A day after the NBA suspended the remainder of its 2019-2020 season due to coronavirus concerns, WWE has canceled its first arena show. Friday's episode of SmackDown has been moved from the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan to WWE's Performance Center training facility in Orlando, Florida. In order to blunt the spread of coronavirus, the company announced Thursday.
"Friday Night SmackDown on March 13 will air live as regularly scheduled and emanate from WWE's training facility in Orlando, FL, with only essential personnel in attendance. The event was originally scheduled in Detroit, MI," the company said in a tweet.
The news was originally reported Wednesday by PWInsider and Fightful. WWE responded with a statement saying that, though it was putting "contingency plans" in place, SmackDown in Detroit was not canceled.
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WWE has three weekly live TV shows: Monday's Raw, Wednesday's NXT and Friday's SmackDown. Wednesday night's NXT show did broadcast from the Center due to the fact that Orlando's Full Sail Arena — where NXT usually airs from — was booked for another event. Wednesday's show featured a small crowd in the Performance Center, much smaller than the 5,000 to 12,000 that usually pack arenas for Raw and SmackDown broadcasts.
It would follow a nearly identical move by the NCAA, which announced Wednesday that its upcoming basketball games would be played in empty arenas. Professional wrestling, as a performance instead of a sport, relies more on audience participation and reaction, so removing the crowd entirely would be a particularly drastic measure for WWE.
The move is a bad omen for WWE's upcoming WrestleMania 36 event. Scheduled for April 5, it's set to pack out Tampa, Florida's Raymond James Stadium, which has a capacity of around 65,000. WrestleMania moving to the Performance Center or a smaller arena would mean the WWE losing out on millions in ticket sales.
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After infecting over 121,000 and causing more than 4,300 deaths, the coronavirus outbreak was declared to be a pandemic on Wednesday by the World Health Organization. In the past, the WHO has defined a pandemic as "the worldwide spread of a new disease."
The coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19, spread to over 110 countries within three months. On Jan. 30, the WHO announced the coronavirus outbreak was a "public health emergency of international concern" around the time almost 8,000 cases had been confirmed across 18 countries and the death toll was approaching 200.
Also on Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced new travel restrictions that prohibit travel from Europe to the US.
Originally published March. 11.
Update, March 12: Adds comment from WWE, clarifies event is not officially canceled.
Update, March 12: Adds WWE's confirmation of SmackDown cancelation.