WWE claps back at COVID with its Thunderdome

The WWE has a brand-new weapon to bring viewers back ringside: its purpose-built live-screening Thunderdome

If you’ve watched WWE screens lately and the sets all look the same, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The sports entertainment giant has invested millions into its productions, this time building its WWE Thunderdome. It’s an all-purpose wrestling-only stadium within a stadium, built inside the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Loads of WWE SuperStars live in Orlando, where the WWE Performance Center is also based. So, it made sense. The Thunderdome gives wrestling fans a ringside seat, without physically being in the stadium, but still gives the wrestlers the full roar of the crowd.

SuperStar wrestler Triple H (whose real name is Paul Levesque), who is also the WWE Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy & Development, says, “It’s an exciting time with a lot of change happening in the world. Everybody is still trying to put out content in the most effective way possible. And the safest way possible. We have a lot of things happening in our world. It’s going to be explosive going forward.”

Building the beast

Thunderdome features the traditional WWE ring in the centre, surrounded by the usual WWE effects. There’s the titantron-like TV screens above the ring, there are huge scaffolding constructions for effects, pyrotechnics, there’s a slightly shorter walkway from backstage… and there are fans! But not in the traditional sense. Because of COVID, there are no mass gatherings for sporting events. So, the WWE has surrounded its rings with TV monitors that are filled with fans’ faces while they stream from home. It’s the closest thing that both the WWE athletes and the fans can get to the live WWE shows at the moment.

“We have looked into every manner of thing that makes this business safe for everyone, not just the talent but the fans too,” explains Paul. “When we feel that we have something, we implement it. There is a lot of science that has gone into it [Thunderdome], and we think that it will make the experience better for everyone. We are testing everybody and we are doing everything we can to stay safe, and Thunderdome is helping us get back to our fans.”

Since its introduction at NXT Takeover 30 in late August, Thunderdome has done its job – not only are fans tuning in in their thousands, brands like SmackDown and NXT have seen ratings spikes. It’s got all the makings and feel of a mega-sized stadium production, while at the same time giving everyone the WWE fix they crave, in safety.

New home venue

WWE events have always been live. Tickets for pay-per-view specials like SummerSlam and WrestleMania sell out in minutes months before the events. But with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down global sports for months, trust the WWE to find a solution. “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,” says WWE Executive VP, Television Production Kevin Dunn.

Thunderdome will be the home for all of the WWE brands for the immediate future, adds Paul. “SummerSlam, Raw, NXT, everything – it’s a massive undertaking. I’ve seen it [the Thunderdome construction] and it’s spectacular. I can tell you personally, how much we have missed everyone, our fans, and this gives us the chance to reconnect. It’s going to be great seeing everyone again and have the fans be a part of the WWE again. The fans are the secret sauce of our energy and everything we do.”

Watch all the WWE action from SmackDown, Raw, NXT and pay-per-view specials on SuperSport Wrestling (DStv 236)

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