WWE Senior Vice President of Event Technical Operations Duncan Leslie recently spoke with Sports Business editor Eric Fisher to discuss the new WWE ThunderDome viewing experience and WWE’s residency at the Amway Center in Orlando. ThunderDome will officially begin during tonight’s SummerSlam go-home edition of SmackDown, and will run on RAW, SmackDown and pay-per-view events for at least the next 60 days.
Leslie noted that ThunderDome was built to look amazing and to partner with the fans at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was asked to describe the new production elements that have been implemented for ThunderDome.
“We were at our Performance Center for an extended run, and that was a great experience because we kept the product alive and fresh,” he said. “But now we’re in a world-class arena, one of the normal arenas that we would go to. And we decided this was a great opportunity to create a spectacle for our fans.
“We’re building this to look amazing, which it will, but also to partner with our fans at home. In this Covid environment, they can be part of the show.”
It was noted how WWE Chairman Vince McMahon addressed the decline in WWE ratings during the Q2 earnings call, and how the impact of not having fans present has effected the ratings. Leslie was asked about ThunderDome possibly addressing those issues, particularly in regard to recreating the missing fan energy. Leslie said ThunderDome will be so full of energy that it creates a lot of buzz.
“I’m on the technical side. But I do know what we’re creating is going to be so full of energy and so immersive for our fans that it’s going to create a lot of buzz,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can on the technical design side to help our fans engage and have almost a partnership with us in terms of their viewing habits.”
Leslie was also asked how the ThunderDome efforts were enhanced by being able to get into the Amway Center for the new residency. He said that deal helped out a lot, and commented on how powerful the ThunderDome set is.
“It does help a lot. The set that has been designed and deployed is large in scope, very powerful and visually impactful,” he said. “The fact that we have a residency, as you mention, has allowed us to really expand on the physical characteristics of the set.”
Leslie was asked if the ThunderDome set can be redone in other venues in other markets, and if WWE will do this elsewhere. He said anything is possible, but the set is very complex.
“Sure. Anything’s possible,” he said. “The set’s very complex. But I think we’re being very pragmatic about it. We’re here and we’re going to make the best use we can of the arena we’re in.”
Leslie also indicated that some of the ThunderDome components may be kept around once WWE is able to resume touring as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic forced schedule changes. He was asked how much of the new ThunderDome enhancements will be retained over we get to some type of the “other side” of the pandemic.
“I think we’re going to have a proven design that is still amenable to change,” he said. “As we go forward, whatever happens, we’re still going to have a lot of technical firepower to enhance both the in-venue and at-home viewer experience.”