WrestleMania Without Fans: Good Idea Or Bad Idea?
The sporting calendar of the entire world is currently looking a little empty. Every
major football competition is on hold, and the Euro 2020 tournament has been
canceled. Cricket has been called off, and there’s an increasing likelihood that we’re
not going to get to see the Olympics this year even though organizers are still
currently insisting that it’s too early to cancel the competition.
The sporting calendar of the entire world is currently looking a little empty. Every major football competition is on hold, and the Euro 2020 tournament has been canceled. Cricket has been called off, and there’s an increasing likelihood that we’re not going to get to see the Olympics this year even though organizers are still currently insisting that it’s too early to cancel the competition. Despite all of that unrest, professional wrestling is somehow still happening.
Almost every wrestling fan would agree that wrestling isn't really a sport, given that the outcome is pre-determined, but it's still an athletic competition, and it's still featured on sports channels. As those channels currently have almost nothing else to show, they (and their viewers) are probably more grateful for wrestling right now then they have been for years. Both WWE and AEW are pushing on with their weekly shows - albeit in closed-off arenas with no fans - and although the shows feel a little strange with their raucous audiences, it's great that we still have them to watch instead of being left with nothing at all.
Operating a regular weekly edition of WWE’s RAW, SmackDown, or NXT shows without an audience is one thing. Running WrestleMania - the biggest annual wrestling show on the face of the planet - without an audience is quite another.Those people had failed to reckon with Vince McMahon’s determination that ‘the show must go on.’ To the shock of everyone, WrestleMania is still going to go ahead on its originally planned date of April 5th. It’s just that nobody other than the performers and crew will be there to see it.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this. McMahon is, notoriously, the man who decided to carry on with a pay-per-view show in 1999 when one of his performers, Owen Hart, had died in the ring in a tragic accident. He was also the first promoter to hold a public gathering of any kind in the United States of America in the days after the events of September 11th, 2001. His philosophy has always been that the show should always continue so long as continuing is possible. Vince owns an indoor arena, and so long as his roster of wrestlers stays healthy, he'll use it to entertain his company's fans. It's a bold approach, but most people feel it's commendable.
Even if we applaud his boldness, however, it's hard not to feel like the show will feel less 'special' both for the fans and the performers who are going to appear on it. For the fans, it's a once-a-year gathering of more than sixty-thousand like-minded people in a celebratory atmosphere. WrestleMania is an event designed to be held in huge stadiums, with over-the-top spectacular entrances, celebrity guests, and even more theatrics than usual. For the wrestlers themselves, it's what they've always dreamed of. The current crop of performers grew up imagining themselves performing at WrestleMania one day. Most of them will only get the chance to do so two or three times in their whole careers. Doing it WWE's Performance Center - to all intents and purposes a glorified gym - can't feel the same as feeling the energy of tens of thousands of fans chanting your name.
For someone like Drew McIntyre - the Scottish wrestler currently scheduled to headline the event for the first time in his career by facing Brock Lesnar - this has to be a disappointment. Goldberg versus Roman Reigns is a stadium-worthy spectacle too and will feel diminished by happening in near-silence. John Cena's big comeback to wrestling after an absence of a year doesn't feel like such a big deal. The Undertaker's entrance - one of the most well-known wrestling spectacles of all time - will look frankly absurd in such a small space. All of the players might be there, and the matches will still happen, but it won't feel like a WrestleMania-worthy event. While the fans can sometimes be raucous and caustic, they make the event. The performers feed off them. Without them, it's going to come across like a training exercise.
There's also WWE's bottom line to think about. They're losing out on huge sums of cash in ticket and merchandise sales and event sponsorship too. This will eat into their bottom line. They have new streams of income coming in this year - their brand new WWE-approved line of online slots will be hitting websites in the near future - but they won't make up the difference. The online slots were supposed to supplement WWE's income, not make up for a hole that nobody expected to be there. In the true spirit of playing UK online slots, it appears that McMahon has taken a gamble by deciding to press on rather than postponing, and the craziest thing is that it's a gamble he didn't have to take. Everyone would have understood if he'd postponed the event. Everyone expected him to. He likely sees the decision to continue as providing a service to WWE's fans, but from reading reactions online, there's a sense that it isn't a service that most of them wanted.
Maybe we shouldn’t be picky in this situation. We’re going to be short of entertainment options in the weeks and months ahead, and having a WrestleMania to watch will be a welcome distraction from the more serious events that are happening around the world. We can’t escape the feeling that it shouldn’t have happened like this, though. Give us a special show, by all means. Use whatever willing wrestlers you have, and give us once-in-a-lifetime matches and never-before-seen encounters. Just don’t call it WrestleMania. WWE’s fabled ‘show of shows’ should have been pushed back to the summer. As it hasn’t been, it’s going to go down in the history books - but probably for all the wrong reasons.