As WWE Live returns to Abu Dhabi this week, one of its executives, Patrick Talty, is also coming back to the city he once called home and the turf he helped revitalise. Hugo Berger has more
For one executive within the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment corporation, the forthcoming three-night event at the Zayed Sports City tennis stadium will be a chance to relish a past glory. Patrick Talty, the senior vice president of live events for WWE, was formerly the general manager of the sports and entertainment hub in Abu Dhabi.
Working there from 2009 to 2012, he oversaw the revamp of the arena, helping transform it into the invaluable community amenity that it is today. During his tenure, organisations such as Harlequins rugby club and Haddins gym were invited to relocate there.
Meanwhile, high-profile events such as the Fifa Club World Cup, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship and, of course, the WWE were hosted within the sports stadiums.
“What we did for Zayed Sports City was an amazing transformation. It was so much fun to be involved in,” he recalls. “We took something that had been there for so long and converted it into a social and sport hub. People’s lifestyle has changed. People kind of thought it had been shut down … and now you have families exercising and eating there.”
But last year, Talty left Abu Dhabi for his native US, and, utilising contacts he had made with the WWE organisation, landed himself a new job.
Nowadays, one of his roles is to further WWE’s reach across the world. So, with the organisation making its second showing in Zayed Sports City this week, he’ll be able to revisit.
While WWE is a proven success in the UAE – the last two years’ shows all but sold out on all three nights – the organisation is keenly eyeing the possibilities of further expanding its presence in the Gulf region.
“Of course, we have the event in Abu Dhabi and we’ve done two different tours in Qatar. But we think, now, could we do Oman, Bahrain or Dubai, too?
“Saudi Arabia is definitely a growth market. They’re wanting more content like that. We’re a PG-family brand, so I think we’re perfect for Saudi Arabia.”
Yet, despite its family-friendly credentials, the organisers have had to make allowances for the Islamic values of the region. For example, the scantily-clad female wrestlers, known as the WWE Divas, won’t be appearing in Abu Dhabi.
“No, the Divas won’t be joining us, but overall, we don’t change our content that much from what we show in the US,” says Talty.
“Speaking from my personal experience, my kids are huge WWE fans and my wife approves of what we do. She thinks it’s great entertainment for the kids to watch. It is wholesome, it’s a simple story – good versus evil. Our stars are like superheroes, but real-life ones who people can talk to and see.”
It’s this uncomplicated concept that explains why WWE transcends cultures and nationalities, Talty believes. Even in countries where, perhaps, the US is not viewed favourably, WWE seems immune to any negative connotations.
“I once heard our chairman, Vince McMahon, say that WWE is America’s greatest export. And I think that’s very true,” says Talty.
“People see it as something that’s not just American. I think they just like the story and what we do. The fans just really enjoy it.”
So, more live shows in the Middle East are almost an inevitability.
“International is a big growth market for us and the Middle East is integral for this,” he explains.
“We love the UAE and would like to continue going back there. We would like to come back every year, or every other year. Hopefully, knock on wood, this October, we’ll be able to announce something for 2014 at this show.”
But will his return to Abu Dhabi cause him to rue his decision to leave the Emirates?
“I don’t think so,” he says. “Of course, I do miss it in some ways. We really enjoyed our three years, but it was time for our family to come back [to the US]. I would never trade my time there, as my kids are completely different people. They truly are global citizens.
“Also, having lived overseas now, I feel so much more equipped to know how to deal with international markets, than if I’d just lived in the States.”
• WWE Live takes place at Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, from October 10 to 12. Visit www.wwe.com for more information