The unlikely partnership of Full Sail University and World Wrestling Entertainment is proving to be a perfect match.
A few years ago, Full Sail University in Winter Park sought to further build its brand awareness as a learning institution. Known for its film and media programs, the university pointed its cameras at showmen of a whole other sort: the business savvy leaders of World Wrestling Entertainment.
It proved to be quite a draw.
While some still look at WWE’s “pro rasslin” as equal parts of barbarism and cheese, behind the scenes the publicly traded corporation has evolved into a global entertainment powerhouse.WWE has offices around the world and airs in more than 150 countries in 30 languages reaching more than 650 million homes.
An economic superstar, Full Sail jumped into the ring with it.
The school and the WWE have developed a successful partnership that began in 2011 and has led to a world-class performance center that WWE opened last July next door to the university.
“The WWE is an incredible organization with tremendous vision and experience when it comes to producing sports and entertainment content in a live setting," says Josh Mora, Full Sail's sports marketing and media program director. "Given that, it is a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn from some of the most accomplished and established professionals in their future fields.”
Metro Orlando has always been a hotbed for the sports-entertainment industry.Various pro wrestling TV shows have been filmed regularly at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios over the years,while the WWE has made the city’s larger arenas a regular stop for its own TV broadcasts.
The true measuring stick for the area's support of the WWE products came on March 30, 2008, when Wrestlemania 24 was held at the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium, the climax of nearly a week of local activities. All told, the Orlando event cleared $5.85 million in ticket sales, drew approximately 60,000 visitors to the city and pumped an estimated $51.5 million into the local economy.
With so much success here, WWE seemed destined to return. For many years, WWE's developmental system for training future talent had taken place in smaller facilities in Louisville, Atlanta and, most recently, Tampa. Looking to rebuild and augment the entire program, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, former WWE superstar who is now executive vice president of talent and live events, put the wheels in motion to create the performance center, a sprawling 26,000-square-foot facility to house the entire WWE Developmental system.
Just as with Wrestlemania, the support from the local community was overwhelming. Gov. Rick Scott, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer were all key players in the new facility.
With a price tag estimated to be $2.3 million, the performance center is certainly first-class. And, as a result, approximately 100 high-wage, full-time jobs were created, including doctors, trainers and audiovisual technicians.
“We have a beautiful place,” Levesque says. “[We have] teams of people helping them figure out not only how to perform in the ring, but how to manipulate the crowd and how to have the character … all of the things that it take to succeed in this business."
The end result—WWE gained a multifunctional facility, Full Sail enhanced its students’ educational experience and Metro Orlando chalked up an economic win.
Back in 2011, the Full Sail/WWE began with a tenuous embrace. In December of that year, the school and WWE partnered on the production of NXT, with the first show taping held in the existing Full Sail Live production facility. The large-scale TV production offered all the bells and whistles of regular WWE shows—music, lights, a gigantic screen and grand entranceway—but featured only WWE developmental talent, many of whom had not yet debuted on the more popular prime-time shows such as “Raw” or “Smackdown.” NXT shows had been local low-budget affairs designed to give the rookies some on-camera experience.
That initial involvement with Full Sail, however, changed everything.
In May 2012, WWE and the university announced the official move of NXT tapings to Full Sail Live. The shows are presented in a cutting-edge soundstage environment that truly replicates the look and feel of large arenas. Big-name stars are brought in to “guest star” alongside the developing talent. The shows are now produced for worldwide viewing on Hulu Internet TV, giving the up-and-comers a chance to build a following while learning the ropes.
Most importantly, NXT's new home at Full Sail provided 35 students per event, with a one-of-a-kind, resume-making opportunity to help produce these shows.
“Students shadow WWE crew members during the tapings and help out with everything from operating cameras, running the audio board, and managing the ring during set-up and tear-down,” comments Mora.