Though Raw Underground is only two weeks old and we haven't even met the members of the non-political Antifa-like Retribution stable, Vince McMahon and the WWE are already onto their next harebrained scheme to save the company from plummeting ratings and viewership. The current scapegoat for bad ratings? Darkness. The solution? Producing live Raw and Smackdown shows starting next week, and, starting with SummerSlam, doing them at the Amway Center, an 18,000 seat basketball arena in downtown Orlando.
In the latest edition of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the side project of Dave Meltzer for when he's not suffering fools on Twitter about demo ratings, Meltzer writes:
The idea is that after SummerSlam, other shows will also be from the arena, or at least as much as possible. The idea is that somehow the ratings decline is partially due to not being live, which is not the case at all, and others have talked about how the darkness of the Performance Center and Full Sail have hurt and that's why AEW has fared better of all the shows in keeping the audience as of late. The last thing ever will be an internal admission AEW held up better based on producing a television product that the younger audience likes more.
Though the arena is large, that doesn't mean fans will be allowed in yet. It may happen eventually, but WWE is apparently considering featuring "virtual fans" in the production. However, it will be difficult to get the 4 or 5 cameras into all those fan's houses that will be required for Kevin Dunn to order 37 camera cuts every time they're shown reacting. Meltzer writes:
We were told that fans would not be allowed to attend SummerSlam, nor Raw and Smackdown for now, but the hope is that will change soon. They are looking at doing virtual fans in attendance like baseball and basketball has been doing. There has been talk that the darkness and size of the current building they believe is one of the things that has hurt the ratings. The plan is for a bigger production crew, and more bells and whistles as far as that goes than they can do at the Performance Center.
Again with the darkness.
Well, hopefully, it all works out for them. Personally, I think WWE has mostly improved its presentation in the Performance Center with the plexiglass barricades and trainees pretending to be a crowd. The building doesn't look empty, which filming in a big arena has the potential too. AEW does also film in a mostly empty building, but it has a capacity of 1/3 that of the Amway Center and AEW's camera angles, plus the addition of dozens of "fans" — actually people connected to to the company, the arena, or the Jacksonville Jaguars — to the upper bowl along with wrestlers at ringside has largely hidden the absence of a crowd. Whatever they may be saying to themselves about it, just like with using wrestlers in the crowd, this is WWE looking with envy at the more compelling shows AEW has been consistently putting on and trying to copy it without ever admitting that's what they're doing.