Exclusive: WWE Royal Rumble 2023’s record-setting ticket sales and inflated attendance

Our public records request to the City of San Antonio reveals details about the ticketing business for WWE’s Royal Rumble event on January 28 at the Alamodome. Additionally, we learned how WWE came to its exaggerated attendance figure announced on the broadcast.

This year’s Royal Rumble sold 44,569 tickets, generating $7.3 million in net ticket sales revenue for WWE.

WWE’s announced gate was $7.7 million, which likely includes service fees.

Ticket audit records indicate 2,662 tickets were given away for free.

The number of fans whose tickets were scanned and entered the building was 42,928.

WWE’s announced attendance for the Rumble was 51,338 as the company made an effort to count “anyone with a heartbeat,” as a WWE employee put it to members of Alamodome staff in emails obtained as a result of our records request.

Actual attendance figures — or any business metric — tend to be a contentious subject for wrestling fans who look to economic results as a scoreboard to justify or discredit creative decisions about which stars are featured and which wrestlers get to be the winners of predetermined matches.

WWE and other live event promoters announcing inflated attendances is not a new phenomenon, certainly. For one prominent example, WWE’s biggest live audience in its history is supposed to have been for Wrestlemania 32 in 2016, when an announced 101,763 people were claimed in attendance at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. However, the count of fans actually admitted through the turnstiles, according to the local police department, was 80,709 — still, among WWE’s highest attendances ever, if not the highest, in terms of actual spectators. And for one more example, we may never come to a consensus about just how many fans attended Wrestlemania III at the Silverdome in 1987.

Communications between WWE and Alamodome staff, though, provide some insight into how WWE, at least in the case of Royal Rumble 2023, came to an attendance figure announced on the broadcast that was 9% higher than the number of tickets distributed, 15% higher than paid ticket sales, and 20% higher than the number of fans whose tickets were scanned.

Beginning three days before the Royal Rumble, WWE’s Director of TV Event Relations began communicating with Alamodome staff to determine the event’s eventual announced attendance of 51,338. 

The email excerpts below are edited to remove employees’ names, mainly because they’re not public figures.

The WWE employee asked for a count of every person in the venue, including the capacity of suites, and anyone working at the Alamodome, including security and parking personnel.

WWE Director of TV Event Relations (Wed. 25 Jan, 6:55 PM CT): 

Hello all, Gathering up all the pertinent information for WWE TV attendance figure for the TV broadcast on Saturday. This is an “asses in the venue” number. If you have a heartbeat we count you. 

Therefore, looking for the following information:

1. Total suite capacity for the venue. This would include standing room in the suites and any killed suites on the south end.

2. Total venue staffing number for the venue on site for the show. This would be everyone…venue staff, operations, housekeeping, concessions, security, parking, etc.

Don’t need an answer right now but will need it before Saturday.

Alamodome Event Services Manager (Wed, 25 Jan, 7:06 PM CT):

RE: Royal Rumble total attendance (including staffing) request

We will work on this and have it to you by Friday.

Alamodome Box Officer Manager (Thu, 26 Jan, 1:26 PM CT):

I can speak for the Suite portion of this question…

With suites 1-8 and 45-52 not in use, and the Press Box not being used for Ticketed Patrons (which we do sometimes do for concerts like Elton John and Bad Bunny), the total Suite capacity including SRO’s for Saturday is 694 persons.

WWE’s Director of TV Event Relations made an effort to get the count higher, wanting to add in vacant suites and the vacant press box as if they were at capacity, which emails indicate weren’t occupied for the Rumble. It turns out, WWE wanted to include in its TV attendance count “everyone with a heartbeat,” as well as some people who weren’t there at all.

Edit on August 1, 2023: A WWE spokesperson shared with Wrestlenomics a photo seemingly of the press box occupied during the event by many media members.

WWE Director of TV Event Relations (Thu, 26 Jan, 1:35 PM CT):

What would the total capacity be if suites 1-8 and 45-52 and the press box were fully ticketed?

Alamodome Box Office Manager (Thu, 26 Jan, 1:40 PM CT):
Press box would be 130 and the 8 suites combined including SRO’s would be another 318 persons (130 + 318)

WWE Director of TV Event Relations (Fri, 27 Jan, 10:05 PM CT):

Any update on the total venue staff number for tomorrow’s show for our TV attendance figure?

Alamodome Event Services Manager (Sat, 28 Jan, 6:59 AM CT):

Total number 725 do u need breakdown?

The staff count of 725 that the Alamodome event services manager gave the WWE director didn’t seem high enough, though.

WWE Director of TV Event Relations (Sat, 28 Jan, 7:41 AM CT):
This seems very low. Does this include everyone? Concessions? parking? security? Housekeeping? Ops? Anyone with a heartbeat.

Alamodome Event Services Manager (Sat, 28 Jan, 7:45 AM CT):

Let me check again when all managers arrive. Will get back to you around 9:30am.

Just after the show began, the Alamodome staff member sent another email on the subject, possibly alluding to a conversation had outside email, providing a staff count of 1,280.

Alamodome Event Services Manager (Sat, Jan 28, 7:19 PM CT):

As we discussed earlier the revised number with Traffic, SAPD, Pritchard is 1,280.

“Pritchard” likely refers to the housekeeping/janitorial contractor used by Alamodome, Pritchard Sports & Entertainment Group.

Information culled from Alamodome personnel seems to add 1,280 venue staff, 694 toward suites that were actually opened, 318 toward suites that were closed, and 130 toward the vacant press box.

Add that mix of actual and imagined 2,422 people to the highest count of tickets distributed found in the records we obtained (47,834), and we can come to a total of 50,256. WWE likely added in counts of its own talent and staff as well, which probably explains the aforementioned total still being short of the 51,338 figure WWE celebrated on television.

WWE’s embellished attendance figure aside, there’s no doubt Royal Rumble was a record-setting success. A gate of either $7.3 million or $7.7 million, however you think it should be counted, makes it among the most lucrative non-Wrestlemania ticket events in pro wrestling history. And the event’s ticket revenues were more than $2 million greater than the 2017 event, also at the Alamodome.

Royal Rumble 2017 sales records were also obtained through our request. That event sold $4.9 million worth of tickets, with a paid attendance of 47,088, higher than the paid attendance for this year’s event. The difference is the 2017 show had an average ticket price of about $105 versus about $165 for this year’s.

A WWE spokesperson declined a request to comment for this story. The Alamodome didn’t respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to correct that the last email referenced was made just after the show began, not just before.

Above: A portion of a ticket audit record indicating Royal Rumble 2023 generated $7.3 million in net ticket sales. Red box added for emphasis. Record obtained by Wrestlenomics.

Above: Screenshot from Ticketmaster’s client-only TM1 app, tracking number of fans entered, as of 8:05 PM Pacific Standard Time (10:05 PM local time). Record obtained by Wrestlenomics.

Above: WWE Royal Rumble attendance figures for events in 2023 and 2017, both at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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