By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
That was the first question I asked when I read a report a few days ago stating that WWE wants to sell 45,000 tickets per night for this year’s WrestleMania in Tampa. The answer I immediately realized was, “No. Nobody is kidding me.”
So then I moved on to the second question, which was …
A 90,000 PERSON WEEKEND
I understand that the Super Bowl happened in that same stadium only a month ago, but even the NFL, one of the greediest monsters in all of professional sports, opted to allow only 22,000 people through the doors. And that was also for just one night. By the time WrestleMania is said and done, some 90,000 spectators (with some fans attending both nights) will have potentially come and gone over the course of 24 hours.
How is that even remotely possible? We continue to live in a pandemic. I get it. We’re tired. We’re restless. We’re hungry for this thing to be over. We’re at the point where we think we can cheat the system because there are vaccines and lifted restrictions and hope. A light at the end of the tunnel appears closer than ever. Life feels like it’s coming back.
But you want to know what could shatter the hope? You want to know what could extinguish that tiny light you see?
45,000 people gathering in one place to watch professional wrestling for four hours. It’s like the term “super-spreader” is null and void because Dr. Anthony Fauci went on ESPN last week and said we might be able to have fans in baseball stadiums by the end of the summer. Lest we be reminded …
HALF-A-MILLION PEOPLE DEAD
… That as of this writing, there have been 29.5 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and of those cases, roughly 534,000 people across the country have died due to the virus. When this thing started a year ago, the worst-case scenario was supposed to be 150,000 deaths. We’ve tripled that and then some.
So, again: Why? What’s the point? Am I the only one to look at the 45,000 number and immediately question everything that’s going on here? Nobody else thinks that’s a bit excessive? Nobody else sees anything wrong with that goal, considering how capacity for Raymond James Stadium is 65,890 for football?
There’s not making sense and then there’s simply being irresponsible, and in my mind, WWE is wading in both territories. Sure, we can intellectually accept the sense it probably makes to the people making the decision — the answer to most any question anybody has will forever and always be money — but why would you rent out a baseball stadium every week for the last several months and continue to play to screens of fans surrounding the ring and then do this? How can the company on one hand be overtly responsible and overtly cautious while sports leagues everywhere are allowing limited crowds into arenas, while on the other … well, hey, everybody! All 90,000 of you! Come on in!
Then there’s the responsibility factor. As stewards of the pro wrestling industry, WWE has a responsibility to wave the flag high for the entire business. A casual fan doesn’t refer to professional wrestling as professional wrestling; a casual fan refers to professional wrestling as WWE. It’s a name and brand synonymous with the genre.
So, then, what exactly are you telling your fan base, both casual and hardcore? “We don’t care about your well-being — we just want your money! We good on that? We good on that. See you at SummerSlam.” It’s egregious at best and downright maniacal at worst. And before you begin to think that such language might be too harsh …
NOBODY TREATS THEIR FANS WORSE
… Can you please point out a time in recent memory where it felt like WWE was listening to its fans? Can you point out a time in recent memory where it felt like WWE hasn’t talked down to its audience, insulted their intelligence, and shown an inordinate amount of stubbornness when it comes to the difference between what the fans want and what WWE gives them?
Just look at the creative pieces. Few people remembered Andrade even existed until this past weekend when reports surfaced that he asked for his release. Is anyone still looking for the ghost of Aleister Black somewhere backstage? How many weeks are we going to get the same Rhea Ripley video before we actually, you know, see her? And Keith Lee, what the hell is up?
These are obvious examples, but examples nonetheless. As fans, our job — on some level, at least — is to be critical of a product if we don’t like the product. We can opt to turn the other way, of course, but that’s not being a fan. Being a fan is sticking with something through the ups and downs. There’s a very real loyalty involved, coming from a fan’s perspective, and the more you betray the loyalty, the more you erode the equation.
WWE has been disintegrating that unspoken contract for years now. That’s to say nothing of the charitable work the company does — work for which it’s regularly celebrated and deservedly so. But from an entertainment standpoint, or at least a customer satisfaction standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that would say WWE has been running a perfect game by any stretch at any point in its recent history.
