Penn State Intercom......November 14, 2002

Jordan Center entertainers
educate marketing students

By Gary W. Cramer
Public Information

Understandably, the attention of most of last Friday night's audience was drawn to the on-the-mat and ringside histrionics of such personalities as Kane, HHH and Lance Storm as they taunted and seemed to beat the living tar out of each other at The Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park campus. However, students who were in the know about behind-the-scenes events during the wrestlers' visit to campus with the rest of the World Wrestling Entertainment's RAW cast and crew could testify to how the center has grown into an extra, quieter role than provider of top-notch events in recent years -- an educational role. BJC_WWE01

This fall semester marks the fourth time Jordan Center general manager Bob Howard has taught Recreation and Park Management 497B, an undergraduate course that focuses on arena management and event promotion issues. Using the center as a living classroom, Howard and his staff give students an in-depth primer on the operations of similar arenas elsewhere, as well as convention and trade centers, stadiums, multi-purpose civic centers, theatres and amphitheaters. The Jordan Center also runs an active internship program on a year-round basis that has been very successful at seeing its participants get jobs in the field.

Howard said that Penn State is one of just a few universities with a course devoted to the industry he knows best. Graduates in the field need to know about crowd management, event planning and implementation, controlling costs, production contract management, merchandise, First Amendment law, search and seizure law, food and beverage matters and much more.

Nearly 50 students got an overview of one professional's 20 years in the field on the Thursday morning before the scripted RAW "Tour of Defiance" chaos erupted in the center's arena, when Ed Cohen, World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) senior vice president of live event marketing and event booking, met with Howard's 22-member class and visitors from the Penn State Marketing Association. As another educational bonus, on Friday, just before the RAW show, WWE wrestler Al Snow, host of MTV's "Tough Enough," met with assistant professor of philosophy David Parry's visiting Penn State Altoona class, which is devoted to the business and cultural sides of the professional wrestling industry. BJC_WWE02

"You are the future of our industry," Cohen, who studied business at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, told Thursday's students. As one of WWE's first few employees in 1982, at a time when arena management was probably not taught at any university in the country, he quickly learned that growing the wrestling industry from its often scoffed-at status in those days meant attention to the three basics of the live entertainment industry: BJC—WWE05 attraction, attraction, attraction.

He also stressed the importance of sound business relationships with local managers like Howard to the eventual transformation of WWE from a regional concern limited to the northeastern United States (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) into a 350-employee company that is the major player in the modern, multimedia wrestling industry. Last week marked the 11th visit by WWE to University Park in front of crowds that can top 12,000.

"I think the best thing we have, besides giving people something they want, is our credibility (as events managers)," Cohen said. "What I've noticed since I started in the business is that, unfortunately, some people hide behind the technology (that's used now). Accessibility is the key to everything you do in life. In our world, everything is boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and you have to be available. I know when I call Penn State and begin with that 814 area code, I'm going to get an answer right away, or within a half hour."

With a live event already going on somewhere in the country nearly every night of the year, Cohen said growth for the company is coming in the form of new efforts to expand into other countries. But where arena events are concerned, he said keeping the domestic audiences enthralled by the WWE's characters and ongoing storylines means keeping an eye on traditional competition, such as fairs, festivals and other sports.

"There's always competition in the markets to evaluate. If Kmart is having a sale on fertilizer, that could be competition for us."

 


Gary W. Cramer can be reached at gwc104@psu.edu.

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