This story was updated at 3:30 PM Eastern.
WWE officially announced Monday they are heading to Orlando, Florida's Amway Center starting with this Friday's SmackDown which will feature the debut of ThunderDome, a virtual fan experience that will feature videoboards, pyro, lasers, and drone cameras.
The goal is to bring some visual life and a return to fan interaction into their televised product in an effort to turn the tide of sliding viewership.
They also released their August schedule which includes Raw, SmackDown, SummerSlam and the August 30th Payback pay-per-view. NXT will remain at Full Sail University as previously reported.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated Monday, Kevin Dunn said that it was "impossible to put on a spectacle" at the Performance Center and that now, their opportunities are endless with the new setup.
“We can now do things production-wise that we could never otherwise do. We’re flying drones in the arena, we are putting a roof inside the Amway Center, and we’ll be able to project content onto the roof. So when a big star like Drew McIntyre comes down to the ring, the whole arena will turn into his content with lasers, pyro, smoke, projections on the top of the building and on the floor. It will be a big, beautiful entrance, better than WrestleMania.”
He said the company will have nearly 1000 LED boards, creating rows and rows of "fans" instead of a single board, and that they will have arena audio similar to what Major League Baseball is doing with their games, mixed with virtual fans. When the virtual fans start chants, they will be heard.
From the release: "WWE’s Amway Center residency will continue for the foreseeable future and Raw, SmackDown and pay-per-view programming will be produced on closed sets with only essential personnel in attendance. WWE will continue to administer its health and safety protocols for talent, crew and employees in conjunction with each production, including PCR testing for COVID-19, social distancing and wearing masks."
As for the ThunderDome, it was created in tandem with The Famous Group, a California-based company that specializes in both physical and virtual fan experiences with an extensive history of clients and events. Starting Monday night, fans can register for their "virtual seat" on WWE's social media channels or this new website.
WWE did not announce whether they are indeed returning to all live programming, but with the ThunderDome launch, that would appear to be confirmed.
As has been reported, WWE leadership has had a desire to get out of the Performance Center and into an environment that is more inline with the presentation they want to give, albeit with no fans due to the pandemic.