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LECLAIR’S AEW TAPING LIVE EXPERIENCE
APRIL 6, 2022
BOSTON, MA AT AGGANIS ARENA
This past Wednesday, I attended my first AEW live taping. It was the company’s third visit to Boston, and the second since the return to ticketed live events post-pandemic. AEW runs the Agganis Arena, which is located on the campus of Boston University. It’s the second largest indoor arena space in the city proper, trailing only TD Garden, which hosts a variety of WWE events.
I wanted to take some time to detail a variety of happenings from inside the building, from the AEW live experience, ticket and merchandise prices, and comparisons to WWE TV tapings.
We’ll start with the meat of the experience – the show itself. AEW prides itself in delivering a robust television product for viewers watching at home, with only four major Pay-Per-View events per year. This is in stark contrast to WWE, which often has far less news-worthy televised events en route to their monthly Premium Live Events. When purchasing a ticket to an AEW taping, you generally feel pretty confident that you’re going to get a relatively stacked card and see most, if not all the stars you’re hoping to see. This week’s episode was not different. The show was book-ended by two major matches – Adam Cole vs. Christian Cage, and FTR vs. The Young Bucks for the ROH and AAA Tag Team titles. In the middle, we saw The Hardy Boys take on Butcher & Blade in a tables match. Quite the line-up from a wrestling perspective, even if many of AEW’s bigger names didn’t directly appear on the show in an in-ring capacity.
Thankfully, two of them worked Rampage. Tony Khan announced early in the night that both Bryan Danielson, and Jon Moxley would be wrestling on Rampage. Each of those two matches, particular Moxley’s, wound up being among the highlights of a very fun night.
If you watched the show or follow along with wrestling media throughout the week, you’ve undoubtedly seen the (much deserved) praise for FTR vs. The Young Bucks. It was an excellent title bout, and one of the better matches I’ve seen in person in quite some time. The crowd remained hot throughout, and there’s was a genuine sense in the building that the crowd not only appreciated the match, but felt like it was a big deal. That goes a long way in making an event feel important, and, by extension, making your audience feel like they got their money’s worth.
The Dynamite opener, which saw Adam Cole take on Christian Cage, was no slouch either. Being the first live, televised match of the night undoubtedly worked in its favor. The crowd was wholly engaged from bell to bell, absolutely loving Adam Cole but also maintaining strong, respectful support for Christian Cage. That was a theme throughout the night for AEW’s legacy, former-WWE acts. They weren’t the most over talent on the show by any means, but there seemed to be a genuine appreciation coupled with a warm nostalgia for each of them. This, to me, was a great landing spot. The crowd was unquestionably there for AEW’s younger talent, both homegrown and coaxed over from WWE. There wasn’t an over-reliance on legacy acts, nor did it feel like the legacy acts were more over than the young, consistent, week-to-week performers. AEW has found a nice balance there.
Before Dynamite got going, we were treated to about an hour of tapings for Dark Elevation. The crowd was still filing at this time, and many were out in the concourse grabbing merchandise, food, and beverages. The portions of the arena that had filled in were enthusiastic to see Paul Wight and Mark Henry on commentary. Each wrestler got warm applause, though nothing stood out in particular until the final match. First up was Layla Hirsch, who was injured pretty early in her bout. The match was called off immediately and Layla was helped to the back, though she did manage to carry most of her weight on her own. It was a scary scene – her leg came down awkwardly and folded. The crowd started as big a “Layla” chant as they could muster as she was helped to the back.
The main event of Elevation saw The Dark Order take on Gunn Club. This was the first time the full throat of the crowd seemed to swell, with plenty “ass boy” chants, and strong babyface reactions for the misfit group. I’ve been fairly critical of Dark Order in the past, but the crowd support is undoubtedly there. I think they’re far better suited in a less serious, opening role. They played this well and it served its purpose in getting the crowd hyped up for the live taping.
Without getting into spoilers, two of the night’s major highlights came during the Rampage taping. In the opener, Bryan Danielson took on Trent Beretta. Danielson received a warm reaction when he came out, but it only seem to crowd as the match progressed. The crowd treated him to a “you’re gonna get your f’ing head kicked in” chant, which he couldn’t help but laugh at. Danielson still entered and exited through the heel tunnel, but he definitely played to the live crowd a bit more than he has been in weeks and months prior. He seems to be slowly transitioning back toward a babyface, albeit a grumpy one.
