Since its inception, WrestleMania has become a global phenomenon, attracting audiences of all ages, worldwide. Celebrities, hardcore fans and casual watchers flock in droves to participate in what has become a week-long media juggernaut. Arena attendance records are smashed a year in advance and none seem too discouraged by the staggering ticket prices.
Attendance for WrestleMania rose exponentially in its first few installments, culminating with the record-setting clash between Hogan and Andre at WrestleMania 3. With massive crowds came immense gate revenue, as well as significant economic stimulation for the host city. WrestleMania was poised to become an event like the grand prix or Super Bowl in terms of ticket sales. However, waning interest, scandal and changes in popular culture -or lousy cards, some might argue- may have contributed to what we can now look upon at as a mere hiccup in dwindling attendance and gate revenue in the early 90’s.
This hiccup is a faint memory now and WrestleMania has continued to demolish venue attendance records consistently for the last decade. Since major resurgence of popularity around WrestleMania XIV, the freight train of an event has taken off and shows no signs of slowing down. Last year’s WrestleMania 29 marked a fourth consecutive record setting for gross revenue at an event of its host venue. Perhaps this year's WrestleMania, which took place in New Orelans last night will join this list, but that's a conversation for another day.
Here are the top 10 Wrestlemania gates, not necessarily in order of sales, but also importance and taking other significant factors into account.
9 WrestleMania XX – Attendance: 20,000, Gate: $2,400,000
“Where it all begins… again” was the tagline and in many ways it did WrestleMania and Madison Square Garden justice. What makes the gate for this event so impressive is the attendance. While it seems strange to sneeze at a ‘20,000+’ crowd, it does pale in comparison to most of the other events on this list. To compete in terms of gate revenue with a third of the attendance is nothing to sneeze at whatsoever.
The event was certainly not lacking in ‘big-name’ matches. Goldberg and Lesnar drew the ire of capacity crowd who booed their every move while The Undertaker and Kane had a solid installment in their life-long feud. The night ended memorably with the late Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero standing triumphant in the ring celebrating their long overdue moment in the sun. Perhaps it’s best to remember that night singularly in that one triumphant and powerful moment, when we consider the tragedy which ensued later.
8 WrestleMania XVII – Attendance: 67,925, Gate: $3,500,000
Many consider “X-Seven” to be the best WrestleMania ever and some boldly even claim it to be the best wrestling event ever. The card was solid and flowed seamlessly without being built on an abundance of ‘big-name’ legends returning or sensational gimmicks (ironically excluding the “Gimmick battle-royal”). It’s interesting to wonder how much more popular the event would have been if Mick Foley had agreed to face Mr. McMahon as proposed, instead of refereeing The Chairman’s fight against his son, Shane. An unforgettable three-way, tag-team TLC match between Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boys stole the show early, or else The Undertaker vs. HHH may have very well stolen it later. The show was none the less undeniably sold on a repeat clash between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock. The Rock outdid his previous ‘overselling’ of the stunner, and the ticket sales followed suit, accordingly. The record-setting crowd at the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas was the perfect venue for Wrestlemania to make some serious cash off a genuinely interested ‘wrestling’ audience.
7 WrestleMania XXIII – Attendance: 80,103, Gate: $5,380,000
Detroit’s massive Ford Field had its attendance record broken by WrestleMania XXIII, with upwards of $25 million being pumped into the local economy. The 23rd installment of the “Grandest Stage of them All’ earned the highest buy rate in WWE history, revealing more about the audience than the somewhat anemic card, which seemed to sell based on the media hyped McMahon vs Trump feud. Michaels vs. Cena and The Undertaker vs. Batista were worthy main events at the very least on paper.
The gate for this WrestleMania is significant since the tickets seem to have been sold on the WrestleMania name itself -if not for the virtue of Mr. Mcmahon’s incredible heat. The card wasn't anything to write home about when compared to preceding events with similarly massive attendance. ‘The Streak’ remained intact, thankfully and Shawn Michaels and John Cena told a great story which bridged a generational gap and left the capacity crowd roaring.
6 WrestleMania XXIV – Attendance: 74,635, Gate: $5,850,000
WrestleMania’s first trip to the sunshine state broke the attendance record at the Citrus Bowl, which is an impressive feat in itself. It also doubled the previous year’s figures for money pumped into the local economy, with over $50 million being stirred up by the week-long hype.
Floyd Mayweather lived up to his nickname, “Money,” as his showdown with the colossal Big Show would likely have been enough to draw a crowd itself. The match was surprisingly entertaining and was well supported by the standout “Money in the Bank” match and a triple threat between Cena, Orton and HHH.
Ric Flair being retired by Shawn Michaels was a beautiful moment worthy of the price of admission, while The Undertaker and Edge succeeded in truly captivating the audience and ensuring the janitors a sea of fingernails to sweep up after the event.
