The WWE, whose lucrative live events business was neutralized for more than a year by the coronavirus pandemic, has set a 25-city schedule as it gets set to resume touring on July 16, Deadline reports.
Texas, which has been one of the most aggressive states in loosening Covid-19 safety restrictions, will be the first state to host wrestling events. SmackDown will be held in Houston on July 16, followed by Money In The Bank in Fort Worth on July 18 and Monday Night Raw on July 19 in Dallas.
Additional tour stops and on-sale dates will be revealed in the coming weeks, the company said.
The official announcement of the tour plans did not mention any specifics in terms of Covid safety protocols. The Texas Rangers have drawn capacity crowds at their stadium in Arlington, which seats more than 38,000. A boxing match between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders attracted 73,000 fans. Mask recommendations and other measures have been put in place, but some officials have expressed concerns about the events contributing to the spread of Covid. At the same time, even in more cautious states in terms of pandemic reopening, venues are welcoming back large crowds as vaccination rates climb and infections decline.
In the first quarter, WWE reported total revenue of $263.5 million, blaming a year-over-year decline of 9% on the cancellation of live events. Offsetting the Covid hit was a major licensing deal with NBCUniversal, including the addition of the WWE’s streaming network to Peacock, and lower operating expenses from not staging events.
During an earnings call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the quarter, Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan said returning to live events would be a milestone.
“The fans are our fourth wall, if you will. We know immediately from them what’s working and what’s not working,” he said. “To get live fans back and to get our performers in front of them, we yearn for that as much as our performers do, and we think it’s going to have a direct impact on all parts of our business in an overwhelmingly positive way.”
As an interim measure, the company introduced a virtual format called ThunderDome, which used effects technology to immerse wrestlers in an environment surrounded by images of fans. Even though that was a long way from the real thing, the company saw a bump in TV ratings from the initiative.
“From a fan engagement perspective, we’re really looking forward to getting out on the road again,” CFO Kristina Salen added on the earnings call.