There are few venues as synonymous with the WWE as the iconic Madison Square Garden. Many of the biggest moments in WWE history have taken place at the venue including Hulk Hogan’s first title win, Jimmy Snuka leaping from the top of the steel cage through to the inuagural WrestleMania. Today we look at the WWE’s relationship with MSG.
“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”-Frank Sinatra (New York, New York)
Historically, New York City has been a place where many have come to make it big in their life and career. Whether that be to become a success in entertainment, business or just start fresh…NYC was always the place to be. New York City didn’t just have a beautiful skyline…in many ways it was paved in gold. From Broadway to Wall Street, there has always been people scratching and clawing to “make it” in the Big Apple. The same could very well be said about professional wrestling.
While many certainly have made good money in other territories around the country and around the world…there was always something special about making it in New York. NYC always seemed to have the brightest spotlights and perhaps the biggest pay days. It only makes sense considering that New York is the #1 media market in the entire world. While wrestling had some legendary arenas across the country whether it be the Cobalt in Detroit, the Sportatorium in Dallas, the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles or the Mid South Coliseum in Memphis, there seemed to be nothing quite like headlining a card in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Madison Square Garden or MSG for short has had many nicknames such as the Mecca or the World’s Most Famous Arena…and in many ways it indeed was. So many wrestling greats have competed on this stage including names like Antonio Rocca, Primo Carnera, Gorgeous George, Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Superstar Billy Graham, Buddy Rogers and countless others. While the Garden has changed addresses and looks throughout the years, it still remained a huge venue to compete in.
For some time, main-eventing a Madison Square Garden show was equivalent to headlining a Wrestlemania card. For three generations, the McMahon family has controlled the NYC market and booked shows at MSG. It was the the WWWF/WWF/WWE’s home for years.
So many memorable moments in wrestling took place at MSG whether it was a wrestler winning the world title ala Bruno Sammartino, Ivan Koloff or Hulk Hogan. It was the venue where Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka ascended the top of a steel cage and jumped off. It was the site of the very first Wrestlemania a show that catapulted the WWF into national expansion. The site where Fabulous Moolah screwed over Wendi Richter for the women’s title. The site where ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin first stunnered Vince McMahon and started a legendary feud. It was the place where a young man named Rocky Maivia first debuted for the company.
For years, before the creation of Monday Night Raw, MSG would tape house shows from MSG and air them on their Madison Square Garden network. So many Raw’s, Smackdown’s and countless pay per views emanated from MSG. Then, it started to slow down. Not as many house shows or big WWE events came from the arena. It got to a point when only a few house shows would only grace the Garden. Odd considering this was Vince McMahon’s backyard. This was his stomping grounds. What happened?
Former voice of the WWE broadcasts and former Vice President of Talent Relations Jim Ross explained what went wrong:
“We’ve done TV shoots like Raw in the Garden, sell the Garden out, and lose money on the gate. Of course, you’ve got to pay the talent. So, the issue there is that in theory, WWE could run the Garden for TV, and the cost of the TV would far exceed the cost of the gate. We did million dollar shows there several times there – that are Raws – but you lose money more likely than not. If you’re lucky, you might break even.”
It was clear that the owner of Madison Square Garden James Dolan was charging more and more to run shows out of MSG. He basically ran the WWE and other forms of entertainment like the NFL draft and Ringling Bros circus out of his venue. MSG had gone under a very expensive renovation project and to help cover the costs, raised the rent on all non Dolan owned ventures.
Looking back, the last Raw to air in MSG took place on November 16th, 2009 and the very last pay per view from the Garden was the Survivor Series on November 20th, 2011. The WWE did host the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony there in 2013 and did conduct a WWE network special live from the Garden on October 3rd, 2015 but since then only a house show has sprung up since.
It is not like the WWE abandoned NYC altogether. In fact it has conducted the last two Summerslam’s in New York. The only thing is, they have taken place across the river in Brooklyn at the much newer and less expensive Barclays Center. It seems with the rising rent of MSG and the closing of the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York, the Barclays has become the new New York home for the WWE. In a way, it is sad considering all the rich history in the building that Bruno Sammartino consistently sold out. The place where the McMahon’s are in the MSG hall of Fame.
Will the WWE ever return for a big show at the Garden whether that be a TV taping or a pay per view? Highly unlikely if the Dolan family is still running the Garden. For now, even though the Garden still stands tall, all we have are the memories, memories of of a once great arena housing the biggest and brightest wrestling stars.
“No Sleep Til Brooklyn.” – Beastie Boys