In the main event of Rampage, Jon Moxley took on Wheeler Yuta. The crowd popped big for Moxley, but the love for Yuta grew exponentially as the match progressed. It was a long, violent, bloody affair that earned Yuta a ton of respect and adoration from the crowd. Well worth going out of your way to watch.
Justin Roberts kicked off the night, serving as both ring announcer and MC. He welcomed fans to the show, explained the Dark Elevation tapings and kept things moving in a quick and orderly pace to get the night going. Following Elevation, he started getting the audience hyped up for Dynamite. He chatted with fans around ringside on the microphone, led the crowd in a “Happy Birthday” chant for someone with a sign, and just generally kept the energy high. A “Justin” chant broke out, which he seemed to appreciate. It was fascinating to watch him work, and see just how much more there is to his job than to announce the wrestlers. There’s an ebb and flow to the crowd control, and Roberts appears to have a great handle on it, and the freedom to work it the way he sees fit.
I was seated just to the left (right on TV) of center on the aisle, three rows off the floor. Being there gave a neat vantage point of all the major cameras – the hard cam across the way, as well as the two two crane cams positioned on the opposing corners of the arena. There’s a large clock, timed down the second, mounted right next to the hard cam for talent to reference during the broadcast. They’re tightly timed and vigilantly mindful of it all night.
AEW’s disclosure and warning announcement was very inclusive, making reference to their support of all gender identities, races, and orientations. Discriminatory behavior against anyone for any of the aforementioned reasons was to result in immediate rejection and future disqualification from attending AEW live events.
Just before 8pm EST, Justin introduced Tony Khan. Tony ran through the babyface tunnel, all smiles, full for excitement and energy. He said Boston is one of his favorite crowds, an AEW original, and he commended the fans for being so passionate. He said they’ve filled the building every time AEW has come through. Khan said they had a stacked line-up, with one of his favorite openers and main events in Dynamite history. He was quick to mention that both Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley would appear on Rampage, presumably to quell any fear of not seeing big names as Dynamite progressed. He said he’d talk to everyone after the show.
Dynamite’s announce team was introduced to progressively stronger reactions. J.R., was, of course, saved for last and the crowd gave him a very genuine, warm response. He still enters to his Sooners’ music.
The Dynamite taping was a well-oiled machine. Unlike WWE, there were no indications that a match was in a commercial break or a picture-in-picture. The arena lighting doesn’t change, the broadcast on the big screen remains in tact. During proper commercial breaks, they’d dim the arena lights and play the Dynamite theme over the loudspeakers. Usually, Justin Roberts would interact a bit with fans and then give a countdown for a return to broadcast. If the show was returning to a backstage segment, he’d tell the crowd up front and direct their attention to the screens. Wrestlers seemed more or less free to play to the crowd and slap hands at and around ringside during breaks so long as they got out of there before Justin initiated his back-t0-live count.
AEW does a lot of “from black” entrances. During Dark Elevation, and again during Dynamite, all the house lights shut off and smoke poured out of the stage. Each time, the there was nervous anticipation from the crowd. The former wound up being Dark Order. The latter was Shawn Spears. Spears’ entrance, in particular, seemed to be a bit of a let down to the live crowd.
After the Hardy Boys vs. Butcher & Blade tables match, backstage personnel spilled from the corners of the floor with leaf-blowers and brooms to clean up the wreckage quickly. This was even occurring while the show was (presumably) still on-air, with the camera focused on the Sting confrontation on the ramp. Once the bodies cleared from the ramp way, Tony Khan re-emerged. He motioned toward the entrance way, coaxing Matt and Jeff to come back out. They obliged. Justin Roberts comically ran a microphone up to them. Matt said that it was the one year anniversary of their dad’s passing. He thanked the crowd and asked them to indulge him a “legend” chant for their late father. The crowd, of course, was happy to do so. Matt and Jeff bowed and praised Boston before heading backstage again. Justin Roberts took the mic and rushed back down to the ring to make the end of the break.
Just before the main event, Bobby Cruise headed down to the ring to quietly replace Justin Roberts for the announcements. He wasn’t introduced, but most of the crowd seemed quite familiar with him and happy to see him.
