WrestleMania 37 marked WWE’s first fan-filled event in more than a year, and the company is now preparing to leave the fan-less ThunderDome behind for good.
According to a report from the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc), WWE could return to running traditional live events this summer, with NXT following suit a few months later: “The current plan is for NXT to go back to running live events late in the third quarter of 2021…On a related note, the Observer reports that WWE talents have been told that Raw and SmackDown may resume live event touring in August or possibly late July.”
WWE’s timetable unsurprisingly may ultimately be affected by rival promotion AEW’s return to the road. Wrestling Inc says, “It was also reportedly said that if AEW was to start touring in July, then WWE would move their return date up because they are open to doing everything they can to make sure AEW doesn’t start touring first.”
Although WWE largely operates under the assumption that AEW isn’t a true competitor to the king of pro wrestling, Vince McMahon wanted to beat AEW to the punch a year ago when he was determined to have fans at the 2020 SummerSlam pay-per-view. That didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until last month’s WrestleMania 37 event that WWE hosted a traditional fan-filled show. Indeed, WrestleMania was a big success, with more than 18,000 fans in attendance each night of the rare two-night affair.
Though AEW has consistently hosted fans at its TV tapings, it has yet to have a blockbuster event with several thousand fans in attendance, as its typical attendance for those tapings has hovered below 1,000 fans. It remains to be seen just how and when WWE will bring back its live events and how it will be affected by AEW, but the company is clearly taking steps to just do that, possibly within the next couple of months.
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The Observer (h/t Wrestling Inc) reports, however, that WWE doesn’t want to “rush the process” and jump back into touring too soon: “It was also said that WWE wants to be cautious and not misstep when it comes to touring, and they don’t want to rush the return to ticketed events. They could start booking arenas in Florida and Texas tomorrow, indoors and with full houses, if they wanted to, but they have decided not to rush the process.”
Still, WWE has revamped its live events department in preparation for a potential return to live events.
According to PWInsider (h/t Cageside Seats), “Adam Pearce has been promoted to Director of Live Events, per PW Insider. Historically, this has been one of Michael Hayes responsibilities. Hayes has been more involved in producing matches, specifically for Roman Reigns. Pearce will continue to produce matches, and along with Jason Jordan oversee the other producers. This is seen as another sign WWE is inching closer to touring again.”
With those changes comes a possible target date for a return. The Observer (h/t Cageside Seats) notes that “June has been hinted at inside the company,” though late July or August on the road to SummerSlam is more likely. That would seemingly position WWE to make SummerSlam its first non-WrestleMania pay-per-view to feature fans in more than a year, a logical move given that SummerSlam is typically one of the biggest pay-per-views on the WWE calendar each year.
WWE is reportedly set to begin running “test” live events soon to prepare for that potential move out of the ThunderDome, the state-of-the-art viewing experience that has played home to WWE TV tapings for much of the past year. During the company’s recent Q1 Earnings Call (h/t Wrestling Inc), WWE Chief Financial Officer Kristina Salen had the following to say in regard to WWE bringing back traditional live events: “We haven’t decided yet what our touring plans will be for this summer. But we are very hopeful that we return to touring in the second half of this year. And our hope is that we go to full touring, not that we have retained semi-permanent residency in one location and go half-out so to speak.”
Salen expressed the need for WWE to have a full-blown return to the road rather than one in which some TV tapings still took place inside the ThunderDome. In other words, it looks like WWE will move on from the ThunderDome permanently if and when the decision is made to once again run live events across the country.
And when that day comes, it will be a big moment not just for WWE but pro wrestling as a whole.