Story on How the City of Orlando got Mania

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With WM 24 coming up, the Orlando Sentinel today put up a pretty good story about how the city got the event. The story can be found at this link & is below.

Orlando flexed its muscle to land showcase WWE event

Like true wrestling theater, the City of Orlando knew it had to make a big splash to land WrestleMania 24.

Enter Mayor Buddy Dyer, a trip to WWE headquarters and a borrowed catchphrase.

Before we tell you how this all unfolded, let’s start from the beginning, to get the complete story of how Orlando got the biggest wrestling event in the world.

In January 2006, WWE marketing adviser Bob Collins approached Centroplex officials Allen Johnson and Jon Dorman about the thought of bringing WrestleMania to Amway Arena. Collins, who helps scout out locations for the big event, was familiar with the arena because WWE had put on several Raw and Smackdown shows there.

Plus, WWE wanted WrestleMania 24 in a tourist destination. So Orlando was on a list with Miami, Tampa, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Until Collins approached them, nobody in Orlando seriously considered hosting WrestleMania.

But once Collins opened the door, Johnson and Dorman contacted the Central Florida Sports Commission to find out if the idea was viable for the city. John Saboor, president of the sports commission, got to work, learning more about the logistics of hosting the event, what type of economic impact it would bring to the city and why it attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world.

“We had to get our arms around the magnitude of the event,” Saboor said. “This is the Super Bowl of sports entertainment. We talked to other cities who hosted, saw corresponding economic windfalls. After talking to our partners at the city, we decided this was something we definitely wanted to pursue.”

After making that decision in the summer of 2006, Saboor and his team got to work. They needed to set up a strategy to win WrestleMania. Knowing it would not outspend Las Vegas or Atlantic City, or be able to compete with the adult attractions that come with those cities, Orlando laid out a three-point strategy:

*Create a good business deal for both sides. WWE would pay for its share of the setup, with the city making money off tickets, food and parking.

*Emphasize added value propositions. That means tying in the local community to help make the event a success. Saboor and Orlando wanted to make it a weeklong event where WWE became woven into the fabric of the community.

*Show how much Orlando wanted to embrace the event on every level. To that end, Saboor got letters of support from Dyer, Johnson, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, then-Governor Jeb Bush, Clear Channel, Bright House, and the Orange County Library. He included them in the proposal he submitted to WWE.

Saboor also had three more ideas that he hoped would set Orlando apart. He knew WrestleMania had never been held in the Southeast, so he wanted to emphasize that. He wanted to make the city’s pitch at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn. And he wanted to bring Dyer with him.

“Our thought was we could make an indelible impression to ask Buddy Dyer to travel to WWE headquarters to show how much we wanted this,” Saboor said. “When I called Mayor Dyer to ask if he’d be willing to travel with me, not only was his answer ‘yes,’ but it was ‘yes’ within five seconds.”

At the end of September 2006, Saboor and Dyer traveled to Connecticut. Saboor described himself as nervously excited as he walked into the WWE boardroom and saw Chairman Vince McMahon, CEO Linda McMahon and 10 other executives around the table.

It was extremely rare for anyone to make a presentation for WrestleMania in person. Bringing the mayor along was a first.

Saboor passed out silver binders engraved with WRESTLEMANIA 2008 ORLANDO. The cover page borrowed a famous catchphrase from wrestlers Shawn Michaels and Triple H: “We’ve got two words for you . . . Choose Orlando.”

He made a presentation outlining the benefits of staging the event in Orlando. The meeting lasted 90 minutes and then the group went to lunch, where Saboor and Dyer answered more questions about the bid.

“That visit of John Saboor and Buddy Dyer really made a difference,” Collins said.

“What means so much to WWE is when we’re really embraced by people. They showed heart, they showed passion, they showed enthusiasm. When they opened with ‘We’ve got two words for you’ everyone took notice.”

After lunch, Saboor and Dyer boarded a plane to head back to Orlando, discussing the day’s events. They had plenty of time, as they waited three hours on the runway before the plane took off.

“I felt very positive we were going to have a good outcome,” Dyer said. “The vibes were right, and making a personal appeal was very helpful. We showed how much we wanted to have WrestleMania here in the city of Orlando.”

The following week, WWE contacted Saboor and said the presentation was well received. Then, it was time to wait. All Orlando knew was that WWE would make a decision before WrestleMania 23 on April 1 in Detroit.

Early last year, WWE got back in touch with city officials. The company was leaning heavily toward Orlando, but there was one problem. WWE wanted it to be moved from Amway Arena to the much bigger Florida Citrus Bowl, realizing it couldn’t go from having 70,000 people at WrestleMania in Detroit to 15,000 at Amway.

The WWE was familiar with the Citrus Bowl because of its XFL days, and, though it knew the old stadium would present some challenges, it asked for the change. Saboor had to find out if the Citrus Bowl was available and then started studying 10 years of weather patterns with the National Weather Service.

WrestleMania had only been staged once before outdoors, in Las Vegas in 1993, so taking it to the Citrus Bowl was a risk. But it was one WWE wanted. Once Saboor found out the Citrus Bowl was available, the deal was done.

Orlando won the bid.

On March 21 at a news conference in City Hall, the official announcement was made. Music blared, wrestlers and divas mingled with 250 people crammed into the room. “You always want to come where you’re welcome,” Vince McMahon told the crowd.

The WrestleMania festivities kick off March 24 with events planned throughout the week. Amway will host the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 29, and WrestleMania will take place the following evening. Now that there is a little more than a month to go, Orlando is ready.

Saboor, meanwhile, already is thinking about bidding for another WrestleMania.



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