After the conclusion of FTR vs. Young Bucks, crews hit the entrance stage immediately to begin cleaning up the Bucks’ streamers, and to change over the ramp-way. FTR stayed in the ring for a few moments and bowed to the crowd. They left the ring as the crew spilled in from the corners to begin switching things over for Rampage. Dax and Cash celebrated with fans in the front row for a few minutes as the ring crew tore the structure down to its base layers. I didn’t get an exact count, but there about 10-12 men working at a rapid pace to switch out of the aprons, roll up the mat and replace it with the screen-printed Rampage version, and change the turnbuckles. Several more men quickly swapped out the barricade covers at ringside. It was fast and efficient, clocking in at just about seven minutes for the whole process.
Justin Roberts made his way back out and started chatting with fans again. He asked fans if it was their first time attending an AEW event, and about half the crowd said it was. The other half were returning for their second or third time (in Boston, at least.) Roberts introduced the Rampage announce crew. I think fans were hoping to get the chance to sing along to “Judas”, but alas, Jericho was not present due to his tour with Fozzy. He was technically written off the show earlier on in the night, with Kingston’s crew chasing the J.A.S. away. Ricky Starks received a decent welcome. Roberts then called out a fan who jokingly booed the referee in the ring. He officiated a rock-paper-scissors match between the two of them, and announced it like a big fight. The fan won.
Tony Khan returned to hype up Rampage. He was hilariously emotive, pacing around the stage and talking up the card. He let out a big “let’s go!” before heading to the back.
Rampage got under way at about 10:15pm EST. It was produced live-to-tape, so Bryan Danielson and Trent Beretta made their entrances before the show’s intro. When the pyro shot from the stage, the two were already in the ring and ready to go, having been introduced by Roberts before the show went “live.” From there, they taped the event as though it were a live TV broadcast, with actual quiet commercial breaks spliced in where they’ll air on Friday’s broadcast. While I’m sure it makes the editing experience smoother, I did start to notice a bit of fatigue from the crowd. At this point, it is effectively the equivalent of the third hour of a live Raw.
After the live taping concluded and many of the fans began filing out, the Blackpool Combat Club and Wheeler Yuta continued to share handshakes and celebrations in the ring. Bryan Danielson was the first to leave. Jon Moxley gave the crowd an extra turnbuckle pose. Wheeler Yuta was left to himself. Tony Khan returned, clapping and overjoyed with the main event. He said that Boston got to witness a star being born in Wheeler Yuta. He said he’ll bring AEW back to Boston as soon and as quickly as he is possibly able. He thanked the crowd and said goodnight. Justin Roberts echoed the sentiments, and the house lights went up.
TICKETS, ATTENDANCE & CROWD
Boston has been an exceptionally strong market for AEW. I took part in the pre-sale for this show, and a Ticketmaster glitch that morning made trying to secure seats a nightmare. Once they cleaned up the issues on their end, seats moved fast, with anything premium gone within the first few minutes. In the weeks leading up to the event, only a small handful of Ticketmaster “Premium” seats at ringside, and resale options remained. It was, for all intents and purposes a sell-out.
Monday afternoon, the first of the production drops occurred. The first batch came in the last five rows of the corner section, opposite the hard-cam. These seemed to last most of the day, but were down to only a scattered handful of singles on Monday night.
Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, the final, and largest drop occurred. AEW opened up their two major production areas – behind the hard cam, and just behind the corner crane cam at ring-right. By the time I arrived at the Agganis Arena at about 6:15pm EST on Wednesday, only about 30 tickets behind the hard-cam remained. I saw several people walking up to the box office, and that area looked largely full by the time the show began. According to WrestleTix on Twitter, 97% of the arena’s designated capacity had been distributed as of 4:09pm on the afternoon of the show. Quite impressive.
The arena looked completely full through Dynamite, with only the minuscule aforementioned gap above the hard cam. The arena looked great, was lit well, and seemed to come off great on TV. Many fans left before Rampage got underway. More left at the conclusion of the Bryan Danielson match. Even more left after they saw Jon Moxley’s entrance. Still, I’d wager at least 75-80% of the crowd stuck it out through the entire taping. Perhaps more would’ve stayed had it run a little shorter, but I’d certainly say that they held the majority of the audience quite well. The house lights didn’t come on until 11:25pm. The action started promptly at 7:00pm, or perhaps even 6:55. That’s nearly four and a half hours in total – a long Wednesday night.
