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Four Decades Strong: The Fascinating Evolution of WWE's WrestleMania

Here are the most historic changes made to WrestleMania over the years!

By Chris Phelan
Hulk Hogan

On April 6 and 7 in Philadelphia, the WWE Universe will present WrestleMania, a larger-than-life Premium Live Event that arguably puts other major sporting events (like the NFL's Super Bowl) to shame. It will be a pageantry of lights, sounds, unforgettable matches, and countless iconic moments.

How to Watch

Watch Monday Night RAW every Monday evening at 8/7c on USA Network. Stream more exciting WWE series on Peacock.

But it wasn't always like this.

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WrestleMania has come a long way from its humble roots in 1985. The event has changed and evolved in many significant ways, and today, USA Insider is examining the evolution of the annual mega-event, highlighting five groundbreaking changes WWE has instituted over the years. These are WrestleMania's most prominent and influential changes from the last four decades!

The Switch From Closed-Circuit Television to Pay-Per-View

Mr. T Wrestles "Rowdy" Roddy Piper While Hulk Hogan Cheers

The first few WrestleManias were primarily broadcast across closed-circuit television, which meant that the WWE Universe couldn't simply watch the historic events from the comfort of their homes. Instead, fans had to travel to special event centers like local theaters and complexes that specifically showed the event. Imagine if fans today could only watch WrestleMania 40 at their local movie theater. It would be a fantastic experience, albeit a little impractical. (To be fair, a few select markets could access the event on pay-per-view, but primarily, WWE counted on closed-circuit television in the early days of WrestleMania.)

One of the most significant changes WrestleMania has undergone was WWE's decision to move exclusively from closed-circuit television to the pay-per-view model. Almost overnight, the event was accessible to a larger swath of rabid fans, leading to more eyeballs enjoying the product and WWE becoming more popular by the day.

There's nothing like enjoying live WWE action from your couch, surrounded by other enthusiastic members of the WWE Universe, perhaps with a delicious cold beverage (or two) in hand!

Targeting Major Sports Stadiums to Host the Event

Wide look at the packed stadium during Wrestlemania 40

The year 2001 marked an important milestone in the history of WrestleMania: it was the first time the event took place in a professional football stadium. When WrestleMania 17 came to Texas, the Reliant Astrodome was the perfect venue for kicking off a new era of WWE. Seventy thousand fans packed into the Astrodome – the ideal backdrop for some of the greatest WrestleMania moments in history.

Since that fateful night, WWE has targeted major sports stadiums to host the annual event. Gone are the days of WrestleMania taking place in ho-hum basketball arenas designed to hold less than 20,000 people – WrestleMania now commands raucous crowds of 50,000-plus annually, and modern NFL and MLB stadiums are the ideal venues. In many cases, WrestleMania is held in open-air stadiums, creating an even more immersive and unforgettable atmosphere. Who doesn't love a good sunset during a particularly intense match?

Of course, holding WrestleMania in humongous, roofless professional sports complexes is tempting fate to a point – the event is constantly threatened by severe weather. Philadelphia isn't the mildest city, weather-wise, so WWE officials are surely crossing their fingers that the weather behaves on April 6 and 7!

WrestleMania 37 Night One was famously delayed by rain in 2021 – a situation the WWE Universe hopes doesn't happen in 2024:

Turning WrestleMania into a Two-Night Affair

A four-way split image of Cody Rhodes/Roman Reigns/Charlotte Flair/Rhea Ripley

Kudos to WWE for realizing what fans have known for decades – one night is just not enough to feature all the matches and drama WrestleMania should feature on an annual basis!

The 2020 edition of WrestleMania posed a logistical challenge for WWE officials. With the whole world essentially in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a WrestleMania without fans in attendance didn't seem epic enough for the WWE Universe. To make up for the lack of fans and general atmosphere, WWE came up with the idea to stretch out WrestleMania 36 to two nights of action instead of the traditional one evening. 

It was a risk; would fans buy into two consecutive nights of WWE action? Would the match quality suffer as a result? WWE took a major chance, effectively changing how WrestleMania was presented to the world.

To say it paid off is an understatement. 

Due to the event's overwhelming success, WrestleMania officially became a two-night affair from that point onward. The WWE Universe now looks forward to more unforgettable WrestleMania moments than ever before. If there's one thing we can say about how the pandemic changed our lives for the better, it's how WrestleMania is presented in the modern day. 

The Pivot From Pay-Per-View to a Streaming Model

Drew McIntyre on. the top of the rope holding a belt while a large Wrestlemania logo can be seen behind him

We can't stress how significant WWE's move from pay-per-view to streaming was. When the WWE Network was introduced in 2014, it changed everything. Suddenly, the WWE Universe could watch – live, mind you – Premium Live Events, usually reserved for pay-per-view for free via an inexpensive monthly streaming subscription.

For the first time, WrestleMania would be ostensibly free for millions of fans. That's a far cry from the $50-plus rate WWE would charge fans to watch via pay-per-view, and conventional wisdom suggests it opened the door for countless people to get hooked on WWE due to the inexpensive barrier to entry. In hindsight, it was a genius change. Make WrestleMania affordable for all. Imagine that. 

In 2024, watching WrestleMania is more affordable than ever, thanks to all WWE Premium Live Events being broadcast on Peacock! For only $4.99 a month, fans can witness the biggest WrestleMania of all time on April 6 and 7, in addition to countless hit shows, movies, and other special events. It's incredible how quickly we forgot about the WWE Network when Peacock came into the lives of countless wrestling fans!

The Decision to Feature "Part-Time" WWE Superstars

The Rock returned to RAW on New Year's Day 2024

Your future is only as solid as the foundation you've built over the years, and WWE has made a conscious effort in the last decade to embrace its past – especially during WrestleMania season! 

The decision to feature WWE Superstars from the past – as well as the men and women currently tearing it up on Raw, SmackDown, and NXT – has been controversial, but it's paid off in a big way. Thanks to this initiative, the WWE Universe has seen beloved Superstars like Dave BautistaStone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock step back into the world of sports entertainment and become involved in some of the hottest storylines in WWE.

This conscious decision to feature "part-timers" comes to a head at WrestleMania 40, which will see The Rock prominently involved in the evening's main events. We don't know what will transpire in Philadelphia, but we do know that absolutely anything is possible when The Rock is around!

You can tune in to Peacock to watch WrestleMania on April 6 and 7. In the meantime, catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock.