If you’ve been living under a rock, COVID-19 or coronavirus is a highly infectious disease that has ravaged communities, infected over 100,000 people and killed nearly 5,000 people worldwide since its outbreak in late January. So if you’ve been living under a rock, you might want to stay there because it might be the only safe place right now. (Though there are several measures you can and should take to protect yourself.)
Far less importantly, but more in scope of this website, it has caused the postponement or cancelation of conventions, concerts, movie productions and wrestling events around the globe. And as any wrestling fan knows, WrestleMania 36 is right around the corner — or at least, it’s scheduled to be.
70,000 wrestling fans in one place doesn’t sound like the best idea, which begs the question — what is Vince McMahon going to do?
As of now, WrestleMania 36 is still a go at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, but it’s not looking good — Tampa Bay has three confirmed cases of the disease, while the state of Florida has 23 and counting. However, neither Tampa Bay nor the state of Florida have outright banned gatherings over a certain number of people like other areas have, which is likely the only way WWE would consider canceling its biggest event of the year.
WWE sent the following statement to Tampa’s local 10News station:
The health and safety of our fans, performers and employees are our top priorities and we are monitoring the situation closely with our partners and government officials in Tampa Bay. We remain committed to hosting WrestleMania at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, April 5, and like other entertainment properties in the U.S., there are currently no plans to cancel or postpone our upcoming events.
That seems to be the bottom line here. Barring a state or federal mandate, the show must go on — after all, this is the same company that held a SmackDown taping two days after 9/11, and the same company that continues to do business with Saudi Arabia even after their government ghoulishly murdered and dismembered a US resident. Normally, almost nothing will get WWE to cancel a show.
However, these are not normal times. Washington State’s governor, Jay Inslee, issued an emergency proclamation limiting large events. As a result, WWE’s sister company, the XFL, will put on a game in front of zero fans (insert “don’t they do that every week anyway?” joke here) when the Seattle Dragons host the LA Wildcats this weekend. And in the wrestling world, while NJPW canceled a number of shows, fellow Japanese company Stardom held an empty arena show a few days ago, and it was…kinda cool?
— TDE Wrestling (@tde_wrestling) March 8, 2020
This Friday night, SmackDown took place in front of zero fans in the WWE Performance Center. Sure, a large chunk of the show was a replay of the SmackDown Tag Team Championship match at Elimination Chamber, but the original parts of the show were oddly endearing, and at the very least a fun distraction from the widespread panic over this disease.
This isn’t even unprecedented for WWE, as the company voluntarily held an empty arena match in January 1999 during the Super Bowl halftime show in an event dubbed Halftime Heat.
Of course, WrestleMania is a whole different animal. Halftime Heat was an extra event, separate from their previously scheduled programming — a one-off match in honor of a special event. Presenting WrestleMania, WWE’s cash cow and what their entire calendar builds to every year, would be a last resort for the company. In a world where WrestleMania is included in your $9.99 WWE Network subscription, the show solely generates revenue from ticket and merchandise sales. Refunding everybody who has already committed to a trip to Tampa would be disastrous for the company’s bottom line.
Other entertainment events and gatherings are being canceled out of an abundance of caution, and “abundance of caution” is not a concept coded into Vince McMahon’s DNA. You could argue, quite easily, that canceling or postponing WrestleMania is in the best interest of its fans, especially the tens of thousands of their most dedicated fans who are flying in from all over the world for the show. But if you think Vince McMahon is all that different from the money-obsessed, get-rich-at-all-costs capitalist he plays on TV, well…
The only way WrestleMania plans are altered is if the state of Florida or the federal government tells them they have to, but it might happen. And if it does, well, WWE will find a way to make it work. Just look at the SmackDown the day after most of the roster was stuck on a landing strip in Saudi Arabia — it ended up being one of the best episodes in recent memory.
It might be unthinkable now, but if WWE is forced to put WrestleMania on in an empty stadium, it will at least be one of the most memorable Manias ever, and from a certain point of view, even more of a must-see spectacle. Sorry, Drew McIntyre — if things keep going the way they have been, you might have to celebrate your crowning moment in front of zero of your adoring fans.
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