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LECLAIR’S WWE SURVIVOR SERIES 2022 In-Person Perspective
The city of Boston has long been a stalwart of WWE’s yearly calendar. They visit the vaunted TD Garden a few times yearly, usually for television tapings and the occasional house show. For many years, the home of the Boston Celtics and Bruins also played host to a yearly WWE Pay-Per-View. I attended my first there in 2000 – one of the last few King of the Ring events. Previously, its played host to the coronation of Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV, the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match between Sasha Banks and Ronda Rousey, and various other lineage Pay-Per-Views and “big four” events.
It’s surprising, then, that despite visiting multiple times a year, Survivor Series 2022 marked the first Pay-Per-View/Premium Live Event in the city since 2017’s Clash of Champions, and the first “big four” event since the last time they hosted Survivor Series in 2013. SummerSlam 2020 was originally scheduled for TD Garden, along with and NXT Take Over, go-home Smackdown, and the post-event Monday Night Raw. Those plans, were, of course, spoiled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initially, I didn’t sense much excitement surrounding the event. I even joked with Wade Keller during an appearance on his Pro Wrestling Post Show for PWTorch that I had no intention of attending, given the event’s recent transformation into silly brand vs. brand warfare. It wasn’t until Paul “Triple H” Levesque took over creative control of the company during the summer that I reconsidered and started planning to make the event my first in-person PLE experience in just over five years. Others seemed to have the same idea. Having attended dozens of shows in and around the New England area over the course of the last twenty or so years, I’d become well accustomed to Ticketmaster pre-sales and on-sales. Anecdotally, I found demand to be substantially higher than recent memory. My suspicion bore out once the show sold out the day of the sale.
My group arrived in Boston on Friday, keen to make a weekend of the experience and take in a Celtics game that evening. Side note: as a bit of an arena logistics nerd, I couldn’t help but wish I could pay a little extra just to watch the crews swap the ice over to the parquet court, then to WWE’s elaborate set-up, and back to the parquet court again. I find that stuff immensely fascinating. Alas, upon our arrival, I noticed that North Station (situated directly underneath TD Garden) was fully decked out in WWE promotional material. Survivor Series ads were plastered to entrance and exit doors, the large LED board outside the main entrance to the station flashed “War Games.” Even the main steps had been transformed into an ad for the event. Light poles up and down Causeway Street were adorned with wrestler’s faces. It was impressive. Having been to many WWE events here in the past, I don’t once recall this level of promotion.
The aesthetic of the building and surrounding area seemed to match the excitement of the crowd, too. I walked the block and half or so from my hotel to TD Garden just after 6pm on Saturday to find a line already wrapping around the entire building. It extended all the way to back talent and service garage, where it pooled into a snaking mess of fans waiting to be let in. The atmosphere was palpably excited, and as I listened to conversations around me, the sentiment became quite clear. Thought many people had bought their tickets off of brand recognition alone, there was a marked rush to the secondary market after War Games was announced as the theme. In fact, a gentleman in front of me in line had traveled from England to see the first iterations of the match under the WWE banner. The usual rolling “Woo!” chants kept the cold crowd engaged. A person strolling by with a “Sami 4 Mania main event” sign elicited a big pop. It was a fun, festive atmosphere with fans who seemed genuinely interested in the card and the direction of the product.
Once inside, I made sure to take a lap around the concourse of the lower bowl to get a feel for the audience, the merchandise, and the vibe of the rest of the crowd. There was a healthy mix of demographics – plenty of families with children, groups of friends, and the usual high-spenders carrying multiple replica titles and filling bags with merchandise at the stands. I ran into a group of guys from Germany who planned their friend’s Bachelor weekend around the event. I was struck, in particular, by the streamlined approach to merchandise. The usual stands scattered about the arena are still present, but they carry a limited selection of shirts and trinkets. They were mostly stocked with a number of city and event specific tees, all of which seemed popular when scanning the arena. There was a special, one-night only collaboration with Samuel Adams Brewing, and Survivor Series/Boston Celtics mash-up shirt, and a trio of different Boston-themed “Austin 3:16” style tees. The merch stands seemed to only carry two wrestler specific items – a new Bray Wyatt shirt, and a Bloodline shirt.
