It might not be a true “sport,” but like die-hard Vikings or Wild fans, more than 5 million of its followers spend hours watching it on TV, tracking the careers of their favorites, pay big bucks for related gear, drive miles and even sit in subfreezing temperatures all night for a good ticket.
“I’ve been a fan since I was 10 years old,” said 30-year-old J.J. Giebel of his passion for professional or championship wrestling. He’s introduced his love of wrestling to his two sons and his wife, and now they too are fans.
And they are not alone.
The Mayo Civic Center estimates it will sell up to 3,900 tickets — with many being walk-ups the day of the event — by the time the first match of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Raw Live starts Saturday night. Some of those tickets, like the nine that Giebel and his friends camped out all night on Jan. 3 to buy, cost $50.
“Anytime there is an event in Rochester, the Cities or even in Wisconsin, we’ll be there — no ifs, ands or buts,” he said.
Dale Gagne of Rochester, a wrestling promoter for 21 years, said the appeal is simple.
“It is the good guys against the bad. The storylines are all about good versus evil,” he said.
While the events are famous for rough fighting, that does not mean the crowd is unruly.
“They are truly the most appreciative and kindest of fans. They pick up their own trash. They always say please and thank you,” said Donna Drews, managing director of the Mayo Civic Center.
And the restaurants, gas stations and bars of Rochester might also be appreciative.
Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Visitor and Convention Bureau, estimates Raw Live will pin down about $150,000, not including ticket sales. It’s an average of $30 per person.
“It is the same as a Jehovah’s Witness convention,” said Gagne of the economic impact. The Jehovah’s Witness groups meet in Rochester several times during the year at the civic center.