AEW has announced that it will have its first show with paying fans. Is this the right time?
AEW announced that they will allow fans to attend its August 27 show at 10 percent capacity. All fans must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth. They must follow all protocols set by local regulations and CDC guidelines. Fans will be able to purchase tickets in pods of two, three, four and six people. They must be socially distanced from people not in their pods. There is a seating chart marked with colors to show where physically-distanced seats are when buying tickets.
AEW is asking fans that have COVID-19, COVID-19 symptoms, or have had close contact with someone exposed to not attend. They will be performing temperature checks and tickets are only on mobile devices. According to the press release, there are hand sanitizing stations available. The floor will have markings to ensure social distancing. Industrial fans will be in use in an effort to increase air circulation.
Wrestling fans coming back seems inevitable, especially with the number of indie promotions holding shows (including Joey Janela and GCW). Most of these shows have been outdoors and not in enclosed venues. Are fans at live shows necessary?
AEW has been running shows at Daily’s Place. The venue is considered outdoors as it has only a roof and no walls. It is adjacent to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field. With a limited number of fans, they could conceivably keep fans and venue workers safe. They are far enough away that they would not come into contact with any talent.
Florida has not handled the COVID-19 pandemic well at all
In an interview, Dr. Fauci said he wants everyone to remember the threats that this pandemic poses. “We’ve, obviously, got to be very careful and attentive to the fact that the risk of transmitting when you have people congregated in crowds without masks, and even with masks congregation, still is a risk. The mask mitigates that risk a bit, but you still, as best as possible, to stay out of crowded situations and keep a physical distance.”
The same day AEW announced that they were going to allow fans to return to shows, it was announced that Florida has surpassed 10,000 resident deaths. The state added over 4500 new cases. Duval County (where Jacksonville is located) has had over 25,000 cases. Jacksonville was named as a hotspot on July 8 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
WWE has the ThunderDome concept that they are launching. This allows fans to attend virtually like the NBA is doing. Thousands of fans will appear to be in the Amway Center. This will give Superstars the illusion that they are performing in front of a live audience instead of only playing to the crowd at home and the crowd of their peers in the PC.
Given the information about Florida’s COVID cases, particularly in Jacksonville, ThunderDome seems like a better way to handle shows. AEW will be limiting the number of paying fans, but it is still a risk. It is a risk that fans will have to make for themselves, but AEW is giving them the opportunity to even take that risk.
AEW didn’t describe every possible precaution
There are a few concerns not addressed in the press release, such as the bathroom situation. The assumption is that there will be floor markings for fans in line and a limited number of fans allowed in the bathroom at once. Hopefully, it will be monitored by an attendant to keep the flow going and to make sure protocols are being followed.
What about fan behavior before and after the shows? Many fans are likely to dine out before coming to the venue. That’s another way that fans are exposing themselves prior to coming the venue. There has already been concern online about fans showing up at the hotel where talent is.
Another factor is fans traveling from out of state. Many of the states around Florida don’t have strict protocols in place and aren’t even under a mask mandate. Although it’s generally discouraged, there’s always a possibility that some fans will fly in.
Then, there’s the matter of out of state fans needing somewhere to stay. Hotels have protocols in place, but if there is an influx of guests because they’re attending AEW. More fans means more risk to the local community. Fans attending shows can have a bigger effect outside of the Daily’s Place bubble.
AEW is putting the responsibility in the hands of fans
Of course, AEW can only control so much, but these are things that have to be factored when making the decision to allow fans to attend shows. The press release mentions that if guidelines are “followed meticulously” the crowd size will expand to 15 percent. As crowds expand, so does the risk to fans, staff, and the community at large. How will AEW feel if there is a massive outbreak after fans attend their show?
Both AEW and WWE have been trying to give their fans a sense of normalcy in the last six months. They have put on shows to the best of the ability given their limited capabilities. They’ve both dealt with positive cases related to talent. Professional wrestling will always go on in one way or another.
As a wrestling fan, I get it. I went to local shows monthly, I really miss going to shows. It’s a different energy that just watching on TV. I attended Fight For the Fallen last year, which was held at Daily’s Place. It’s a great venue and for this particular situation, the best option for a small crowd. I do think that AEW is taking the best precautions it can, but it’s not necessary for fans to attend shows. I’ve talked to friends and they’re not even considering attending shows until sometime next year, and I agree with them.
It is now up to fans to decide if the sense of normalcy by attending live shows is worth the risk of getting sick or making someone else sick.