For all the issues with WrestleMania 35's quality, or its length, it remains the marquee destination for pro wrestling’s biggest fans. People pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to be at the biggest wrestling show of the year, filling football stadiums from the front row of ringside all the way to the nosebleeds. WrestleMania is something like a pilgrimage for a certain type of hardcore fan, and being there means a lot even if the show is, say, two hours too long.
For all that trouble and all that money, fans that pay to be in the stadium should be able to see what’s happening. Unfortunately for fans in New Jersey on Sunday night, WWE entirely dropped the ball on that last and extremely important bit, obscuring fans’ views with both ring-side pillars and blinding lights.
The pillars are a staple of outdoor WrestleMania shows, and something of a necessity—they both hold up the complex lighting system above the ring and the canopy that WWE puts up in case of inclement weather.
But WrestleMania’s biggest heel, much more so than Brock Lesnar or Daniel Bryan, was the lighting set-up. WWE does its best to emphasize the stadium crowd as part of the WrestleMania broadcast, in hope that the viewers at home will feel like part of the action. This is admirable, but it is also practical: wrestling lives and dies by crowd reactions, and a good pop followed by shots of thousands celebrating is worth its weight in championship gold. But the promotion’s insistence on lighting the lower levels comes with a price: those same lights are blinding to the people in the audience.
The entire 100s section, which at WrestleMania 35 was the lower bowl above the floor seating, was bathed in either a red, yellow, or (most egregiously) white light throughout the show. The artificial glare was not only distracting but actively painful to look at. Since the marathon show started in daylight, this light-assault wasn’t really noticeable until the AJ Styles-Randy Orton match that came up second on the main card. But when it happened, it was all anyone could talk about.
While those two (very good) wrestlers were putting on a (very good) match, the lower bowl rebelled with a variety of chants, from “turn the lights off!” to “fuck these lights!” In my section, people complained to an overwhelmed usher who said she sympathized and had told Guest Services, but to no avail. The yellow light was especially obnoxious, because it was so damn bright. Photos don’t quite capture how hard it was to focus on the in-ring action without getting a headache:
It got so bad that Orton was moved to apologize on Instagram following the show:
Guest Services did move some people who complained enough; reader Jim Murtha sent along pictures of his first seat, in section 108, which was both bathed in light and obstructed by a pillar; he did note that his ticket said “limited view” on it.
Murtha decided to complain to Guest Services halfway through the Styles-Orton match, but was told that the lighting issue was only a problem because it wasn’t fully dark out, and that the situation would improve once night fell fully.
It didn’t, and so after the Miz-Shane McMahon match, which had a painful white light blaring for its duration, Murtha complained again and Guest Services moved him to section 142F, in the corner of the stadium and away from the main crowd lights. He still had a pillar in front of him, but the angle was such that the ring was at least fully visible:
It shouldn’t take going full “I was told by AppleCare!” to get your money’s worth at WrestleMania, but even griping to the ushers didn’t always work. One tipster sent in a photo of his $250 lower bowl seats, which were so badly obstructed and blinded that they might as well have stayed at home to watch instead:
Wrestling fans save and wait and hope to get to attend WrestleMania live, and the experience shouldn’t begin or end like this. That should especially not be the case when those tickets were bought as part of WWE’s lucrative all-inclusive packages. My seat mate flew in from England to attend, and he had as much of a hard time with the lights as everyone else in our section.
What’s the solution? Well, WWE can do one of two things, one being less likely than the other. It could just forego outdoor Manias entirely and stick to domed football stadiums. That would eliminate a significant segment of potential host cities, though, and would leave Mania stuck in an endless loop of New Orleans, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, and Houston. That would rule out past Mania destinations like Miami, New York, or Los Angeles, although a West Coast WrestleMania would only run into lighting problems towards the back half of the main show due to time zones.
The easier fix would be to stop lighting the crowd like this. Even turning down the lights 50 percent would help, and WWE did try that for a hot second during Sunday’s show, only to revert to blinding levels moments later. The funny thing about this is that WWE knows how to light a crowd properly—they do it for every NXT TakeOver show, by darkening most of the house lights so that it gives the arena a big fight feel. Why the promotion never carried over that practice to its main shows, and especially to its biggest show of the year, is hard to say.
But by dimming the lights, and perhaps removing the LED screens from the pillars so fans can somewhat see through them, the company would improve the in-stadium experience for its most devoted, and most lucrative, set of fans. Otherwise, even an otherwise excellent show and superb experience will risk being marred by what amount to logistical errors.
But errors get fixed. Maybe WWE figured it out in time and Monday night’s Raw was light appropriately. Let’s see here: