The First Sign of Getting Back to Normal in 2021 Was Wrestlemania 37

The return of the live crowd

Image courtesy WWE.com

On April 4th 2020, President Trump met with the Commissioners of professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey via conference call to discuss how sports would proceed after the national shutdown.

Also on the call was Dana White of the UFC and Vince McMahon of the WWE. While the other sports had canceled events and entire seasons, the UFC and WWE kept going minus the audience.

For the past year the WWE has lost an estimated 90 million in revenue from not being able to perform live. What’s kept the company afloat is their lucrative TV deals from Smackdown and RAW. Plus the WWE has a monthly subscription service which is now part of Peacock+ thanks to a five year, billion dollar contract.

The WWE has been able to produce new weekly shows and monthly pay-per-views since COVID have began by filming in a studio in Florida.

Without an audience.

If you strip away the gimmicks and episodic storylines, pro wrestling is two people in their underwear pretending to hit each other. It’s the interaction between the performer and the live audience that makes wrestling work. Allowing the audience to suspend disbelief that a wrestler would being on the ground long enough that climbing to the top rope and jumping on top of them makes sense as an offensive maneuver.

Without a crowd, pro wrestling is painful to watch and not in a good way. Though wrestling viewership has been declining for the past decade, over the past summer WWE’s Monday Night Raw saw historic low ratings not seen since the programs inception in 1993.

Over a year ago on March 25 2020, the United States was 10 days into the 15 days to slow the spread plan. Also on that day, a historic WrestleMania 36 took place.

Despite the restrictions, WrestleMania last year set a new attendance record. Zero.

WWE producers knew they had to do something quick. Most sports used canned audio noise to simulate a crowd. But wrestling is different in that you see the crowd as the action is happening. This method was tried but abandoned quickly.

The wrestlers themselves were tested for COVID every time they performed. The WWE has over 200 wrestlers at any time under contract. The idea was to use wrestlers that were in developmental training to act as the audience for the wrestling filmed for the programming.

It was better than nothing, but it still wasn’t fans.

Then in late August, the WWE unveiled the Thunderdome. A Thousand LED screens positioned around the ring projected the faces of fans who teleconferenced in to watch the event live.

Image author

On April tenth of 2021, Wrestlemaina 37 was held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. This was the first wrestling event held by the WWE that had live attendees for over a year.

Capacity was at 36% of what the stadium could usually hold for the event. Attendees had to sign a COVID waiver, which is likely the new normal for the next few years.

Just watching wrestling on TV with people in the crowd was a huge moment for me. I got tears in my eyes when Bebe Rexha sang “America the Beautiful.” It was terrible but it’s been a while.

The US Airforce missed a prime opportunity to flex on other countries by having two F-15 flyover the stadium. First live event in a year besides the Super Bowl? Gas up a B-2. Come on America…

The crowd was pumped. I could feel the energy through my 65" flat screen. The same screen I had used to binge watch every episode of every series ever made during the pandemic last year.

After that hot open it was on to a 45 minute rain delay. A historic moment as it was the first rain delay in WrestleMania history. They filled it with interviews of wrestlers talking about how badly they were going to kick their opponents asses tonight.

I had never been happier to watch wrestling in my life.

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