Fans In The Stands Again: A Reflection On Attending WrestleMania 37

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Photo Credit: John Clark

It had been 398 days since I last attended a wrestling event, which was Elimination Chamber on March, 8 2020. It has been nearly 400 days since WWE last allowed the general public buy tickets to attend an event. Whether you were someone who agreed with WWE’s decision to allow fans back at an event or someone who thought they should wait longer, WrestleMania 37 went off with a bang this past weekend.

A Magical Welcome

Fans eagerly packed Raymond James Stadium (at least as many as were allowed in), me being one of them. Without a doubt, the best moment of the weekend was Saturday at 7:58 pm when the WWE Superstars came out to the stage led by Vince and Shane McMahon to a massive ovation. Seeing the faces of superstars like Rhea Ripley crying on the big screen and Shane McMahon hyping up the WWE Universe left many fans also in tears. The New Day knew how to play with the crowd, drawing even bigger reactions from fans.

Vince gave his speech to fans and the show started… or so we thought. There was a definitely sense of disappointment when most fans were aiming their phones towards the stage hoping to capture footage of the vintage pyro that explodes at the beginning of WrestleMania, but it didn’t go as planned. Just seconds later, Mike Rome came over the loudspeakers to inform us to take shelter because another storm was on the way, the second time that fans had to take cover.

Not All Fun & Games

In an environment where you are expected to socially distance and maintain mask-wearing practices, that was hardly the case when it came to WrestleMania 37. I’ll be clear in the fact that I never ran into a single instance where someone with any authority told anybody else to pull up or put on their mask, and it was also nearly impossible to stay socially distanced when 10,000+ fans are expected to take shelter in a small concourse area. I didn’t run into any fans that seemed concerned or worried about COVID-19, but it was certainly a more tame experience than I originally thought I’d have.

WWE has taken risks with outdoor venues in the past, and it finally bit them in the behind this year. Fortunately, luck was on their side Sunday as the rain came to a halt just 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin. It had been pouring all day before that, and fans entered the stadium much more somber and miserable on Sunday. This won’t be a concern for the next few years as the events are being held at larger indoor venues.

There were definitely some difficulties that WWE ran into during the event. The huge pirate ship was unable to be repaired before the event despite them spending the entire buildup to the 8 pm start time trying to do so. WWE piped in more crowd noise through Peacock when they wanted to give off a different impression to fans watching at home. The biggest example of this was Hulk Hogan, who received a negative reaction from the live crowd every time he spoke.

Wrestling Fans Unite

Being at WrestleMania 37 this year (my second after WM 35) definitely reminded me how unique wrestling fans are. The random ‘Woooooo!’ chants going through the crowd every few minutes along with a few ‘CM Punk‘ chants instantly made me think that everything was normal in the wrestling world again. Wrestling fans might not get along when it comes to favorites or who should win or lose, but they will surely unite to defend professional wrestling in general.

It always intrigues me to see ushers, sanitizers, security, and concession workers who have no idea what WWE is getting a peak of wrestling in action and seeing the different looks on their faces. I encountered one member of the sanitizing team who told me he never watched pro wrestling before, but remained glued to the Jumbotron when they played the video package prior to the Bad Bunny tag team match. Another usher I spoke with was in awe at the presentation WWE came to Tampa with, as he never imagined seeing all of the fireworks and drone lighting in action. Wrestling fans sit there and expect this type of presentation and continuously criticize the product (Orton winning, Roman winning, or whatever minute detail is being picked apart), while those witnessing for the first time watch and say ‘This looks really cool!’.

There were wrestling fans everywhere when I was in Tampa. Even my initial flight from Pittsburgh was loaded with fans heading down for the show. Whether it was the Tampa Aquarium, a steak house, or a bar, there were wrestling fans there. This speaks volumes in regards to the economic impact that WrestleMania brings to a city.

Back To Reality

The reality of the situation is that this was a one-time thing (at least for now). Despite Vince welcoming fans back, introducing a new video package to begin the show, and implying that things might go back to normal, that won’t be the case anytime soon. SummerSlam could be the next time fans are welcomed back into an arena, but that remains to be seen for now. If restrictions are maintained and WWE holds the event at an indoor venue, we are looking at anywhere from 5k-15k fans being in attendance, a more intimate experience compared to WrestleMania 37.

I spoke with a few fans who were either attending their first WrestleMania solely because they had been sitting inside for the last year without doing anything or only attending the event because they were local to Tampa and wanted something to do. A couple I talked with made the trek from Germany and were able to get through every hoop necessary to attend their 10th WrestleMania. All of them plan on coming back next year and some of them expressed their interest in attending SummerSlam also. There will be no shortage of interest for the next event with live fans.

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