The lockdown era of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world including pro wrestling, but the way that Vince McMahon and Tony Khan handled things was very much different.
AEW quickly had their wrestlers at ringside to act like fans while WWE for many months had no crowds until they did at the end of the Performance Center era with wrestlers before switching to the ThunderDome where fans appeared on LED screens. Eventually, AEW had fans in pods at Daily’s Place. This past July, both promotions returned to live event touring.
The AEW President spoke about this during an interview with Vegas Film Critic Jeffrey K. Howard.
“Well, the first week I came up with the idea of putting the wrestlers who weren’t in the matches, every wrestler I could get around the ring, to create an audience, and people enjoyed it. It was very different than watching the alternative. Our competitor was running empty arena shows. I stayed with that at first and kept the wrestlers at ringside through the pandemic for several months.
We stayed on the air through the pandemic, debuted some stars including the late great Mr. Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy in the pandemic. We’re able to keep fans interested. Frankly, I told people, this is voluntary. You don’t have to come to the wrestlers. We had a small crew and I built around that crew. Then people started to come back as we got deeper into the pandemic. Our competition through the pandemic, a few months later, they went to a fan wall like you saw in other sports, TV screens. I thought, ‘let’s bring wrestling back with live fans safely’ and we did it.”
Khan continued, “We had no COVID transmissions by going into an outdoor amphitheater and spacing people out where each seating section, a family or group of friends, could sit in what we called a pod. It would be like a drive-in movie. You had your own section of seats in this case. There’s no one near you, you’re outdoors, and it was great. It brought the fans back to pro wrestling. There were months and months where that was the only place you could watch pro wrestling anywhere in the world where the fans were cheering the matches.”
You can watch the entire interview by clicking on the player below (quotes can be found at the 4:40 mark):
If you use any portion of the quotes from this article please credit Jeffrey K. Howard with a h/t to WrestlingNews.co for the transcription