(CBSNewYork/CBS Local) --
UPDATE: After further consideration, WWE is making additional major changes to this year's WrestleMania. The show is expanding to become a two-night event and will broadcast from multiple locations. Plans now call for the show to begin Saturday April 4 and continue on the original date of Sunday April 5, with matches beginning at 7pm ET both nights.
The move is being made in response to increasing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines this week recommending public gatherings be limited to groups no larger than 10 individuals.
Additionally, former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski will serve as host of WrestleMania, WWE announced. Gronkowski recently signed with the company and is expected to wrestle at SummerSlam in Boston this August. He is slated to appear on Friday's edition of SmackDown that will emanate from the company's training facility in Orlando.
For the first time ever, the performers at WrestleMania, pro wrestling's grandest stage, will have no spectators. Rather than settle feuds inside of a packed stadium with 70,000-plus fans in the stands, WWE Superstars will instead be duking it out inside of a modest building with no onlookers. Perhaps the empty stands make this year's WrestleMania the biggest spectacle in the 36-year history of the event.
Due to mounting concerns over the coronavirus global pandemic, WWE is shifting WrestleMania from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, with only performers and essential crew members allowed on the premises. The show will still keep its original date of April 5th.
"In coordination with local partners and government officials, WrestleMania and all related events in Tampa Bay will not take place," a statement from WWE reads. "However, WrestleMania will still stream live on Sunday, April 5 at 7 pm ET on WWE Network and be available on pay-per-view. Only essential personnel will be on the closed set at WWE's training facility in Orlando, Florida to produce WrestleMania."
The decision brings an end to weeks of speculation as to the future of the event. With swaths of major sporting events and leagues having postponed or cancelled seasons and tournaments, WWE officials had continued to hold out hope that the show would be able to go on as planned. But with the quickly accelerating spread of the COVID-19 virus and mounting pressure from federal, state and local officials, it became clear that changes were necessary. The company finally acquiesced Monday evening.
Last week WWE executives, including Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, began ramping up efforts to craft contingency plans which included delaying the event until early summer. However, President Donald Trump stated Monday afternoon that the outbreak and response may linger until August. As such, significant doubt would still surround a rescheduled show. Hours later the WWE announced plans to hold WrestleMania at the Performance Center.
It's unclear whether the President's remarks factored into the timing of WWE's decision.
Events surrounding WrestleMania weekend will no longer take place as scheduled, including the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony on April 2nd and NXT TakeOver: Tampa on April 4th. It is not yet known whether they will also move to the Performance Center, a later date, or be cancelled. Pat Laprade, a member of the WWE French-language announce team, speculated that the NXT broadcast on Wednesday night prior to WrestleMania may become the de facto replacement for Takeover. He further stated that the Hall of Fame inductions could be woven into the Raw and SmackDown episodes scheduled for that weekend. The company says it will share further details as they become available.
Wall Street had cooled significantly on WWE even before the mass COVID-19-related selloffs. The stock closed at $30.44 Monday down from a 52-week high of $100.45. Investors are unlikely to react positively to the drastic changes that will wipe out much of what was to be one of the company's biggest revenue generators of the year. The stock continued to fall in after hours trading.
The decision to hold WrestleMania at the Performance Center was met with mixed emotions by performers.
"Heartbroken for everyone who was excited for WrestleMania in Tampa," Superstar Peyton Royce posted on Twitter. "I'm so sorry to the fans [Billie Kay] & I were so excited to meet. Our time will come!! This WrestleMania will go down in history. I'm grateful for the city & WWE for keeping everyone safe during this time."
Royce captured the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship by winning a fatal four-way match at last year's WrestleMania as one-half of the IIconics.
"I love you [Vince McMahon]. #ThankYouVince," Sasha Banks tweeted, alluding to the show must go on mentality.
"It breaks my [heart] to know that fans won't be able to attend WrestleMania," Banks later added. "They aren't just there to watch the show, they're apart (sic) of it! But priority #1 is everyone's health. So on April 5th we will do our very best to put on a show worthy of our fans. Its (sic) what you deserve."
Liv Morgan echoed Banks' sentiments.
"I'm so sorry to anyone this has inconvenienced, and I know those words don't even help, but BELIEVE we are gonna put on the best possible show for u all. WWE Forever," the former Riott Squad member tweeted.
Mojo Rawley is likewise excited that the show will go on.
"I don't know about y'all but I'm hyped for WWE WrestleMania to be live from the Performance Center on the previously scheduled date," Rawley posted. "Y'all wanted different, right? Here it is. Can't get more different than this! Any time, any place, in front of anybody. We're ready to work!"
Rawley is close friends with former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski who recently signed with WWE and is expected to appear at WrestleMania as well as this Friday's edition of SmackDown.
It is a virtual certainty that the future NFL Hall of Famer will wrestle when WWE holds SummerSlam in Boston this August. That date may also have played into WWE's decision to keep WrestleMania in April. Postponing until summer would have meant the company's two largest events of the year would take place in a short timeframe. Holding back-to-back mega shows could create a whole new set of logistical issues for the already stressed promotion.
WWE is likely to cancel all live arena events for the foreseeable future and continue broadcasting its television shows, including Raw and SmackDown, from the Performance Center.
WrestleMania 37 is scheduled to take place on March 28, 2021 at the newly opened SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.
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