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The scoop on why WWE pulled out of Vancouver
By FRED JOHNS - SLAM! Wrestling


The PNE Agrodome.


VANCOUVER - The WWE normally comes to Vancouver at least once or twice a year and was scheduled to return tonight, October 16th, for a show at the PNE Agrodome. That event was then inexplicably cancelled not long after it was announced, leaving wrestling fans to wonder why.

It turns out fans might have a long wait ahead of them as it has come to light that the WWE pulled the show after the City of Vancouver enacted bylaw changes that may keep the WWE out of town for the foreseeable future.

That's grim news for Vancouver area wrestling fans who turn out in large numbers to any World Wrestling Entertainment event, but it is not surprising to anyone associated with sanctioning events within the city.

A UFC event was held in June in Vancouver, but not after considerable opposition to it was raised by members of Vancouver City Council. That controversy was over the violence of mixed martial arts, a combat sport that is much different from the entertainment professional wrestling provides. Nonetheless, the City of Vancouver sees no such distinction and have lumped the WWE in with UFC and other fighting promotions and have made it more costly for these events to be held here.

And it is a position it seems unlikely to deviate from.

"The current position of the City seems pretty intractable," said Mirko Mladenovic, a former Vancouver Athletic Commission Chairman. "It looks like they are going to stick to their guns on this. I don't think they're all that willing to move on their position. There was a unanimous decision from City Council to set this course and that's really all there is to it."

The disagreement stems from a recent series of decisions that are part of a city bylaw change that came into effect in April of this year. Before then and indeed, for the past 25 years, the WWE and the City of Vancouver have enjoyed the benefits of healthy relationship. Canada is a huge market for the WWE and when the events come to town, always do well. The city has been host to numerous television tapings and a few pay-per-views. As well, there is a potential bid for Vancouver to host an upcoming Wrestlemania but the recent bylaw changes have put the success of that bid -- and all other wrestling events -- in doubt.

With the rise in popularity of combat sports -- specifically mixed martial arts -- city councils nationwide have had to grapple with the issue of allowing these events within their city limits. In December of 2009, the City of Vancouver decided to implement a two-year trial on allowing these events. The June 11th UFC event at GM Place was approved by the VAC and the City in March 2010. Then, in April, the city enacted a bylaw change that altered how these events would be handled in the future. Of these changes, two immediately raised red flags for Mladenovic -- a seat tax increase and a demand for separate and distinct medical coverage for the athletes.

"I could tell right away this was going to a problem," Mladenovic said, and the VAC quickly went to work trying resolve these issues. But the Commission's proposals to the City were ultimately rejected and the bylaw changes remained on the books, meaning new policies existed that the WWE had no idea about until they made their regular call to Vancouver to book a show. To their surprise, they learned that business in Vancouver was anything but usual.

"Basically, they wanted things no other jurisdiction requires," Rich Hering, WWE VP of Governmental Relations and Risk Management, told SLAM! Wrestling. "Unfortunately, these new rules and regulations do not make it conducive for a promoter to promote in the City of Vancouver. Some of these issues came up after the show had already been scheduled. We explained this and they said they would look into these issues and get back to us and they did not do that in time. So we had to pull the date and move the event."

The issue of insurance was particularly confounding, Hering said, because the WWE self-insures all its wrestlers already. Each wrestler has unlimited insurance issued by a third-party company that will cover them for any injury or health issue.

"Nobody makes you have a separate and distinct policy when you are already showing proof of coverage," Hering further explained. "The fact is we already carry unlimited coverage for our wrestlers. Why would we buy something when we already have better coverage than they require?"

The issue of seat taxes was a serious issue for the WWE as well. Before the bylaw change, promotions were charged a ten cent per seat tax when events sold more than 500 seats. The new bylaw change increased that tax to one dollar per seat, an amount that Mladenovic called "exorbitant."

The October 16th WWE event was scheduled at the smaller PNE Agrodome, which has a seating capacity of 5,000 (although generally more seats are added at wrestling events since the ring is smaller than a traditional sports field). Before April, if the event sold out, WWE would have paid $500 in seat taxes. After the bylaw change, that amount increased to $5,000 -- a 1,000% increase. If the show were held at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, where many WWE shows have been held in the past, the event would cost $16,281 for the WWE if the event sold out -- up from $1,628 charged before the bylaw change. That amount goes up again if the event were held at the even-bigger Rogers Arena (formerly known as GM Place), where the Vancouver Canucks play.

Obviously, no company is thrilled being hit with a 1,000% tax increase and Mladenovic can understand why the WWE would pull its show under these circumstances.

"There is no way a pro wrestling promotion would pay these kinds of rates," Mladenovic said.

While serving on the commission, Mladenovic suggested an increase to 30 cents per seat, a rate that would put them on par for what promoters in Nevada are charged. That idea was summarily rejected. "So now the promotions have to pay this exorbitant rate. The house shows, like the one that was to be held here this month, are low-level shows and don't make much money so I don't see the WWE ever coming back to the city as things stand now."


Dave Teixeira
That's a bit of a problem for Dave Teixeira, the Chairman of the Vancouver bid for an upcoming Wrestlemania. "That seat tax is really unfortunate," he said "I think that's the highest tax rate in North America, if not the world. In my mind, Vancouver City is interfering with free enterprise and I sort of think maybe they have bigger fish to fry."

Teixeira also takes exception with pro wrestling being lumped in with "combat sports" and thusly, the increased medical insurance requirements. Since it is not the intent of the wrestlers to actually hurt anyone (unlike actual combat sports like MMA), they shouldn't be forced to have extra insurance for them.

"Think of it like this," Teixeira suggested, "When Cirque du Soleil came to town and did all those stunts in the air, were they asked for extra insurance? No. The Canucks had the worst riot ever here in 1994, is there extra insurance on them? Of course not. So I'm not really sure why they have picked the largest MMA and the largest sports entertainment company in the world to annoy, unless, of course, they simply see an opportunity to garner revenue."

If true, Mladenovic thinks maybe the city has a bit of a narrow view of things. "You have to remember that the bread and butter of the Vancouver Athletic Commission is pro wrestling," he said. Originally set up to sanction boxing, the VAC has a 65-year history of sanctioning wrestling events, and did so for as many as three shows a week back in the 1950s. (Recalling this history, Mladenovic said kindly, "Gene Kiniski was the most fined athlete in VAC history.") In the early 1980s, the VAC began a relationship with the WWE -- one that has been healthy and mutually beneficial until just recently. And it's just not the WWE that the VAC has supervised and sanctioned, as there are smaller independent wrestling promotions in Vancouver as well.

"Our primary clients for the past 65 years have been pro wrestling promotions," Mladenovic said. "Wrestling has kept the Commission alive for the past 20 years."

So what's changed?

Mladenovic believes it might just be as simple as the City Council and City Manager being anti-combat sports. These sports -- especially wrestling -- are the lifeblood of the VAC and Mladenovic theorizes that maybe, just maybe, the City Council would like the VAC to simply go away.

"If the City had their way, I think they would get rid of boxing, kickboxing, MMA and pro wrestling," Mladenovic said. "Wrestling is really what funds the Commission and if they got rid of pro wrestling, it would bankrupt the Commission. It would be finished. They wouldn't even have enough money to go down and make photocopies."

Does this explain what Teixeira calls the "changing hurdle" mentality of the VAC?

"Imagine you are a business owner and try to open a business in Vancouver and every time you want to hold an event, the rules are different," proposed Teixeira, a former wrestling promoter with ECCW. "That's seemingly what's taking place in Vancouver. The main problem is these rules are not codified and it makes no sense for the city not to have the standard written down and instead say it's all at the discretion of the City Manager. That's just not right." (Calls and emails sent to the Vancouver City Manager's office were not returned in time for this article.)

Still, Teixeira has not lost hope for his Wrestlemania bid, even while former VAC Chairman Mladenovic warns the City's position seems intractable. "Like all disagreements in life, some education and communication need to take place," Teixeira pointed out. "I know the combat sport promotions and the WWE are open to these kinds of conversations and I hope the City Council is as well."

The WWE's Hering supports this assertion.

"If Vancouver can resolve some of our concerns, we would certainly consider coming back," Hering said. "We've performed in Canada a lot and play a lot of markets in Canada as we always have. I'm sure the city will revise their current regulations and will make a decision as to whether they want to change the rules and if they do, we will absolutely consider coming back. Right now, however, it's up to the City to review their existing guidelines."

Colin McKay, 27 years old and a lifetime fan of the WWE, hopes the city and the WWE can come to terms. "This just makes no sense to me," he said after the situation was explained to him. "It's strange that here we are, in Vancouver, apparently a world-class city that can host the Winter Olympics, but not pro wrestling. I wasn't a huge fan of the Olympics, especially the price tag that came with hosting them, but pro wrestling doesn't cost the city anything. In fact, it makes the city money, doesn't it? I don't really care what the problem is. I'm an adult and don't need to be told what I can and cannot go see. I just want my wrestling back."

RELATED LINKS

  • WrestleMania Vancouver Bid Committee website

    Fred Johns has retuned to SLAM Wrestling to cover the West Coast scene. He can be reached at King_of_Chips@hotmail.com. Evidently, he will not be covering the October WWE event.