By Chuck Carroll
In what can only be described as a huge disappointment for Ring of Honor, a top company official says plans for their Madison Square Garden debut have been scrapped after World Wrestling Entertainment spoke with arena management to block the event. The about-face unfolded after Sinclair Broadcasting CEO Chris Ripley revealed the plans for the New York City mega-show during an interview with the Baltimore Business Journal last week. Sinclair Broadcasting is the parent company of ROH.
Although a firm date for the event was never set in stone, it was heavily rumored that the show would have countered WWE events next April during WrestleMania weekend. The week leading up to WWE’s signature event has become a wrestling bonanza with dozens of promotions also running shows in close proximity to capitalize on the surge of global fans who travel for the festivities.
“We had a deal and The Garden said they were backing out after communications from the WWE,” Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff said. “The Garden now won’t discuss other dates.”
Attorneys for Sinclair are planning to contact the involved parties in hopes of clearing the way for ROH to proceed.
“I’m hopeful that we can have a resolution so that we can get into that building and bring ROH and New Japan to the fans of New York City,” Koff said.
A show of that magnitude would likely have featured the top talent from New Japan Pro Wrestling. ROH already has a strong working relationship with NJPW as wrestlers from both organizations regularly appear on tours for both.
WWE has a long history of running shows at the famed NYC arena, including the first WrestleMania as well as WrestleManias 10 and 20. However, of late, WWE has been running an increasing number of shows at the nearby and more modern Barclays Center. The Vince McMahon-led promotion will use the newer facility for all events surrounding next year’s WrestleMania, including the Hall of Fame Ceremony, NXT Takeover, and RAW and SmackDown on consecutive nights following the massive pay-per-view. WrestleMania itself is being held at MetLife Stadium just across the water in New Jersey to maximize attendance. WWE is also holding its second largest pay-per-view event of the year at the Barclays Center in August, marking the fourth consecutive year the show will be held there.
It has been reported that WWE has an exclusivity agreement with MSG that bars other wrestling promotions from holding shows at the building. However, it has also been speculated that arena management had grown frustrated with increasing abandonment on the part of WWE.
Thus far, MSG officials are declining to discuss rescheduling any events with ROH, although Koff remains hopeful they will be able to reach a resolution.
WWE has not responded to a request for comment.
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In the meantime, ROH is scouting other larger arenas to hold events, as its popularity continues to climb. The company will hold its Best In The World show at the new 5,000-seat UMBC Event Center in Baltimore on June 29th. The following day they will hold a series of television tapings at Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia which has a capacity of 10,000. However, the arena on the campus of George Mason University was chosen for production capabilities rather than its capacity. Seating will likely be arranged to accommodate a much smaller crowd.
ROH has also placed an increasing focus on upgrading its production value.
“We have always been upgrading our production and are in a much-upgraded state,” said Koff, who added that some changes are more obvious than others.
“Now that we’re streaming HonorClub live, as fans come to live events, everybody can see that production is something that we invest in and continually improve,” he said. “I’m really proud of that.”
ROH officials are also pleased with HonorClub’s performance since its launch in April. According to Koff, subscriptions and viewership of the over-the-top pay streaming service are exceeding internal forecasts.
Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.