Do We Need A Bigger Room? Wrestling’s Capacity Problem

On April 3rd, 2016, over 101,000 people flocked to the AT&T Stadium in Arlington for mainstream wrestling’s biggest spectacle of the year, WrestleMania.

For years, the world’s biggest wrestling promotion has drawn tens of thousands of fans from all over the globe to their annual version of the Super Bowl, with tickets selling out without a single match being announced.

They come for the atmosphere, they come for the spectacle, they come purely because it’s WrestleMania.

Fast forward to September 10th 2017, PROGRESS stage their biggest show of the year, Chase The Sun at the long sold out Alexandra Palace in London. The indie event sold out back in July, without a single match being announced.

They come for the atmosphere, they come for the spectacle, they come purely because it’s PROGRESS.

At the same show, the small UK promotion announced 2018’s big event, at one of the UK’s biggest music venue’s, the 10,000 capacity Wembley Arena. As usual in the world of social media, fans were very divided with this announcement.

Will I be able to get front row? What will my view be like? Will the atmosphere be the same?

PROGRESS started off as an underground, punk rock wrestling promotion, formed by 3 friends in a 300 capacity rock venue in Highbury. Tickets began to sell out in seconds, so the guys upgraded to Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Fans loved PROGRESS because of the intimate, punk rock vibe.

Will that be lost at Wembley Arena?

For fans that were at PROGRESS’s annual three-day tournament ‘Super Strong Style 16’ this year, take yourself back to the moment Travis Banks tapped out Tyler Bate in the finals.

700 people packed into the dingy rock venue in Camden, leaping out of their seats as the bell rang. Will we still get that ‘away end of a football match’ feel when Alexandra Palace host the three-day event in May next year?

Now if you think I’m criticising PROGRESS for running in bigger venues, I’m not.

I can’t fault them for being ‘too successful’ and they shouldn’t have to apologise for having too many fans. I’m actually grateful that I might be in with a chance of getting tickets. There are pros to running in a bigger venue!  But there are pros to running in a smaller venue as well.

NXT run their weekly television show from the 300-capacity Full Sail University. Once every few months, they run a major show from a sold out 10,000 seater arena. The atmosphere is always electric.

The Cruiserweight Classic tournament took place at the same venue, and the crowd did not disappoint. That is until the cruiserweight division moved to RAW and 205 Live into those bigger arenas. Huge crowds are great for one-off special events, but the average arena crowd will not give you the same reaction as an indy crowd.

For shows that rely on talent, storytelling and phenomenal wrestling and not the word ‘WrestleMania’, a smaller venue can vastly improve the sense of atmosphere. Imagine how much more successful 205 Live would have been if it was filmed at Full Sail? Imagine how hot a crowd would be at a RAW if it was held at the Hammerstein Ballroom?

PROGRESS can continue running in the intimate Electric Ballroom, with the occasional show at Alexandra Palace, the Brixton Academy or Wembley, just like ICW can continue to run in the Garage or Barrowlands in Glasgow with the occasional show at the Hydro, as long as the wrestling remains as incredible as it usually is, and the fans continue being the loudest, craziest, most passionate wrestling fans in the world, British wrestling shows will ALWAYS be one of the most insane places on the planet.

Kieron Liley