Stephanie McMahon on Return of WWE Crowds: ‘Without Our Fans, We Don’t Have a Product’

The first “SummerSlam” in an NFL stadium will welcome fans back to WWE events in a major way.
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WWE shows return to the road in less than a month, starting mid-July in Texas.

The connection with the crowd has been sorely missing from the product on a weekly basis for the past 15 months. Although there was a glimmer of hope at WrestleMania 37, which followed the Super Bowl at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium with a limited crowd, the upcoming slate of shows will be full capacity, hitting its summer crescendo with SummerSlam in August at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Stephanie McMahon, who is WWE’s chief brand officer, is grateful that the key ingredient to WWE’s success is soon returning.

“Without our fans, we don’t have a product,” McMahon says. “We are so excited to return to our fans in July, and then again in August for SummerSlam. Our new tagline is ‘Then. Now. Forever. Together.’ That word together means everything. This is something we’re going to feel, sharing this passion while we’re back together.”

McMahon’s responsibilities as CBO also changed during the pandemic, as certain business plans were either halted or needed to change.

“From a business standpoint, our international expansion plans had to be put on hold,” McMahon says. “One of our focuses for growth is recreating what has been so successful in the United States and growing it internationally. Those plans were put on hold and we had to pivot. There were a lot of different adjustments. In terms of driving revenue from the sales and sponsorship perspective, we had to get very creative.”

WWE’s weekly television programming has been critical to its success during the pandemic. The show never stopped airing and nearly all of its shows were broadcast live. That nonstop production helped convince sponsors that there was more reward than risk when investing with WWE.

“We found that our sponsors and partners wanted to stay with us,” McMahon says. “We’re on the air every week, and they knew they could rely on us. It was also important to invest in the ThunderDome. That was helpful for everyone, bringing in virtual fans with [virtual production/fan experience company] The Famous Group, connecting with fans all around the globe.

“It was a unique challenge, and I love a challenge, especially when something seems insurmountable. Our entire WWE team made us succeed during this pandemic. It’s a creative company, and we took pride in finding new ways to succeed as a group.”

The next major item on the WWE punch list is filling up Allegiant Stadium for SummerSlam on Aug. 21.

SummerSlam is special,” McMahon says. “It’s the first time we’re going to an NFL stadium [for SummerSlam], and it’s only the second time we’ve ever been in a stadium. It’s about bringing people together and celebrating these huge moments. This will be our biggest pay-per-view with full capacity [since Elimination Chamber in March 2020], and we can’t wait to show off our surprises, too.”

A signature event for WWE, SummerSlam is one of its marquee productions. It is a show that McMahon knows intimately, having wrestled on the card in 2014 and even traveling as a teenager to Wembley Stadium in 1992, which was the last time WWE held a stadium show for its summer showcase.

“I had the opportunity to sit in the crowd, and I remember how big it was and how passionate it was,” McMahon says. “I remember it was raining, and I remember how the rain stopped as soon as the first match started. I also remember how over the British Bulldog was with the crowd. It was a beautiful ride of emotions, a spectacle, and I loved being there.”

During SummerSlam week, WWE will be holding tryouts to find its next collection of superstars. While McMahon is not part of the initial team that will train and coach the tryouts, she undoubtedly can offer expertise on what it takes to become a WWE star. Whether she was being cheered or jeered, McMahon has made a career on-screen of generating visceral reactions from viewers.

“For me, I look for that connection, that charisma,” says McMahon, whose trademark as a performer, ranging from her story with the Ministry of Darkness to being a part of The Authority, is that constant connection with the crowd. “When it comes to that x-factor, you either feel it from someone or you don’t. They can be unpolished or show a lot of proclivity toward being able to do it, but if they don’t have that ‘it factor,’ or can’t connect with the audience, they won’t be able to make it to the top.”

This upcoming stretch for WWE is monumental. Welcoming back fans and ensuring that the current story lines resonate with a wide array of viewers is a goal the company needs to hit. McMahon, per usual, is eager to get started and show what her company can do now that the world is beginning to reopen.

“This is more than welcome back; it’s welcome home,” McMahon says. “People from all over the world are coming back together, and I can’t wait to feel their energy, and hear the loud cheers and boos, and be overwhelmed by that shock and awe. I can’t wait to have everybody back and overdeliver on expectations.”

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.