With fans barred from attending sporting events, leagues have gotten creative with who or what makes up the viewing crowd. The MLS used video clips of fans for their MLS is Back Tournament and MLB teams are using cardboard cut-outs to create the allusion of a cheering crowd. It’s been the NBA however, that perhaps had the most interesting and clever solution to fanless games. The league is partnering with Microsoft Teams to create a virtual fan experience that allows individuals a chance to get into their team’s group chat and become part of the cheering crowd from the comfort of their own home. It’s been seen as a huge success and now, as WWE prepares to welcome fans back of their own, it looks like they’ll be turning to a similar concept by way of the ThunderDome.
Kicking off this Friday and expected to continue for all SmackDown, Raw and PPVs until fans are physically allowed back in the buildings, WWE will debut ThunderDome, a virtual experience unlike any other taking place within the walls of Orlando’s Amway Center. Normally home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic, the Amway Center has been transformed into a one-of-a-kind virtual mecca “featuring a state-of-the-art set, video boards, pyrotechnics, lasers, cutting-edge graphics and drone cameras,” WWE explained in a press release. According to the release, the goal of the ThunderDome will be to “take WWE fans’ viewing experience to an unprecedented level starting this Friday, Aug. 21 on FOX, kicking off SummerSlam Weekend.”
Partnering with the Famous Group, WWE’s ThunderDome will use LED video boards to bring fans into the arena in a brand new way. But it’s more than that, as the ThunderDome will be all about an immersive experience, complete with revamped entrances and atmosphere that Kevin Dunn, WWE Executive Vice President, Television Production, told Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barasso, will give shows a WrestleMania-esque feel.
“We can now do things production-wise that we could never otherwise do,” said Dunn. “We’re flying drones in the arena, we are putting a roof inside the Amway Center, and we’ll be able to project content onto the roof. So when a big star like Drew McIntyre comes down to the ring, the whole arena will turn into his content with lasers, pyro, smoke, projections on the top of the building and on the floor. It will be a big, beautiful entrance, better than WrestleMania.”
NOW TRENDING: WWE ThunderDome!
We can't wait!
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— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) August 17, 2020
Registration is open to all with Friday’s debut already being filled to capacity just minutes after fans first had a chance to apply for the opportunity to be a part of this unique and ground-breaking experience. It would seem that excitement in WWE’s product is already returning as fans jumped at the chance to take part of the ThunderDome debut.
“WWE has a long history of producing the greatest live spectacles in sports and entertainment, yet nothing compares to what we are creating with WWE ThunderDome,” said Dunn in WWE’s release. “This structure will enable us to deliver an immersive atmosphere and generate more excitement amongst the millions of fans watching our programming around the world.”
As many people have observed over the past few months, watching wrestling events without crowds has been taxing and at times, almost unwatchable altogether. Debuts and returns that otherwise would have popped fans went off without much fanfare and promos have often felt flat without a crowd to cheer or boo the person behind the mic. Something has been missing and it’s clear that the impact of the crowd has been a big part of that. But now, WWE is hoping to re-create the fan experience and in-arena energy it’s shows are known for, hoping to engage some of the fanbase that lapsed during the pandemic as well as to create a more palatable viewing experience for those watching at home.
— The Top Rope (@topropeofficial) August 17, 2020
“Like the NBA, we’re doing virtual fans, but we’re also creating an arena-type atmosphere,” said Dunn. “We won’t have a flat board, we’ll have rows and rows and rows of fans. We’ll have almost 1,000 LED boards, and it will recreate the arena experience you’re used to seeing with WWE. The atmosphere will be night and day from the Performance Center. This is going to let us have a WrestleMania-level production value, and that’s what our audience expects from us. We are also going to put arena audio into the broadcast, similar to baseball, but our audio will be mixed with the virtual fans. So when fans start chants, we’ll hear them.”
While talking to SI, Dunn elaborated on some of the ways the fans would be involved starting with their role in wrestler’s entrances.
“We may have fans for certain entrances, standing up and cheering for the typical babyfaces,” said Dunn. “But someone like Bray Wyatt, who is so character-driven, the entire Amway Arena will be one big Fiend-dom. That’s our opportunity to be different from sports, where we can present these larger-than-life characters uniquely. This will be great for people watching at home across the globe, as well as the ones participating.”
According to sources, registration for virtual seats in the ThunderDome at SmackDown hit capacity in minutes.
From what I'm told, WWE will open registration for SummerSlam later this week. https://t.co/HJFwSls8IP
— Ryan Satin (@ryansatin) August 19, 2020
WWE has been a shell of itself for some time now but Dunn believes the limitless opportunities provided by the ThunderDome will start to change that in a meaningful way.
“I can’t wait to see the ThunderDome full of 1,000 people, giving us the energy we need to make this as entertaining as possible. I think people watching and participating are really going to enjoy this, and it’s going to make people say, ‘Wow, WWE, it’s back.’”
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. WWE fan? You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network. Make sure to follow WWE on social media or visit the ThunderDome website, to register to join the virtual crowd.
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