are you willing to pay to be part of that dialogue?”

Instead of profiting, he explained that the show’s purpose is more about having the promotion on the scene and being part of the wrestling community's conversation. He likened WrestleMania week to the industry's prom.

"We will show up in our Sunday best. We will put on our prom dresses. We'll get all dolled up and we will do our very best and glamorous at the big dance with everyone else, but prom only comes around once a year...We must put our best foot forward.”

See Also: Triple H, Stephanie McMahon Talk WWE's Future Ahead Of WrestleMania 35

Guardians Of The Independent Scene

Steve Huey has wrestled for Kaiju Big Battel for three years now. Unlike Quackenbush, he sees the week as a lucrative opportunity.

"We don't really talk too much about [sales figures], but everybody does well," Huey said. "No matter what wrestling promotion, as long as you're in a place that there are people, there is money to be made that...We do insane on merch this weekend."

Kaiju Big Battel works with the World Wrestling Network to put on events with other promotions around the world, including Evolve Wrestling in the U.S., DDT Pro Wrestling in Japan and Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Germany. Kaiju Big Battel and DDT will host solo and co-branded shows together during WrestleMania week.

That said, independent wrestling doesn't offer many an opportunity to work full-time in the field. Both Huey and Von Vicious noted working day jobs during the week, though pay may be increasing as promotions increase in popularity as brands grow. This includes U.S.-based independent promotion Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s dual card selling out Madison Square Garden during WrestleMania week.

'Exceptionally Optimistic'

After WrestleMania, both promotions and performers go back to work. Huey pointed out the benefits of a social media bump while Von Vicious made the week mirror any industry networking event.

"I'll use this as a really great opportunity to network with a lot of people that I might not run into otherwise," Von Vicious said. "I'm making those connections and it's building to the rest of the year; I'll make more money.”

Six months from now, Quackenbush expects the industry to be undergoing a transformative year. He credits this mostly to the emergence of a new wrestling promotion, All Elite Wrestling, which comes backed by the billionaire Khan family and a series of major independent wrestlers.

"Where we are in independent wrestling six months from now will seem so distant in the rearview mirror that it seems like an alternate reality."

Quackenbush says despite his concerns in the industry, he's "exceptionally optimistic" about the future of the art form: "I just can't wait to see where it goes, and I'm excited for whatever very minor role I get to play in that."

Posted-In: All Elite WrestlingNews Sports Events Top Stories Exclusives Interview General Best of Benzinga

 

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