WWE Delivers Massive WrestleMania, Preps for New NEP Trucks
The production offered an onsite experience, PPV telecast, shoulder programming, live hits on three networks
Although a record-setting crowd at AT&T Stadium in Texas, the return of a few familiar faces, and Shane McMahan’s 20-ft. cage leap dominated the headlines at WrestleMania 32, there was no shortage of fireworks behind the scenes. WWE once again cemented WrestleMania as one of the largest, most intricate annual live productions in the world, delivering an epic WrestleMania onsite experience and pay-per-view telecast as well as four days of shoulder programming and live hits on WWE Network, USA Network, and, for the first time, ESPN.
“You have to remember that, although WrestleMania is a massive show, this is not just WrestleMania-centric,” says Duncan Leslie, SVP, event technical operations, WWE. “We had three TV trucks running concurrently to cover all the various events throughout Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Then we set a personal record on Sunday in the truck: we were on the air for almost seven hours.”
WrestleMania 32: Much More Than the Main Event
To produce the various shows, WWE deployed its dedicated pair of NEP Red and Black double-expando trucks, as well as NEP’s Platinum triple-expando mobile unit and SS17. The week kicked off on Thursday at AT&T Stadium with Smackdown live on USA Network followed by a caravan of live shows on WWE Network: a Stone Cold Podcast LIVE! With Mick Foley from the WrestleMania Axxess onsite fan experience following Smackdown on Thursday, an NXT TakeOver event (and preshow) at Dallas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on Friday, the WWE Hall of Fame 2016 Red Carpet and WWE Hall of Fame 2016 ceremony at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday, and the two-hour WrestleMania 32 Kickoff preshow before the big event Sunday night.
On top of all that, ESPN tapped the AT&T Stadium technical infrastructure to support 10 SportsCenter live hits featuring reporter Jonathan Coachman interviewing WWE stars twice per hour, marking the first time ESPN has had a live presence at WrestleMania.
All this led up to the five-hour WrestleMania PPV event, for which more than 20 cameras were deployed inside the stadium, including the second appearance of a Spidercam aerial system. WWE’s three trucks totaled more than 60 EVS replay channels, and the TV and videoboard shows rolled out 22 miles of fiber and 20 miles of copper to connect it all together.
Throughout the week, WWE used 64 independent transmission streams (largely provided by PSSI Strategic Television) and recorded half a petabyte of content. The operation was also tethered closely to WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT, to enable content sharing and Aspera file transfer.
“All of these shows in the field obviously need support, and [WrestleMania] is obviously one of the best examples of that,” says Mike Grossman, SVP, television operations, WWE. “They need packages built, they need graphics, they need all kinds of editing done. So, as our programming demands explode, so does the need for support [from Stamford].”
Plenty of Fireworks Inside AT&T Stadium
WWE worked with NEP Screenworks to produce one of the most lavish stadium events in the world. In addition to fully utilizing AT&T Stadium’s colossal LED videoboard, WWE deployed 1,440 sq. meters of various LED products (totaling more than 14 million pixel counts) ranging from 3 mm to 64 mm and requiring a dozen 53-ft. semis to transport.
“In any event space, we utilize many internal house, video, and signage assets, but, with a space this large, we had to ramp up and deploy a lot on top of that,” says Leslie. “For example, we hung over half a million pounds of vertical weight, which is the most amount of weight that our vendor, Atlanta Rigging Systems, has ever hung.”
WWE’s B unit produced a “fan experience” show concurrent to the main in-house WrestleMania production — complete with an RF and other cameras, replay, graphics, a Twitter crawl, and Instagram content — and featured it on various video displays throughout the stadium.
“It was a completely separate in-house show that we produced concurrently with the main broadcast,” says Leslie. “That was something new that we tried and pulled it off.”
Other mind-blowing numbers that went into WrestleMania include 5 MW of power, 9,000 gallons of fuel (equating to 128 average homes), and, to power the crew, 5,000 lb. of smoked meat and 30,000 bottles of water.
How WWE Network Has Changed Its Workflow
WWE Network, the subscription-based OTT service that comprises all 12 WWE PPV events, reached a record 1.82 million total subscribers following WrestleMania, making it the most viewed WrestleMania in history and up 39% from last year. Since launching in February 2014, the network continues to add layers to WWE productions, especially as it grows internationally. Seven announce teams voiced WrestleMania this year — all but two onsite in Arlington. In all, WrestleMania 32 was distributed to more than 180 countries.
“There’s a whole other layer of complexity to the foreign-language aspect besides the live production, because those feeds also become a VOD asset on our network,” says Grossman. “So there was also the coordination with [our OTT backend vendor] MLB Advanced Media to ingest those feeds and create VOD assets in a timely manner.
“The unique thing about the languages,” he continues, “was that we’ve never taken in so many simultaneous feeds and created VOD assets at one time. It’s been a real step for us in the growth of the network. Up to this point, we’ve taken one live asset at a time and created the VOD asset, and now we’re taking multiple feeds at once. For us, that was a big step.”
Right Back on the Road
Even after the largest show of the year, there is no offseason for the WWE production team, which moved on to its Monday Night Raw weekly live show at American Airlines Center in Dallas the very next day and to WWE Smackdown at Houston’s Toyota Center on Tuesday.
“When people wonder how we can pull this off, the real answer is just unbelievably talented, dedicated people,” says Grossman. “Both our freelance crew and staff people are absolutely tremendous, because they can multitask and design multiple shows at once. Their ability to handle multiple major events is extraordinary.”
Adieu to NEP Red and Black
WrestleMania 32 is the final edition produced out of NEP’s Red and Black mobile units, which debuted in 2008 and are set to be retired and replaced by a trio of state-of-the-art double-expando trucks on April 29 in Hartford, CT. Building on the recently launched SSCBS and EN2 mobile units (for CBS Sports and ESPN, respectively), NEP has worked closely with WWE to customize the new trucks for its unique needs.
Tentatively named WWE1, 2, and 3, the first will be full A and B units, with the third as a support unit. The trio will feature a fully tapeless workflow, IP video router, and significant Dante IP audio network, as well as a much larger footprint and more-agile workspaces compared with Red and Black.
“We’re not completely a sports show, so it’s a hybrid entertainment/sports platform,” says Leslie. “But it’s going to be extremely powerful. It gives us the ability to flex when we have a large show. We were completely maxed out for WrestleMania: to quote our engineer, our routers were at 115% [capacity]. We have basically outgrown the rather powerful infrastructure that Red and Black afford us. So we’re growing, and these trucks will be able to grow with us.”