ORLANDO, Fla. - Friday night’s WWE Smackdown may have been one of the company’s most different they’ve ever put on as the coronavirus scare forced the superstars to duke it out in an empty Orlando arena.
Their own arena to be exact, and really it’s not even a full arena, but the WWE’s Performance Center in East Orlando.
Commentators Michael Cole and HHH didn’t try to hide the situation, addressing the fact the action was going on in front of empty seats from the opening moments of the show. Superstars also commented on the ‘elephant in the room’ throughout the unique show.
The empty arena show was a first for WWE, sans a few gimmick matches over the years, and it certainly wasn’t the company’s first choice.
Smackdown was scheduled to take place in Detroit, Michigan but, like most major cities across the US right now, community leaders canceled all major gatherings of people to cut down on the chance of Coronavirus exposure; slow the fast-moving pandemic.
WWE management made the decision to move the show on Thursday, and announced just prior to Smackdown Friday that Monday night’s Raw live broadcast will also take place at the Orlando Performance Center, again, in front of an empty crowd."It's definitely going to be weird,” said Longwood Mayor and WWE Alum Matt Morgan before Friday’s show.
"It's really tough not to have the fans in the arena. Hitting some of these crazy moves these guys do, they really rely on the adrenaline from the live crowd."It’s unclear how long WWE’s performers will be without that ‘live crowd’ fuel. Sports teams, leagues, and entertainers across the country have canceled weeks of events and even entire remainders of their seasons to assist with the pandemic situation.
WWE’s Performance Center gives them a unique ability to continue shows throughout the crisis, though as of Friday they’ve only moved Friday’s Smackdown and Monday’s Raw to the center; not announcing any changes beyond that yet.
Many are eyeing the company’s biggest event of the year, Wrestlemania, which is scheduled to take place on April 5 in Tampa Bay. At this point, the event is still on, but community leaders in the Tampa Bay area have openly pressured WWE leaders to pull the plug or postpone.
Friday’s show, while different, showed the company has options through the crisis."My hat's off to WWE for thinking outside the box and making sure the show goes on for those fans at home who'll be tuning in like I do,” said Morgan.