5 WrestleMania VI – Attendance: 67,678, Gate: $3,502,841
WrestleMania VI comes in appropriately at #6 with the gargantuan event taking its first trip outside of the US. The always entertaining crowd at SkyDome saw its attendance record smashed, partly by being the first event of its kind in Canada, but also on the draw of its sizeable card.
Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior could have sold out most arenas in North America at the time for their ‘title vs title’ collision. The bipartisan crowd was the perfect setting for a clash of two favorites and the rest of the card featured a who’s who of legends and up-and-comers which truly did the WrestleMania brand justice.
There was no shortage of celebrities at the event, ranging from Robert Goulet to Mary Tyler Moore and the event was not surprisingly a major box office success.
4 WrestleMania XXV- Attendance: 72,744, Gate: $6,900,000
WrestleMania’s return to Houston was a success across the board, generating $1 million more than the previous year, with an almost identical crowd. The event generated almost $50 million for the local economy and unsurprisingly, was the highest grossing WWE Pay-Per-View ever at the time.
The significance of this event drawing such ticket sales is the fact that the card was essentially based on current WWE Superstars and story-lines, rather than relying on celebrities or hype from legends. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker’s streak was worth the price of admission alone, while the co-main events saw HHH and Cena emerge triumphant from their respective title matches.
3 WrestleMania XXVIII – Attendance: 78,363, Gate: $8,900,000
The astronomical gate from a record crowd was built on hype from a main event between The Rock and John Cena which was set up a year before at Wrestlemania XVII. The year-long feud between the WWE’s ‘main guy’ and The Rock (now a major Hollywood star) ensured the WWE the ability to name their price for tickets and not an empty seat would be left in the house.
When looking at the card on paper, it doesn't seem nearly as impressive as the gate would have you believe. The Undertaker’s third installment in his completely unnecessary trilogy with HHH at WrestleMania could draw a crowd on its own, while CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho brought credibility to the card but not enough to necessarily justify such ticket prices.
2 WrestleMania XXII – Attendance: 17,159, Gate: $2,500,000
A measly $2.5 million doesn't seem to have its place this high on a list with ticket sales reaching the revenue of some small countries. However, the most staggering thing about WrestleMania XXII is the fact that it reached $2.5 million in gate receipts from just over 17,000 fans in attendance. For perspective, note that WrestleMania XIX drew almost the same gate ($2,760,000) with a crowd more than triple the size (54,097). This event marks the second-highest average price-per-head on this list, coming second only to the top spot on this list which isn't in the same league in terms of attendance or gate.
The card? Not too shabby but not necessarily the “Showcase of the Immortals” either. The Allstate arena in Richmond, Illinois was packed to capacity to witness McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels, among other things. The Undertaker’s streak was in no real jeopardy against an albeit very game Mark Henry. The triple-threat between Orton, Angle and Mysterio might have been worth ticket prices while John Cena’s submission victory over HHH was a fitting passing of the torch.
1 WrestleMania III – Attendance: 93,173, Gate: $1,600,000
The iconic main event between Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan will likely never be topped in terms of ‘household name’ vs international phenomenon. This event created the standard for the WrestleMania brand, setting the all-time WWE attendance record as well as for the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, becoming the first wrestling event to gross $1 million in ticket sales.
In terms of price per head, it doesn't seem to compete with the other WrestleManias on this list, but it’s important to note that this was merely the third installment of the event and wasn't nearly the media and marketing machine which virtually guarantees tickets will sell at any price, no matter how high. It’s also important to note that WrestleMania III set a record for closed circuit ticket revenue, with $5.2 million being generated from other arenas across the continent.
WrestleMania III set the benchmark for the most important show in wrestling and WWE has been trying to match or even outdo it ever since.
1. WrestleMania XXIX – Attendance 80,767, Gate: $12,300,000
There is simply no denying the numbers. Last year’s WrestleMania was the biggest ever. With slightly less pay-per-view buys than its predecessor, it is nonetheless the highest grossing WWE event in history. The gate receipts are one reason why. This marks the first time the WWE has cracked the $10 million mark at the box office and they did it by a comfortable margin.
At this point, the WrestleMania name alone could sell tickets for any price with two monkeys in the ring, let alone the cast of characters XXIX featured. John Cena and The Rock was a no-brainer while Brock Lesnar’s name alone seems to sell tickets consistently, no matter the sport. It seems fitting that The Undertaker match at the biggest WrestleMania to date was with CM Punk, bridging a generational gap seamlessly while creating a ‘Mania Moment.
The gate for WrestleManias seems to be increasing exponentially -much as it had in its infancy, yet the numbers have reached unworldly heights in comparison. One can only wonder what the thirtieth anniversary of the event will rake in with hype and anticipation properly built up and channeled to critical mass.