All Elite Wrestling is setting the world on fire due to hopes of being a viable alternative. The excitement is great, but Greg DeMarco has some key questions about long term success.
Listen, I want All Elite Wrestling to succeed. If AEW can compete with WWE in even the slightest way, it’ll be good for the business as a whole. Great for the talent…good for the fans…and good for the business. But as someone who has been watching this for 35 years, involved in it for 12, and studying it for 10, I have to ask some tough questions.
I ask them out of love, because I love this business and want to see it succeed. Hopefully these are questions AEW has already asked itself. If not, they’re already in trouble.
5. Can AEW draw in local markets outside their niche?
Before you jump all over it, I know “Can They Draw?” is a stupid question. If you count ALL IN (and for all intents and purposes, I do) they sold over 10k tickets for one show and I am willing to bet they’ll sell out another. But that’s what I am talking about here–not in the slightest.
All Elite Wrestling can’t run holiday weekend events a few times per year forever. At some point, they need to produce television shows. Is that going to be a traveling deal? If so, can they draw locally in those markets, as fans aren’t going to travel weekly, twice a month, or even monthly to a TV taping. If they run 4-6 pay-per-view events per year, fans aren’t traveling to all of those, either. The market can’t support it. Those fans, while still complaining about the WWE product, are still going to travel for it, because they know the experience will still deliver.
AEW’s biggest national stars are Chris Jericho, and……….hmmmmmm……..
Cody Rhodes, nationally, is a midcarder or a comedy act. Kenny Omega is amazing, but outside of Japan (and Winnipeg) he isn’t a household name. The Young Bucks are insanely over, but will they draw outside of their niche on a regular basis? This isn’t a knock on any of them–this is reality. They can draw niche fans willing to travel, and that won’t sustain a regular schedule.
4. What is the infrastructure?
I know what you’re thinking, fanboy! “I don’t care about the infrastructure, I’m just excited about the product they are going to put on.” And I get that. It works if you’re talking about WWE, because you can roll with the assumption that there is an infrastructure in place to support the business. It’s been proven.
Eric Bischoff has been on record as saying that WCW lacked infrastructure in multiple areas. One of them was merchandise. Now, unless you walk into an arena and stare at the floor the entire time, you’ve notice that merchandising is a HUGE deal to this business. Hell, you can buy one of 10 t-shirts for The Chairshot on Pro Wrestling Tees right now! (And you should!) I think they have the merchandise side down, thanks to Pro Wrestling Tees. What about ticket sales? Advertising sales?
Right we know about Tony Khan, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks all serving in leadership roles. You have to assume Chief Brandi Officer isn’t her real title, but Brandi Rhodes has an office job as well. I would bet Adam Page does, and I really hope (for his sake) Christopher Daniels does as well. Otherwise, why would he leave ROH? But what else?
Who is doing the accounting? Who runs the risk management? Is it the same as the Jacksonville Jaguars? Same as Fulham? Who is taking care of insurance? Who administers the benefits for the office staff. WHO IS THE OFFICE STAFF? These are real questions, and without being sure this is in place, how do you know this is going to last?
This is a real concern–and might be addressed. Let’s make sure it is.
3. What is the TV situation really going to be?
Dave Meltzer has reported (and I use that term loosely) that the two TV deals that AEW have on the table are both the best non-WWE deals since WCW. Is he talking revenue or exposure? I seriously doubt it’s both, and I suspect it’s the latter.
If you are a serious television partner, why would you pay for a TV product that doesn’t even have a pilot? You have no idea what type of production they’ll put out! And if the partner is one who will produce it for them, no we’re looking at an AXS TV level of deal (which was suspected, and dismissed, a while back).
If the deal is for exposure, even if they aren’t making any rights fees up front, it better be good exposure. If it is, then it’s worth it. But will they market it? TNA had good exposure with Spike TV, but Spike didn’t push the product. The marketing was terrible, and drove it into the ground. Word of mouth–word of social media–isn’t going to make you a national television brand. The neck beards standing around the pool on Thursday aren’t going to make you a national brand. Strong advertising is going to make you a national brand. That doesn’t happen without an engaged television partner.
2. Will they get their own Hall & Nash?
WCW was legitimized by Hulk Hogan, but it became a real war once Scott Hall and Kevin Nash went over. That’s when you knew it was getting nasty. That changed the business. If all this accomplishes is getting WWE to pay more for their name talent, the “world change” didn’t really help AEW. It helped WWE talent who could have jumped ship but didn’t.
Someone needs to jump. Randy Orton? Maybe, but he doesn’t move the needle nationally. They need a Daniel Bryan, a Seth Rollins, A Becky Lynch, a Charlotte Flair or (best of all) a Brock Lesnar. That makes people take notice. Dolph Ziggler won’t cut it. Chris Jericho only goes so far in 2019. He’s huge to wrestling fans, but he alone can’t draw in the national audience.
I know this is similar to point #2, but it goes beyond in-ring talent.
1. Is Tony Khan Willing to fire Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega?
This, for me, is the most important question of all. The guy supposedly put up $100 million of his own dough, right? What if it fails? What if they make mistakes and don’t learn from them, and fail more? You really think he’s going to throw away $100 million? HELL NO.
The Khan Family owns an NFL franchise and a Premier League club. From a financial perspective, you pay a large sum of money up front for the purchase, then pay the operations cost in rights fees. Your biggest concern on a yearly basis is team management and–more importantly–running a stadium. History has told us that you can be horrible at running a professional franchise and still make money. It’s really hard to fail.
But AEW won’t have rights fees like an NFL team does. Not to that level, not hardly. So they have to make money from other areas. Are they getting the merchandise money. Salim Khan is worth a reported $7.2 billion. Neck bearded wrestling fans will tell you that means he’s got money to spend. That’s why they were standing around a pool on a cold Vegas night instead of having important business to tend to. Salim Khan doesn’t want to spend his money, he wants to make money.
Cody Rhodes, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, and Kenny Omega have a combined 7 months of experience running a wrestling company. They didn’t “run” ALL IN, they were the front men for a Ring Of Honor super show. Still don’t believe that? Look who owns the footage. It’s not All Elite Wrestling.
So if they fail, Tony Khan will have three choices:
- Lose more money
- Close up shop
- Replace the leadership
Is he willing to fire the AEW Four? I bet he is.
One Key Piece Of Advice For Tony Khan…
Hire a consultant. You’ve got Conrad Thompson running around, have him call Bruce Prichard. Maybe he helps Cody, The Bucks, and Kenny, maybe not (I’m not sure they’d welcome the help). You don’t know how to run a wrestling company, so hire a guy who does to be your checks-and-balances. You don’t know when you need to make a move, so he can help you.
Again, I have to restate (because I know how you are) that I want this to succeed. AEW represents the best potential #2 in the North American wrestling market today. But for All Elite Wrestling to succeed, they have to know the answers to these questions. If they don’t, then I can say you’re welcome. Figure it out now and you’ve bought yourself at least a few more years. WCW lasted 13 years (1988 to 2001). TNA/IMPACT Wrestling and Ring Of Honor have outlasted it. Can AEW? Time will tell.