Ever since it opened in 1962, what is now called Royal Farms Arena has included professional wrestling as a staple among its events.
Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, "Superstar"
Billy Graham, George "The Animal" Steele, Haystacks Calhoun, Ivan Koloff, Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, The Rock, John Cena, Jeff and Matt Hardy -- they've all been in the squared circle in downtown Baltimore. In fact, Sammartino lost his World Wide Wrestling Federation title to Graham in Baltimore April 30, 1977.
Of course, the WWWF is now World Wrestling Entertainment, but they're still coming to Baltimore.
And Baltimore loves it.
"They are a market staple," Arena general manager Frank Remesch said. "We have two to three shows every year, which do phenomenally well."
In the past, the Arena actually played host to more wrestling than that.
According to the website WWFOldSchool.com, the WWWF first came to the Arena Feb. 6, 1963. The headline match that night was between Rogers, the WWWF champion at the time, and Bobo Brazil. The site lists 11 nights of wrestling at the Arena in 1963 and 13 nights in 1964.
"In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we would literally have one show every month and a half," Remesch said. "Now we don't have as many, but they're all monster sellouts."
And that included the June 4 "Extreme Rules" pay-per-view event, which featured Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, Samoa Joe and Alexa Bliss, and drew an announced crowd of 11,769.
Professional wrestling is but a small part of the huge buffet of events served up at Royal Farms Arena, which is owned by the city of Baltimore and managed by suburban Philadelphia-based SMG. In June, for example, acts as diverse as Neil Diamond, Chance the Rapper and Journey will perform there, as will the Baltimore Brigade of the Arena Football League.
Remesch started working at the arena in 1988 as an electrician. He was later the operations manager and was promoted to GM in 2004. He said he loves when WWE comes to town.
"They just do a great job," he said. "I can't tell you how well they treat my staff. Everybody in that organization is terrific, from the behind the scenes folks to the stars.
"They're professional. They know what they're doing. They've been in this building. Everything about it is no-nonsense. They are a joy to have. When you sell the building out and have no complaints, I think that's a win, win, win, win."
And Remesch said the WWE is good to more than just his staff. It is good for the city's economy, too.
"I don't think people grasp this," he said. "People do come from out of state to watch these events. I think people lose sight of that."
And that's easy to do. WWE, which declined to make an executive available to speak with PressBox, puts on hundreds of events each year. In the days before its June 4 show at the Royal Farms Arena, there were WWE shows in Trenton, N.J., Reading, Pa., and Bridgeport, Conn. And this summer, WWE will be in Bel Air, Md., Wildwood, N.J., Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Newark, Del. All are within easy driving distance of Baltimore.
But, Remesch said, "if you call the Days Inn [directly across the street from the arena], they will tell you their numbers spike, when we have a show."
And it's more than that, he added.
"The net economic impact to the area is large," Remesch said. "It's hard to quantify, but it's a natural progression. When you have an event that sells 11,000 to 12,000 seats, you're selling a lot of hot dogs and popcorn and cotton candy, you're keeping a lot of union workers employed. The larger wrestling shows -- the pay-per-views -- we could have 400 to 500 people working on one day."
And Remesch said he isn't even bothered when WWE brings a show to the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College in Bel Air, as was scheduled for June 16, less than two weeks after his June 4 show.
"It's apples to oranges," he said. "That's a smaller venue. It's not even close to the [Royal Farms] Arena. I want them to do well because it's better for the market all around."
Issue 234: June 2017