For a larger selection, one needed to find their way to one of a few larger “Survivor Series stores”, located in the arena’s multiple Pro Shops usually occupied by the Bruins and Celtics. Here, you’d find not only all the city-specific merch, but a host of wrestler tees more commonly seen on TV and on WWE Shop. Still, I was surprised by the lack of overall variety. I spotted the Bloodline, Roman Reigns, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins, and little else. Elsewhere in the arena, there was a station set up specifically for replica title belts – virtually all the current titles, and several classics were available to purchase. This was in stark contrast to the old days, where you might find one version of the World Title and nothing else.
One of the cooler features of the new shopping experience, though, was the “skip the line” table. One could approach the table and scan the QR code to bring up a specially formulated version of WWE Shop on their phone, featuring all the merchandise in stock in the arena. From there, you could place your order and simply wait for an email letting you know it was ready to pick up at a designated location, allowing you to skip the long lines and pay right from your phone. I used it to buy a keepsake event t-shirt, and the experience was quick and easy. Plus, I dodged a 30-person deep line for the merchandise stand right next to pick up counter.
As bell time rapidly approached, the arena had already filled to capacity. WWE had opened up a couple more balcony sections behind the stage earlier in the day, and those looked full. It was an impressive, prompt crowd, and many people seemed interested in seeing the novelty of two rings for the first time. Michael Cole and Corey Graves made their way to ringside, both to warm receptions.
Michael Cole, in particular, was a stand-out part of my live experience. I was seated in the front row of the lower bowl, just beyond the ring. I had a perfect line of sight to Cole and Graves at the commentary table, and I’d often get distracted from the action in the ring watching the two of them work. While Graves sat mostly stoic, reserved and intensely focused on the ring or his monitor, Cole was bombastic. He’d bounce around in his seat for big moves, slide his chair back in exasperation, talk with his hands, and just stay fully animated at virtually all times. I know there’s been a bit of a newfound appreciation for Cole coming off his rejuvenating run with Pat McAfee and the new “chains off” approach to commentary, but seeing it happen in person was a nice affirmation.
I know there’s been significant discourse about the crowd reactions throughout the night, and I can say with certainty that the crowd didn’t translate nearly as well on TV as I would have expected leaving the arena that night. There was no point during the show that I felt like the crowd wasn’t up and either fully engaged, or at least determined to make their presence known. Reactions throughout the night fell largely in line with company expectation and alignment, save for the immense “We want Sasha” chants that permeated the Smackdown Women’s title match. Reports that they’d perhaps muted or dulled the crowd’s microphones after that seem accurate, as I distinctly recall the chant coming up more times than is present in the broadcast. The reactions the rest of the night seemed subdued by comparison, as well.
Though I can only offer anecdotal comparisons and with rudimentary research, I will note that my Apple Watch buzzed me for being in a loud environment more during Survivor Series than the previous night at the Celtics game, based solely on crowd cheering (discounting the notifications during pyro and wrestler’s theme music.) It felt more consistently loud than my experience at AEW Dynamite earlier this year, too. That show was at a substantially smaller venue, but it’s worth noting that it was praised for its crowd participation.
The audience seemed most enamored by the Bloodline. Despite being heels, many of the kids within earshot of me were actively cheering them on, especially Sami Zayn. They had no rooted interest in booing Sheamus and company, and actually seemed to quite like them, they just liked the bad guys more. Kevin Owens’ seemed to lead the pack in terms of positive reactions on the babyface side, with a surprisingly subdued reaction to Drew McIntyre. He didn’t feel like the big star he once did, and his booking in the match seemed to align with that hunch. There was definite interest in the intricate story developing between Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, and Jey Uso. While backstage promos are often prone to crowd murmurs and distractions, it felt like nearly everyone in the arena was focused intently on the tron during those Bloodline segments. It’s a good thing, too, since it was integral to what would play out in the ring during the main event.
