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Kevin Dunn provides details on Thunderdome, how it will make fans say ‘Wow, WWE, it’s back’

We got one comment from Kevin Dunn, WWE Executive Vice President of Television Production, in the company’s official announcement for Thunderdome - the interactive experience they’re promising for their upcoming residency at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso got Dunn on record with more details about what we can expect starting with the Fri., Aug. 21 SmackDown.

The reason for moving: “When people think of WWE, most think of the spectacle that we are, but it was just impossible to put on a spectacle in the Performance Center. Moving to Amway, and unveiling the ThunderDome, the opportunities are limitless.

“We can now do things production-wise that we could never otherwise do. We’re flying drones in the arena, we are putting a roof inside the Amway Center, and we’ll be able to project content onto the roof. So when a big star like Drew McIntyre comes down to the ring, the whole arena will turn into his content with lasers, pyro, smoke, projections on the top of the building and on the floor. It will be a big, beautiful entrance, better than WrestleMania.

“We’re grateful and so appreciate the fans are hanging with us. It’s been tough. The shows haven’t been what we’d like them to be, and we’d be dishonest saying anything else. We miss our fans. Our fans make our shows. Without them, it’s been really challenging. I can’t wait to see the ThunderDome full of 1,000 people, giving us the energy we need to make this as entertaining as possible. I think people watching and participating are really going to enjoy this, and it’s going to make people say, ‘Wow, WWE, it’s back.’”

How “virtual fans” will work: “Like the NBA, we’re doing virtual fans, but we’re also creating an arena-type atmosphere. We won’t have a flat board, we’ll have rows and rows and rows of fans. We’ll have almost 1,000 LED boards, and it will recreate the arena experience you’re used to seeing with WWE. The atmosphere will be night and day from the Performance Center. This is going to let us have a WrestleMania-level production value, and that’s what our audience expects from us. We are also going to put arena audio into the broadcast, similar to baseball, but our audio will be mixed with the virtual fans. So when fans start chants, we’ll hear them.

“We start on Friday on SmackDown, and it will be a learning experience. We have two days of testing, and we’re going to practice like hell, then we’re off to the races. We may have fans for certain entrances, standing up and cheering for the typical babyfaces. But someone like Bray Wyatt, who is so character-driven, the entire Amway Arena will be one big Fiend-dom. That’s our opportunity to be different from sports, where we can present these larger-than-life characters uniquely. This will be great for people watching at home across the globe, as well as the ones participating.”

Dunn also explained how their stay at Amway is “open-ended.” Barrasso doesn’t press him on concerns that returning to two separate live shows per week will increase the risk of talent and production crew contracting COVID during more frequent commutes, but Vince McMahon’s long-time creative partner says they plan on keeping their existing testing and prevention policies in place.

It’s tough to judge any of their ideas for Thunderdome until we see them in practice. As to the benefit for the company, an easy guess is that initial interest in the concept will bring back some viewers. Whether the obvious increase in production costs WWE is taking on will be a worthwhile investment depends on those fans sticking around.

We’ll start to find out this weekend with SmackDown and SummerSlam.

You can read SI’s entire post talking to Dunn about Thunderdome here.

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