Countdown to WrestleMania: Citrus Bowl's transformation is already under way
A crew of 100 is working 16 hours a day to bring WrestleMania to life on March 30.
by Andrea Adelson | Sentinel Staff Writer - March 16, 2008
The Citrus Bowl has seen the Rolling Stones rock on its field, the University of Central Florida win big games and Olympic soccer bring chats of Ole!
But nothing has quite prepared the graying old stadium for one of the biggest spectacles to be featured inside her concrete walls: WrestleMania 24. Production already has started to transform the rundown 70,000-seat venue from drab to glam come March 30 -- even if it is for just one evening.
So how exactly does one mask the various problems the Citrus Bowl presents to WWE when it comes to putting on its biggest show of the year? Lots of steel beams, lights, video boards and -- what else -- pyro.
"It's going to be a big, great show with stuff people have never seen before," said Brian Petree, WWE production manager.
Right after WrestleMania 23 ended in Detroit last year, the WWE started planning for Orlando. That meant figuring out how to handle an outdoor venue -- considering this is the second time WrestleMania will be held outside. The first was in Las Vegas in 1993.
Petree did his first walk through of the Citrus Bowl last April. The design team started to figure out how it would plan for weather, including rain and wind, and also how it would design the entire show. In Las Vegas, a tent was set up over the ring to guard against the elements.
But this time, WWE decided to take it another step.
It will build a steel roof to go over the ring, not only to protect the wrestlers should it rain, but also so it can hang lights and a massive video board. Another steel structure will be built on the north end of the stadium, where the performers will make their entrance onto the field.
A large video board will hang from that as well. The steel beams were built in Belgium and are being shipped over. Many of them were custom made. Petree declined to say what it will look like, because WWE guards its design plans so fans can be surprised when they watch the show.
When asked whether the steel-roof structure will obstruct views from the bleachers, Petree said, "Every seat is going to be a good one because of video reinforcement."
The steel structures will begin taking shape Monday, when three to four cranes start hoisting beams into place. But the first pieces started coming together Wednesday, when WWE began the transformation of the bowl.
The first thing that had to be done was putting down heavy-duty plastic flooring over the entire field, not only to protect the grass but to provide seating and a strong enough foundation to start building the steel structures.
After the floor is done, it is scheduled to take about a week to bolt the steel structures into place and build the rest of the infrastructure. Once that is done, the show elements of lighting, video boards, sound and the ring will go into place.
The lighting is a huge deal because the show is outside. Petree said they are going to use as many video boards as they can because it serves as one of the main sources of lighting. There also will be lights over the ring, main entrance way and on platforms around the Citrus Bowl.
To make sure there is enough power for the lights and sound, WWE will use up to seven generators. It also has worked closely with the city to make sure everything it plans to do with the stadium is safe.
The plan is to have everything done by March 29, so there can be rehearsals to test all the technical parts of the show. The production schedule also has built in days for weather delays, and is longer than last year because there are so many more pieces to build.
That also includes an entire tent city outside the north end of the stadium to serve as a backstage area. Because WWE chose to use that side for its big entrances, it had to build something because the locker rooms are on the south.
The mini-city is about 40,000 square feet. WWE worked with a local company to bring in tents with air conditioning and floors, trailers, VIP areas, showers and restrooms. WWE also will do some events at Tinker Field before WrestleMania, so it needed a large enough space to accommodate many people.
To make all of this happen, there are about 100 people working 16 hours a day from now on to make sure everything is done on time. Perhaps most impressive, the WWE team had to come up with plans while also working three shows a week and setting up pay-per-view events.
"It's a lot of fun, though," Petree said. "We get excited when the show starts and everything works as it's supposed to. We still get goose bumps despite the fact that we've been working week after week."
For all of the challenges the Citrus Bowl presents, it does have one advantage over bigger, nicer domed stadiums.
"The pyro and the fireworks are going to be amazing," Petree said. "Having a big bowl that's outdoors -- you can imagine. I shouldn't say any more than that."
Once the show ends, it will take three to four days to break down the elaborate set, and the Citrus Bowl will go back to hosting supercross events and football games. Then WWE will start thinking about WrestleMania 25.
But Orlando won't forget WrestleMania.
"We are starting to talk with WWE about bringing WrestleMania back, hopefully in 2012 and beyond, with renovations to the Citrus Bowl being very appealing for the future," said John Saboor, president of the Central Florida Sports Commission.
That might all depend on how everything goes March 30.
Andrea Adelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Man Australia