SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
WESH in Orlando, Fla. posted aerial footage of the site of WrestleMania 33 showing a giant wrestling ring providing rain cover for the actual relatively tiny wrestling ring underneath. Also, the entrance stage is flanked by a giant roller coaster set to play up “The Ultimate Thrill Ride” aspect of the marketing of Sunday’s event.
Watch the video of the aerial footage of the set here: CLICK HERE
WWE.com is also featuring exclusive photos of the set: CLICK HERE
Keller’s Analysis: First things first; the whole thing looks really cool. The giant ring is a creative way to create a lighting grid and protect from possible rain. However, the giant wrestling ring that’s part of the set makes the actual wrestling ring seem so small! If WWE really truly cared about fans and was interested in creating a the true Ultimate Thrill Ride, they’d have found out how to have giant hologram pro wrestlers simulcasting what was happening in the real ring underneath the giant set ring with actual human beings.
The roller coaster set definitely plays up the Ultimate Thrill Ride aspect of the marketing. In this era of WWE touting itself as “sports entertainment” (as if the NFL and Harmlem Globetrotters et al aren’t, also), they move further away from promoting to fans that the matches as the headliners, with a focus on a wrestler vs. wrestler to decide who a champion is (“It’s all fake, that’d insult everybody’s intelligence!”), and instead frame the event as a thrill ride.
WWE wants people to see WrestleMania not as a “bunch of fake fights with a bunch of stupid marks who must think it’s real because otherwise why would they be cheering and booing” but just a lot of entertainment acts providing many hours of smiles for their “Universe” of customers. I understand, with all the money and attention WrestleMania provides the company, wanting to show off and make the experience feel several levels higher than a typical live event or even a typical alternative evening of live entertainment (“Disney on Ice,” for instance). WWE has the budget to do it, and there will be years where the wrestlers and feuds don’t feel “WrestleMania-worthy,” so building up the “experience” and the “brand” is wise.
The price they pay, though, is shifting a lot of focus away from the actual reason most people spend money on the product- the talents and personalities of the wrestlers putting on entertaining simulating fights. If they move too far from that being their selling point, and start spending too many resources pitching the collective experience of live music and celebrity guests and over-the-top sets and marketing themes, it can diminish the sense that the matches are what everyone is there for. (And make no mistake, nobody’s going to WrestleMania in that stadium if the wrestlers aren’t wrestling in matches they care about year after year; no one shows up just for the music acts and to see the cool set who aren’t pro wrestling fans who see the in-ring action as the primary reason to spend money and time watching the show.) Making WrestleMania seem like a huge special high-budget event is important. Telling us over and over it’s an “Ultimate Thrill Ride” can feel like we’re having a marketing campaign shoved down our throats, along the lines of how hard Michael Cole laughs after not-so-funny skits WWE sometimes airs. It’s like WWE is telling us how much fun everything is instead of focusing more on the fights and letting us experience the fun without it feeling like “thrills” is a homework assignment we’re preordained to experience.
A few years ago, WrestleMania started to feel more like a chance for WWE to show off their brand to corporate partners paying half attention in the luxury suites, packing the long gaps between matches with video packages patting themselves on the back for what a great corporation they are and all the good they do the world. Some of this just feels like more of that, when the reason fans are going to the show or watching Sunday night is because of the wrestlers putting their bodies on the line to present great pro wrestling matches. The matches and rivalries and the championships they’re fighting for are the source of 90 percent of the thrills on Sunday.