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WWE Continues to Grow its Biggest Partnership to Date … ESPN

Sunday April 3rd WWE fans will have their “Super Bowl” in Wrestlemania 32. Notice I said WrestleMania 32? This is the 32nd year the WWE has held their annual showcase. 32 years … a long time for what some consider “a guys version of a soap opera.”

On March 31st 1985 Wrestlemania was born and held in New York’s famous Madison Square Garden. It was a hit in the wrestling world and became the staple of the pay-per-view line-up the WWE currently has. In 1987 WrestleMania 3 was held in Detroit at the Pontiac Silverdome. It actually set an indoor attendance record at the time for a sporting event. 93,173 people packed the Silverdome to see what this “soap opera” is about. That record set at the Silverdome stood until 2010 when it was finally broken by that year’s NBA All-Star game. The WWE has even been popular enough to go outside the United States, twice holding Wrestlemania in Canada.

For everyone that isn’t a die-hard, hardcore, fan, the “Road to WrestleMania” (as they call it) kicks off in January at their Royal Rumble. In a nutshell, the Royal Rumble is basically a glorified Battle Royal except the participants don’t all begin in the ring at the same time. They start with 2 contestants and every two minutes the next athlete enters the mayhem until they have a winner. That winter automatically receives a “Golden Ticket” to WrestleMania to headline the event and a crack at whomever the World Wrestling Federation Champion may be at the time.

WWE CEO Vince McMahon is a businessman that’s always had a finger on the pulse of pop-culture. He has strategically dived into the celebrity world in an effort to boost his league’s popularity. In the past he’s brought in a slew of guests such as Steven Amell of ‘Arrow’ fame, Arnold Schwarzenegger, LL Cool J, Jon Bon Jovi, and even now-presidential candidate Donald Trump all have made appearances. Who could forget ‘Jersey Shore’ Snooki’s appearance?

In the earlier years of Wrestlemania, the WWE even went as far as having former Yankees manager Billy Martin serve as a special guest ring announcer for a main event that teamed Rocky III alums Mr. T and Hulk Hogan (top). In that same match, Liberace played the role of timekeeper and the one and only Muhammad Ali acted as the special guest referee. McMahon also landed some big names in the professional sports field as well. Lawrence Taylor headlined a match against Bam-Bam Bigelow. Wrestlemania II was loaded with high profile NFL players from the Bears, Falcons, and Cowboys. Floyd Mayweather has even made appearances along with Mike Tyson, just to name a few.

This all brings me to WrestleMania 32. With all the celebrities and pro athletes that have worked with the WWE in the past, the league continues to cultivate it’s biggest partnership to date, the sports network juggernaught,  ESPN.

The relationship between the WWE and ESPN may have began as early as 2008 when former WWE performer “The Coach” Jonathan William Coachman began his employment at ESPN. Coachman always seemed to make some type of wrestling analogy or reference, mixing it in with his broadcast. For me, it showed the passion for the “sport” was still there. The network’s experiment with the WWE continued to grow when it was announced five months ago that on Tuesday nights on Sports Center at 9 p.m. The broadcast would feature weekly spots in which ESPN would interview different wrestlers currently in the WWE stable and some that were recently retired.

It has been advertised that ESPN will feature “Super Bowl-type” coverage of the event all day Sunday until the festivities kick off and include pre and post analysis. That a “fake” event is now being publicized on this scale by quite possibly the biggest sports media network in the world is definitely a sign of how far the WWE has come.

To date, the pairing between the WWE and ESPN has formed an interesting partnership. As we move forward, as a wrestling fan, I’m still a little concerned about the over-exposure that ESPN can sometimes bring to a subject. This may not be the best forum for a product billed as “Sports Entertainment” given the pre-scripted nature of the WWE. That said I’m curious to see how this progresses.

It took 32 years to bring the two companies together; there may have been a reason it wasn’t done sooner.

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