AEW’s tickets are exceptionally reasonable in price, especially in comparison to comparable WWE events. The most expensive seats ran just $90 before Ticketmaster fees, with still-excellent seats running $70. The upper rows of the main arena stretch and corners came in $60, while the upper corners dropped all the way down to $29. That’s a great swath of price levels accessible to nearly all types of fan. It certainly feels like a good value for the length of the show, the talent you get to see, and the quality of matches that are so frequently featured on Dynamite and Rampage. By comparison, a ringside seat to a WWE house show typically begins at $110, depending on the market.
The crowd itself largely fit AEW’s target demo – a strong representation of 18-34 year old males, probably skewing toward the higher end of that bracket. I did see a solid number of families and children as well. The kids seemed very into the product, though no one wrestler stood out as being significantly more popular than the next with that demographic. The adults were most into Adam Cole, followed closely by FTR, Jon Moxley, and Sting. Bryan Danielson would probably be at the top of tier 2, followed by the Hardy Boys. M.J.F. Wardlow also received a very strong response, and no boos quite matched those for M.J.F.’s.
The audience was engaged and lively all night, with plenty of dueling chants and respectful haggling of the heels. Going in, I wondered if there would be any attention given to Cody Rhodes’ departure. At one point, the crowd started a small “Cody” chant. Justin Roberts wisely redirected the audience, purposely mistaking the chant for “Tony” and leading the crowd in ovation for Schiovane.
AEW largely enjoyed a crowd that was happy to do exactly what the company expected, with one notable exception. Sammy Guevara and Tay Conti received a mixed reception on Dynamite. The crowd seemed slightly more interested in Tay than Sammy, but generally speaking, there wasn’t a ton of ill-will there. That flipped dramatically during the Rampage taping. Dan Lambert, Scorpio Sky, and Ethan Page had just spent a couple minutes bad-mouthing Boston when Sammy and Tay came out to the stage again. The crowd immediately flipped, siding strongly with Lambert and peppering Sammy and Tay with loud “shut the f up” chants. Lambert did his usual, borderline-inappropriate act and the crowd ate it up. When Guevara called Lambert fat, many in the crowd yelled that he was fat-shaming. AEW has a problem on their hands with these two as babyfaces, and they’ll need to address it quickly.
Throughout the night, there was a definite excitement throughout the crowd, wondering what AEW would do to try to take back some momentum following a largely well-received WrestleMania weekend. I got the sense from listening to those around me that there was a positive sentiment toward WrestleMania as a whole. For AEW’s part, I thought they did a good job delivering a show that the crowd could feel happy with, even though a few of their major namesakes (C.M. Punk, Britt Baker, Chris Jericho, House of Black) didn’t appear.
AEW’s merchandise stands were strategically positioned at all major entry points throughout the arena. I did a walk of the entire bowl and found most of the same stuff at each station. They carried a plethora of AEW branded company merchandise, including logo t-shirts, a hoodie, and an “I WAS THERE” special long-sleeve. They had a gray C.M. Punk ringer shirt, one of Adam Cole’s official shirts, and the recently released Hardy Boys shirt. There were hats, gloves, and other small accessories. Some of the stations had AEW action figures, which seemed to be selling quite well. Not a huge variety overall, but there were healthy lines at all the stations throughout the night.
In terms of fan attire, I saw several kids dressed in Jeff Hardy sleeves. There were a good number of Moxley t-shirts, and a whole lot of varying C. M. Punk merchandise. More than anything, I saw AEW logo shirts, jackets, and hoodies. The brand is certainly over in a big way.
I had a great time, though I was certainly glad I decided to splurge for a hotel just outside the city. Boston is about a three hour drive from my home in Maine, and though I’m used to doing the whole trip in one shot, the concerts I attend in the city are typically done before 11:00pm. The Agganis Arena is a bit a further out on the city’s Green Line, making it a longer ride back to the car and a later night overall. For those that live on the outskirts, or outside the city, or, like me, outside the state, it’s a tough ask on a Wednesday night. If you’ve got kids, it’s even harder. Still, AEW does a great job at delivering plenty of action for the price. On a personal note, I was a bit disappointed not see some of my personal favorites (namely C.M. Punk and Malakai Black), but I was aware of that risk coming in. Punk was advertised, and I don’t see that he was pulled from the line-up prior to, but I didn’t get the sense that people were all that disappointed. I’ll remember the show for the stellar Dynamite main event, and the surprisingly excellent bout between Moxley and Yuta. I’d certainly attend another show in the future, though, like WWE, I’ll be far more inclined to make the trip for a major Pay-Per-View than a weekly TV taping.