What It's Like to Attend a Live All Elite Wrestling 'Dynamite' Show During COVID-19
When I found out All Elite Wrestling was welcoming fans in limited capacity for its Dynamite events, I wasn’t sure how that would go. Tony Khan, AEW president, and many of its roster have spoken in the past about its health and safety protocols and stringent testing procedures. However, putting fans in the venue is a different animal.
With the company celebrating the first anniversary on TNT, I thought it was the perfect occasion to see what attending was like.
— Scott Fishman (@smFISHMAN) October 15, 2020
Living in Orlando, I made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Daily’s Place in Jacksonville with mixed emotions and a belly full of Bojangles. Having attended hundreds of events over the years, I knew this one would be different. It’s the first pro wrestling show I’ve attended since the beginning of the year. Since there was your typical Central Florida rush-hour traffic, I got to the venue minutes before Dynamite went live on TNT.
Before I could pick my tickets up at will call, I had to fill out a digital COVID waiver saying I did not have a fever, haven’t left the country in 30 days — the typical questions. This was a contactless exercise as I was told to bring up the waiver using a QR code on my phone.
— Scott Fishman (@smFISHMAN) October 15, 2020
— Scott Fishman (@smFISHMAN) October 14, 2020
After receiving my tickets, I headed for the entrance, where there was a two-system temperature check, one done by a staff member with a thermometer and another where I faced a sensor camera that read my temperature. The process was streamlined well, and I was able to make it to my seat right on time. The usher reminded us about keeping our masks on for the duration of the show or face ejection.
My friend and I were sitting at the end of our row (groups of tickets were considered "pods"), which was commonplace throughout the outdoor amphitheater as the crowd spread out. There were sanitizing stations readily available, markings even in the bathrooms to keep social distance and clever PSA signage featuring AEW stars.
I always thought Daily’s Place, inside Jacksonville Jaguars TIAA Bank Field, was a cool place to watch wrestling, although, with it being outdoors, I wouldn't use the word "cool" to describe how I'd feel there in the summer months. I know the fans that attended AEW’s last pay-per-view All Out were sweating through their clothes. Florida humidity is no joke.
This time, though, I felt comfortable, enjoying the festive atmosphere. Little things like hearing MJF tell the crowd to shut their mouth. Watching guys like Orange Cassidy and Cody and Jon Moxley and Lance Archer tear down the house. Singing along to Chris Jericho’s catchy Fozzy entrance music “Judas." It all reminded me of how much I missed being at shows.
Having the wrestlers and staff ringside cheering on their colleagues is great aesthetic, but having the genuine energy of a genuine fan can’t be replaced. If we learned one thing during the last few months it’s how crucial an audience is to a television presentation.
If I could make one suggestion to AEW decision-makers, it’s to have fans exit in sections rather than all at once. This would help prevent a mass exodus. Otherwise, I think Daily’s Place is an ideal place to host shows if you’re going to do so with fans. The production setup is impressive and looks good on TV, an amphitheater that lends itself to creating a controlled environment.
I should point out the staff were vigilant when it came to the mask mandate, even to the point where my friend was approached after they thought he didn’t have his on at a certain point. He did, but better to be safe.
Khan concluded the night of championship matches by emerging from backstage to the entranceway and publicly thanking the fans for their support. One thing AEW does well is make the audience feel like they are part of not just a fan base but a movement. The company has built a solid foundation, with year two of Dynamite set to bring its own set of challenges to overcome.
My own hope for the future is that there is a better focus elevating and giving more time to its women’s division. It will be fun to see what AEW does to continue their momentum and shapes up as a genuine alternative to WWE.
If one feels comfortable and is in the Jacksonville area, upcoming Dynamite episodes will continue to be shot under reduced capacity and under health and safety protocols at Daily’s Place.
AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TNT