This, though? Throwing all caution to the wind, essentially because it can because the locale is Florida and Florida sits right next to Texas in the “We don’t care!” movement of the pandemic? How can this be justified as anything other than a money-grab — a money-grab from a company that just brought in another billion dollars after selling off the WWE Network?
And because it’s a money-grab, it’s all the more disgusting. You can sell pods of tickets all you want. You can claim social distancing is in full effect. You can argue that the protocols for concessions will be enforced strictly. But before you do that …
… Let me remind you that I’ve done this. The first installment of this column, all the way back in November, featured me talking about what it was like to attend AEW’s Full Gear in person. And before you start typing “hypocrite” in the comments section, let me explain.
Daily’s Place is a small outdoor amphitheater. AEW sold 1,000 tickets for the show. There was no real merchandise situation, as to get it, you had to visit the company’s website, create an order, pay by card, and then pick it up, contact-less in a bag near the entrance. Concessions were sparse and no paper money was exchanged. Ushers whose job it typically is to help people find their seats strictly enforced the mask mandate whenever they saw someone without one on his or her face.
Plus, at that point, AEW had been running shows with that very limited number of fans for more than half a year. They proved they could do it safely and successfully for a sustainable amount of time. Combine all of that with the fact that I drove and also stayed with family, and I felt like I took all the precautions I could, including a COVID-19 test after I returned home to make sure I wasn’t positive. Was it the smartest decision? That’s questionable. But was it reckless? No.
Cramming 90,000 people into a stadium over two nights, when you haven’t played to a crowd in more than a year, and you don’t know exactly what you’re getting into — that’s a completely different animal. Also, WrestleMania is designed to be a destination. People from all around the country will fly into Florida for it. What, did you think that all 90,000 people will magically be from Tampa and it turns out Tampa has the biggest wrestling fan base in the history of the world?
And who knows what attitudes about the pandemic all those people will have. Of course you’re going to get some who want to be super safe. You’re also going to get some who probably won’t even show up with a mask. Then, because this thing has become so grossly politicized, you’ll have fights. Plus, don’t forget that magical word that nobody uses anymore: asymptomatic. It’s hard to think you’ll get 45,000 people in one area and not a single one of them will be carrying the COVID-19 virus, whether they know it or not.
Daily’s Place was 1,000 people, highly spread out, mostly dudes who were fervent wrestling fans. WrestleMania will be 75 percent of the room’s capacity, 45,000-plus people over two days, tons of families and more often than not, tourists. The distance between the two scenarios is wider than the expected 1-million-foot ramp the wrestlers will have to run down to get into the ring.
And so it must be asked one final time.
WILL THERE BE A PRICE TO PAY?
How much does WWE care about its fans? Truth be told, I was mulling making the trip back down to Florida for this when I heard they were going to allow people into the stadium. Then I saw the 45,000 number and thought, “What in the what? No chance. Not a chance in hell.” On so many levels, it fees like a slap in the face to anyone considering attending. Not only do you want people to pay $5,000 for a ticket, but you also expect them to do so in an environment that screams negligent from the top of the pirate ship.
It makes me think of a year ago, when about a month into the pandemic, reports started to trickle out that WWE was hoping to have fans at the shows, in some capacity “soon.” It was reported that Vince McMahon said something along the lines of him wanting to be the first company back, running events with fans in the building.
That was a month into the pandemic. Let’s repeat that. A month into the pandemic. The chairman has clearly had his eyes on this since the world shut down, and what Vince wants, Vince gets. Sparing no expense is something he’s famous for doing, so none of this should come as a surprise. “We’re going to have 90,000 people over two nights, damn it! I don’t care what it takes!”
Well, what it’s going to take is you having a blatant disregard for your fans’ safety. 22,000 out of 60,000 still isn’t great, but it at least showcases a tiny bit of responsibility on the NFL’s part. Doubling that? You might as well just run the building at full capacity.
In the end, we should have known this. Vince McMahon isn’t going to throw together a WrestleMania in a stadium and make 15,000 people look like nobody bought a ticket. Why bring back fans if you can’t make it look like you brought back fans? We all know how aesthetically displeasing it would look to have your pyro, lights, set, and mile-long-ramp, and not have a reasonable facsimile of a packed house.
But to what end? And at what cost? Those are questions WWE might have to answer sooner than later.