If there was one knock on crowd participation in the live setting, I think it would be that the lull in between early entrants in the two War Games matches. Given that the bigger stars were saved until the end, the fact that the match hadn’t “officially” started, and the meandering from spot to spot at times, I could feel a little restlessness on occasion. There was a keen interest in standing up and counting down with the clock, as has become a staple of Royal Rumble matches.
The crowd felt most alive during the triple threat for the United States title, though. Seth Rollins received one of the largest reactions of the night, and Bobby Lashley was treated like a star. Though fans booed Austin Theory, I got the sense that there was a general belief that he was out of place amongst two of the biggest names on the Raw roster. That belief was further cemented when Theory got the surprise victory, leading to a number of a genuine stunned reaction shots in the crowd. What I think was initially shock turned into disappointment. I heard several people around me insinuate that a great match was ruined by a bad result.
Earlier in the night, while the video package for Finn Balor vs. A.J. Styles aired, you may have caught that I tweeted to look out for some in-crowd action. My suspicions, of course, proved to be right, leading to one of the more fun little anecdotes from the show. I’d never sat in this particular spot before, but doing so gave me an eagle eye to most communication between the arena’s floor security staff, and WWE’s in-house crew. The Garden had three security members positioned in a stacked row, going from the barricade all the way to the guardrail of the lower bowl. A WWE official approached them and asked them to move to back, against the wall I was seated just behind, clearing the way for the Good Brothers and Judgment Day to spill into the aisle during the Styles vs. Balor match. Sure enough, as soon as the match was over, the same official returned and told in-house security to return to their normal positions. You can even see the three security guards lined up against the back wall on the Peacock broadcast.
Once the show went off the air, the Bloodline stuck around in the ring to celebrate their win. The Usos encouraged Sami Zayn to climb to the top of the cage and celebrate his triumph. He happily did, and soaked in adoration from the crowd that was ecstatic to see him be accepted into the family. He posed atop the cage while the Bloodline looked on and the baby face crew regrouped in the second ring. The Bloodline left together to a strong reaction, and then the babyfaces sauntered up the ramp to applause. Kevin Owens was the last to leave, just as the remaining audience was thanked for coming and reminded of a pre-sale for Monday Night Raw at TD Garden in March.
I found the show itself to be a solid thumbs up. I enjoyed both Styles vs. Balor and the U.S. title match, the latter being the highlight in terms of in-ring work and crowd reception. Though the War Games matches themselves still felt a little bit like “gimmick of the month” affairs, I loved the story they weaved throughout the main event and was happy to be a part of such a critical junction on the journey of the Bloodline, Sami Zayn, and now, Kevin Owens. The only down spot, which was evident watching the show back, was the Smackdown Women’s title match. It came across live about as poorly as it did on TV. I found it particularly hard to get engaged with it from my vantage point, given that they wrestled in the ring farthest away. My seat proved to be a bit of a challenging angle at times, especially when they worked on the side of the hard camera. Crowd sentiment on the way out of the building seemed overwhelmingly positive. People were buzzing about the closing minutes of the men’s War Game match, and many stopped outside to take pictures with the advertisements around the venue.
Often times, when going to Pay-Per-Views over the years, I’ve gotten the sense that a lot of people almost begrudgingly spent their money to be there. Maybe they were disinterested in the card, or the direction of the product, but line conversations felt more like reading a message board than being amongst a group of excited fans waiting to see their favorite band. This felt decidedly different, and more akin to to general wonder and excitement you might find from young kids attending a house show in a smaller market. People just seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the product, and the card. It was a marked change, and one that contributed to a fun atmosphere with high spirits. Overall, a really fun night that left me feeling like I’d gotten my money’s worth and genuinely happy I didn’t just opt to stay home and watch it from my couch.