Orlando recently hosted a UFC Fight Night and a WWE Royal Rumble.
It’s not the first time the city showcased big shows successfully. With the attractions, eateries, hotels, major airport, weather and especially the venues, the city knows how to host large crowds for super events like those.
Allen Johnson is someone working from within, helping to make it happen.
Johnson is the executive director of Orlando Venues, a post held since September 2004. He is overseeing administration and operations at the Amway Center, Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, Orlando Citrus Bowl, Orlando City Soccer Stadium, Tinker Field, Henry P. Leu Gardens, Mennello Museum of American Art. He is also a member of the Central Florida Sports Commission.
Because of Johnson and others in the Orlando hierarchy, WWE enjoys a solid working relationship with the city, and the company decided to hold the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, one of its biggest shows of the year, at the Amway Center on Sunday, Jan. 24.
“Our capacity for that event -- with production kills -- was a little over 12,000, and it sold out,” he said. “Every time we put tickets on sale for allotments and pre-sales, it sold out.”
A WWE Royal Rumble ticket is coveted.
“A wrestling crowd is typically family oriented,” Johnson said. “You’ll see a father with a couple of kids. You’ll see mothers there. You’ll see people there from 8-80.”
The Amway Center, which can seat 20,000, is also the NBA home of the Orlando Magic.
“We consider it one of the best arenas, if not internationally, in the country,” a proud Johnson said. “David Stern, former commissioner of the NBA, said that, after we opened [in 2010]. We won the NBA Fan Experience Award.”
The Magic plays 41 home games, leaving plenty of dates available for other events at the Amway Center.
“It was built with these national and international events in mind, including the production capabilities an event such as the Royal Rumble requires,” he said. “We also had the NBA All-Star Game, NCAAs, boxing as well as UFC twice. We just had the circus. So it’s just a wide variety of events in this venue, and it’s a great destination.”
Orlando is a tourist destination, accommodating the masses traveling from around the world.
“Orlando is extremely popular, the No.1 tourist attraction in the country,” said Johnson, who worked at the now defunct West Palm Beach Auditorium, which facilitated CWF and WWF shows.
WWE’s biggest attraction, WrestleMania, chose Orlando as its home in 2008, and Johnson was there. The spectacular -- attracting tens of thousands of people from around the world for a week of festivities -- is the top pro wrestling/sports entertainment event annually.
WrestleMania 31 in 2015 became the highest grossing live event in WWE history and broke the attendance record for Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. It grossed $12.6 million, as 76,976 fans from 50 states and 40 countries converged on the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. WrestleMania 29 at MetLife Stadium in 2013 in East Rutherford, N.J. posted WWE’s prior record for gross revenue at $12.3 million.
“WrestleMania is a huge international event,” Johnson said. “Not only do you sell out the stadium but it’s a pay-per-view event with millions around the world watching it.”
WrestleMania 24 in 2008 set the Citrus Bowl record for attendance (74,635), ticket sales and gross concession sales.
Johnson noted: “One big surprise I had was how big of an international draw it was, after talking to people and doing research on where the tickets were sold. I was thoroughly amazed how many tickets were sold internationally.”
Orlando is now in the running for WrestleMania again. This time the 2017 version -- WrestleMania 33.
“We have the infrastructure that appeals to both the domestic and international traveler,” Johnson said. “Between the airports, the world class attractions, world class lodging, all those help us and assist us in securing events of this caliber.”
Major improvements, costing $207 million, to the 70,000-plus seat Citrus Bowl, is making the city even more attractive in luring major events like another WrestleMania.
“I think we’re ready for it,” Johnson said. “We’re prepared to whatever year they decide to come back. We’re ready for them, and we now have the infrastructure in place to accommodate it much better than before, and they know that. They’ve toured the stadium. They’ve been here and seen what we now are capable of versus what we were capable of. That gets us in the conversation to host one of those events.”
The Citrus Bowl in 2016 is much different from the Citrus Bowl in 2008.
“Almost 95-percent of the venue is brand new construction,” Johnson said. “We did demolition and then new construction. It’s still an open stadium, but what happened is all the sidelines are now seats with arms and backs -- where before they were bleacher type seating. All the seats in the end zone are seats rather than a bleacher.
“We have a 360-degree lower level, where you can walk all the way around. We did not have that before. We also have a mid-level plaza level. That’s very popular with patrons. Whether you have a $5 ticket or a $500 ticket for an event, you can meet your friends on the North Plaza deck. New restrooms, new scoreboard, new concessions with a variety of food options that we were unable to do before in the older venue.”
The new and improved Citrus Bowl opened in November 2014.
Johnson said: “It allows us to be in the conversation, where before at the older venue we didn’t have the infrastructure in place to repeat some of those big events that we were lucky enough to have.”
The Rolling Stones played the new Citrus Bowl.
“We were the only date in Florida for the Rolling Stones,” said Johnson, a graduate of the University of Central Florida and St. Cloud High School. “We are the only venue that I’m aware of that hosted three bowl games [Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl, MEAC/SWAC Challenge], and we’re now the home of the MLS soccer team, and we’re the Florida destination for the Copa America Centenario.”
Soccer will be moving into a new 25,000-seat venue in 2017.
Orlando City Stadium is a soccer-specific stadium in Downtown Orlando. Near the Amway Center, it will be the home venue for Orlando City SC, which entered Major League Soccer as an expansion franchise in 2015, and their National Women’s Soccer League sister club the Orlando Pride.
Orlando Venues runs the Citrus Bowl and the Amway Center, which means two facilities under one banner (a one stop shop that can house WrestleMania, NXT, WWE Hall of Fame, and Monday Night Raw during a WrestleMania Week).
“That allows us to centralize some of the operations aspects of operating the venues,” Johnson said, “so we don’t have separate managers at each venue. We have one management team in place for both of them.
“Having a team in place and the same management -- I’ve been here 12 years, so I’ve done those events -- certainly gives us familiarity with what the needs are of those organizations, even though I would say WrestleMania has grown since the last time we had it.
“Those things are beneficial because of the experience that you have allows you to...like the Rolling Stones, a lot of the Stones’ gigs were in college stadiums, not in arenas. It was nice when we dealt with the promoter who said to us, ‘This is really nice to not have to explain everything,’ compared to a college venue that doesn’t normally have events.
“Having that experience and an experienced seasoned team allows us to rise to the occasion to handle any event they can fit inside our venues.”
Those venues have fit UFC and WWE events.
“It’s very comforting for them to know that they’re walking into a place that’s already prepared to handle their events,” Johnson said.
Orlando housed a successful UFC Fight Night on FOX in December at the Amway Center.
“UFC has really not played Florida for a lot of years,” Johnson said. “They had a less than spectacular experience in one of the South Florida venues [in April 2003 in Miami]. So we worked hard to convince them to bring [UFC Fight Night] here.
“When we had the boxing match that sold out with Miguel Cotto [in October 2013], we were sending them texts that night saying, ‘Hey, here are the numbers for boxing. Why don’t you consider us for UFC.’ It took a lot of salesmanship on our part to get them here [in April 2014], and then, of course, we had to produce, and we sold the event out. The last event [in December 2015] was very close to a sell out.
“So the numbers speak for themselves. If you’re able to sell tickets, that’s going to bring events back to your market.”
- Orlando Interactive
- WWE WrestleMania 32
WrestleMania 32 is Sunday, April 3 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
- Pro Wrestling On The Web
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