From left: Comcast Spectacor’s Tony Cima, WWE star Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ed Cohen and Comcast Spectacor’s John Page in this undated photo. (Courtesy John Page)
Ed Cohen, the tough, aggressive event booker for World Wrestling Entertainment who helped develop the company into a global brand during his 23-year tenure, died Aug. 25. He was 62.
Cohen, WWE’s former senior vice president of event operations, was responsible for booking pro wrestling shows at arenas and stadiums across North America, including WrestleMania, which over the past 35 years has evolved into one of the most lucrative productions in live entertainment.
Cohen worked for the old World Wrestling Federation in 1982 before retiring from WWE in 2005. He was among the first employees hired by Vince McMahon, WWE’s chairman and CEO, soon after McMahon acquired the property from his father.
For Cohen, the telephone was the most important tool of his trade. Many years before cell phones, computers, the Internet and email became part of daily life, Cohen would pound the phones to book events. In the early 1980s, before WWF became a national brand, Cohen hustled to compete against regional outfits such as the National Wrestling Alliance and the American Wrestling Association.
Cohen “could play the telephone the way Itzhak Perlman plays the violin or Liberace played the piano,” wrote former WWE executive Bob Collins in a tribute to Cohen when he was inducted into the Event & Arena Marketing Conference Hall of Fame in 2014. Back in the day, it was a frantic pace, Collins said. The old WWF would sometimes stage four events in one day as part of an overall route covering seven days a week.
As a result, for those taking his calls, Cohen demanded an answer immediately for whether they could hold a date for WWF. If Cohen could not reach the facility manager, “there was a full-court press to track you down,” said John Page, Spectra’s president of content, arenas and stadiums. “He was the consummate booking guy … one of the great icons in our business.”
A lineup of late, great family show bookers shot after a panel at IAAM in the early 1980s: Joe Anzivino, Harlem Globetrotters; Allen Bloom, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; Vince Egan, VEE Corp. and Sesame Street Live; and Ed Cohen, WWF/WWE. With Ed's passing, they are all now gone. (Photo by Linda Deckard, VenuesNow)
“Ed was a taskmaster,” said Brad Mayne, president and CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers. “He knew there was competition with the NWA and AWA and they were all out there doing their own things. He was instrumental in bringing more dates to venues, which ultimately resulted in (pro wrestling) consolidation. Some thought he was too aggressive but later learned it was his passion.”
Cohen worked with Mayne’s cousin, pro wrestler Ron (Lonnie) “Moondog” Mayne, and consequently, the two hit it off during Brad Mayne’s tenure running arenas in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Tacoma, Wash.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Dallas. During WrestleMania 2000 at Arrowhead Pond (now Honda Center), Cohen and Mayne sat in a suite together and discussed the firm’s strategy. Television played a huge part in promoting WWE and, with the support of dozens of arena shows, Cohen and his company’s colleagues formed their own version of a “sports league leading up to WrestleMania, which resonated with the fans,” Mayne said.
In the Northeast, it started at the far end of the television dial, according to Peter Luukko, an executive with Oak View Group, parent company of VenuesNow. Luukko first worked with Cohen as an arena manager in Providence, R.I., and New Haven, Conn., and later hosted WrestleMania in 1991 at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
“When I was in Providence, one of the requirements for a successful live program was local TV,” Luukko said. “We would sign a deal with the local UHF channel and then build it into a major event. Back then, routing and scheduling wrestling revolved around every night of the week and ‘doubles’ on the weekend. Ed would book Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden and Saturday night at New Haven Coliseum.”
Booking tactics aside, Cohen paid the industry back through his company’s strong support of the IAVM’s annual summer conference, now called VenueConnect. For several years in the 1990s, WWE sponsored the trade show’s opening reception and brought wrestlers to the event for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“WWE is a product that became such an important part of IAVM and all that we do,” Mayne said. “Ed became a good friend and was genuinely interested in your personal life. He really did care about people. It’s a tough loss.”
Survivors include Cohen’s wife, Cheryl, who is director of marketing for the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.