Date: January 14, 2004

The “Monday Night Raw” crew, which appears live on Spike TV on Mondays, will head to Japan, Ireland and England in early 2004, while its Thursday night counterpart, SmackDown (on UPN), travels to South Africa, England and Scotland.

The dates mark an increase for Connecticut-based WWE, according to Ed Cohen, executive vice president of live events and event promotion. “For the last three years, we were only doing very few international dates. Because of the fabulous success that we had in Melbourne, Australia…we realized that we were limiting ourselves and, quite frankly, our fans by touring mostly limited to North America,” Cohen said. “So from that is now an aggressive approach to do much more international dates.”

WWE's Global Warning event in Melbourne broke the attendance record at Colonial Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2002, with more than 56,700 people attending, according to Wesley Cullen, WWE's executive vice resident, Event Booking and Live Events. The tour grossed approximately $3 million (U.S.).

This year's dates were chosen based on the popularity of the WWE television shows, which air in approximately 194 countries and in 14 languages, Cullen said. From “there we go to looking at how long we've been in the market…what the penetration's like, what the ratings are like. We look at that and then determine if there's suitable arenas in those locations and from there look at building availability. In the United States there's a lot of competition for dates, likewise internationally,” Cullen said. “Europe is particularly busy and Japan as well.”

Stiff competition is only one of the challenges that faced the WWE in scheduling the overseas events. “The way that the buildings are run is distinct from country to country. In the United States, you may deal with a building manager with whom you book a date and everything is arranged and taken care of. That's not the case [in some overseas markets]. You rent the walls, then you rent the chairs, then you hire the people. It's much more complicated,” Cullen said.

Cohen agreed that the contract is much more specific to what you're paying for. “It's challenging, but the end justifies the means.”

And flying the crew back and forth over the oceans can be trying. For example, Cohen explained, the Raw crew performs at Penn State University on Feb. 2, then over the Pacific to Japan Feb. 5-7, and then back over the ocean to Portland, Ore., Feb. 9.

“There is much more time devoted into all the logistics of international touring,” Cohen said. “There are things such as tax attorneys that are involved in the decisions we make…there's medical precautions to take such as shots and things of that nature. …The talent are pretty much on their own when they perform in North America. When we do an international tour, everything is taken care of for them – hotels, meals.”

In the end, Cohen said, it's all worth it. “We've been very, very fortunate to set these attendance records at some of the old, old facilities. That's what it's all about – thousands of fans experiencing WWE.”

WWE International Touring Dates

Road to WrestleMania Tour (RAW cast):

Feb. 5, Hiroshima (Japan) Sun Plaza (capacity: 5,482) Feb. 6, Osaka (Japan) Jo Hall (capacity: 9,860) Feb. 7, Saitama (Japan) Super Arena (capacity: 19,900)

Passport to Pain Tour (SmackDown! cast):

Feb. 26, Good Hope Center, Cape Town, South Africa, (capacity: 6,328; gross potential: $218,004) Feb. 27, Westridge Stadium, Durban, South Africa, (capacity: 8,335; gross potential: $227,083) Feb. 28, The Dome, Johannesburg, South Africa, (capacity: 13,215; gross potential: 455,838) Feb. 29, Carnival City, East Rand, South Africa, (capacity: 4,761; gross potential: $164,921) March 18, Telewest Arena, Newcastle, England (capacity: 11,500) March 19, Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield, England (capacity: 10,749) March 20, Press & Journal Arena, Aberdeen, Scotland (capacity: 4,656) March 21, Braehead Arena, Glasgow, Scotland (capacity: 5,300) April 1, Olympiahalle, Munich, Germany (capacity: 12,500) April 2, Max-Schemeling-Halle, Berlin, Germany (capacity: 10,000) April 3, BPA Palace, Pesaro, Italy (capacity: 8,891; gross potential: $478,000) April 4, Fila Forum, Milan, Italy (capacity: 10,920; gross potential: $482,000)

RAW Tour:

April 3, Arena Monterrey (Mexico) (capacity: 14,000) May 26, The Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland (capacity: 7,000) May 27 TBA in Dublin, Ireland, or Manchester, England May 28 TBA in Nottingham, England, or Manchester, England May 29 TBA in Birmingham, England.

Interviewed for this story: Ed Cohen, (203) 352-8618; Wesley Cullen, (203) 352-8674