By Tony Donofrio, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@TonyDonofrio)
-As we stare down the final quarter of 2023, it’s easy to say that the business model of AEW has shifted significantly since 2022. This past week, Andrew Zarian on the Mat Men Pro Wrestling Podcast hinted that AEW will be doing another pay-per-view in December 22. If that does come to pass, that’d put AEW at eight pay-per-views this year (up three from last year). Even if Zarian isn’t right, it’s obvious that AEW is trending towards a 8-12 PPV per year model.
With eight pay-per-views, you’ve now asked your fanbase to spend $400 on PPVs. If/when AEW gets to 12 pay-per-view per year, that figure jumps to $600 per year. Under the current model, you’re crazy if you don’t have a a VPN and the ability to buy the events on Fite TV internationally for $20. In the long run, as a fan, you’d save a ton of money.
AEW failing to land on the new Max streaming service’s sports tier that starts next month has to be frustrating for the vast majority of their fanbase. Tony Khan, at least publicly, as hitched his wagon to Warner Bros. Discovery and doesn’t’ appear to be looking back. When the idea of negotiating with another network was brought up at this week’s media call, he dismissed it quickly and gushed about his long term loyalty to WBD.
For the sake of Khan, his company, and for the bank accounts of the fanbase, I hope he knows something we don’t. At this point, it looks as though WBD is playing Khan like a fiddle and just stringing him along. Just because there’s a full year left on AEW’s contract with WBD doesn’t mean addendums and additions couldn’t be negotiated. I don’t know if AEW is afforded an open window to talk with other companies while still under contract to WBD, but if there’s no headway made in this area in the next three to six months, then it’s imperative that Khan explore other networks and options despite his undying loyalty to WBD.
-Tony Khan has doubled down on booking ROH Titles on AEW television and pay-per-views since I wrote about it in my premiere blog, so now I’m doubling down too. At the end of 2022, Tony Khan stated that he was working to limit the focus of ROH on AEW TV. That limitation lasted less than nine months. At this point, I feel like Khan can’t help himself. Honestly, I don’t even mind that ROH talent shows up on AEW TV and vice versa. They all work for Khan so he can use the talent as he sees fit. You could easily argue that he has too much talent to go around, even with five hours of weekly television, and he’s using too many wrestlers, but that’s another point for another time.
The defense of ROH Titles on AEW television and pay-per-view is indefensible. Let the talent float, but the titles need to stay in their respective companies. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I say that there are way too many titles on AEW TV, especially when the ROH titles are included. I had a friend over for All Out and we also attended AEW Collision in State College, Pennsylvania. My friend typically watches little-to-no pro wrestling. As someone that covers and watches it regularly, I know how hard it is to keep up on the collection of AEW/ROH Titles on AEW TV. Imagine trying to explain the situation to a more casual fan. The look of confusion on his face said it all as I tried to explain the AEW/ROH title dynamic. It really brought to light how insane things are. If I get this reaction from one casual fan friend, imagine how AEW’s casual fanbase feels when watching the product. That said, if this is leading to AEW and ROH unifying some titles, then I’m all for it, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later.
-I’m not sure why AEW is insisting on running in larger arenas the past few months. I attended Collision in Cleveland in addition to the State College even that I mentioned and it was a tough scene to take in. The Cleveland show ran at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, which has a listed capacity of 19,432 for basketball. The previous shows I’d attended in Cleveland emanated from the Wolstein Center. While the venue’s listed capacity for basketball is 13,610, it typically houses about 8,500 for college basketball games and is a bit of a more intimate setting.
I don’t know why AEW chose to run a larger arena this time around. Perhaps there was a scheduling conflict, but this seems to be an issue in other markets too. There’s no reason for AEW to consistently run arenas that typically seat 15,000 to 20,000 people. There’s no shame in running smaller-to-mid size arenas. A full smaller arena would look a lot better on TV. AEW wouldn’t have to get creative and use the same 2-3 camera shots to hide the lack of fans in these huge arenas. From an in-person perspective, running large venues with small crowds just makes the show feel very small.
-With WWE shipping Smackdown back to NBCU (USA Network) next October it’s gonna be very interesting to see where Raw (and even NXT) ends up next year and the subsequent dominos that will fall with it. If all of the WWE properties end up with NBCU, you’d have to wonder why NBCU wasn’t the lead bidder to buy WWE outright before the WWE-UFC merger. If they’re spending this ungodly type of money to keep all of WWE’s properties in-house, they might as well own the product.
I wouldn’t surprised to see Raw end up with Disney or Amazon. There’s something to be said for how WWE didn’t put all of its eggs in one basket last time they negotiated their TV rights deals (Tony Khan, are you paying attention?). Being on multiple platforms across a few different media conglomerates has worked very well for WWE and I lean towards the idea that they do it again. Disney feels like the best option. Imagine WWE programming being on Peacock, NBC, USA Network, ESPN, ESPN 2, FX, ABC, and ESPN+. That could happen. Perhaps they could even make a deal to get NXT on Amazon. It feels like WWE is playing master chess with its properties while Tony Khan is playing checkers.
-AEW has to be concerned after losing Jade Cargill to WWE. In the past 18 months, look at how WWE treated the arrival of Cody Rhodes and now Cargill on day one with the company. WWE has done right by Rhodes and he’s a megastar in WWE. The focus put on Cargill this week just upon her arrival has already made her a bigger star than she ever was in AEW. If you’re Ricky Starks and MJF, your eyes have to be wide open right now. Cargill’s elevation just in her first few days has been huge.
-AEW is a solid number two pro wrestling company. We saw some big names leave WWE for AEW in recent years, but the pendulum has now started to swing the other way. AEW should not want to be seen as a launching pad for WWE. I’m not saying that’s happening. Two star wrestlers leaving AEW for WWE in 18 months is not cause for hitting the panic button. But it will be very interesting to see what MJF and Starks do in the coming months.
MJF, if we are still to believe he hasn’t re-signed, would be a free agent in January. Both MJF and Starks either have or had good relationships with Cody Rhodes. I’d find it hard to believe that Rhodes, as their friend, isn’t wooing them in his own way. Part of this ties back to my points on the AEW TV negotiations. If AEW can secure a big enough deal, money does talk and they’ll have a lot more of it to spend in wanting to keep its stars in-house. Having said that, WWE flexed its muscles again this week and showed what it can do if the right wrestler comes available. AEW should take notice.
-This falls under “other” because, for reasons unknown to all of us, Tony Khan refuses to use Athena on AEW TV. Literally every ROH title is featured on AEW television with the exception of the ROH Women’s Title and thus its holder, Athena. In the limited footage I’ve seen, Athena appears to be doing the best character work of her career and it’s being buried behind the ROH Honor Club paywall. Newsflash…she’s also a very good worker and would be an asset to the AEW women’s division, which makes her omission makes that all the more stunning. To be consistent with what I stated above, I want to see Athena on AEW TV, but I don’t need to see her with or defending the ROH Women’s Title while she’s there. But she works for Tony Khan and there’s no reason she can’t be on Dynamite and/or Collision.