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Starr: Unpopular Theory on The Young Bucks in AEW

Tommy Starr isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions, and today that centers around The Young Bucks and their value to AEW.

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Tommy Starr isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions, and today that centers around The Young Bucks and their value to AEW.

We have heard podcasts and videos and have read plenty of articles regarding the “polarizing” nature of The Young Bucks.  In many aspects, they are the quintessential models for what many individuals refer into the business today as a “split audience” opinion; people either unconditionally love them or vehemently despise them.  There may be some fans along that spectrum that fall somewhere within those two extremes, but generally the passionate fans are the ones that make their voices known on the “love vs. hate” debate of The Young Bucks.

I have always seen The Young Bucks for what they truly represent to the wrestling business; they are a niche brand with a niche audience.  Both Nick and Matt Jackson are on record discussing the nature of their polarization and the fact that they WANT to be seen as polarizing (see their interview with USA Today from 2017).  They are not concerned with appealing to casual, mainstream wrestling fans or expanding their brand beyond its current cabal.  They do not want to acknowledge those who deride their ring style or personas in order to win over their cynics.  From their standpoint, they have reached a comfortable level of complacency and find it more productive to cut all ties with those that have differing opinions of how professional wrestling should be viewed and conducted.  It is actually very reflective of where we are as a society today: shame and block any and all form of rational conversation as opposed to having open debate and discussion with those that have differing opinions than we do.

As we look at the current AEW environment in 2021, and we analyze the direction of their company, both from a business and talent pool perspective, the landscape is very different from the primal incarnation of the company.  AEW is assembling more recognizable names from WWE, the roster continues to grow exponentially in terms of size and depth, they have expanded to a second weekly television show to better balance their content, they continue to cross-promote with other organizations, particularly Impact Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance, and above all else, we are beginning to see a certain number of those initial talent signings fall to the back-burner (Sonny Kiss, Joey Janela, Chuck Taylor, Private Party, Riho, Hikaru Shida, Nyla Rose, etc).  And these are just a subset of talents that have been heavily deemphasized just within the last two years, mostly by nature of the fact that their “value” and “worth” to the company is very different in 2021 than it was in 2019.

Putting this in perspective with The Young Bucks in 2021, we need to call into question what their ultimate value is to the company– not just at this moment, but potentially two to three years down the line.  In many aspects, AEW’s growth in terms of television ratings and weekly viewership is beginning to reach its peak level at somewhere around one million viewers, give or take.  The Buck’s contribution to those ratings can be argued, but more or less, the intrigue and buzz around AEW in the last couple of months centers around the recent acquisitions of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, and other potential talents that are at the tail end of their WWE contracts.  From a creative and booking point of view, The Bucks’ value is generally immaterial; fans are watching AEW regardless of whether or not The Bucks wrestle or work angles on television.  While their segments typically do not decrease viewership, their segments statistically are not gaining viewership either (and if they do, they are usually playing background roles).  As executive vice presidents, their business input may carry value in the short-term, but for anyone that has run a business or knows people in executive positions of businesses in media entertainment, the turnover rate for those positions are usually high (average- 11.4%).

So what happens in two or three years when AEW’s talent pool reaches a level where The Young Bucks are rendered inefficacious on the programming?  What happens if they decide to step down as executives due to company disagreements or long-term vision disputes?  At the moment, they may serve value for merchandising, and there will always be that niche fan base that goes out of their way to support them; the problem is that, according to ShopAEW.com, The Young Bucks are not currently ranked in the top merchandise sellers for the company.  Among the list of names of top sellers are CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Orange Cassidy, Chris Jericho, Adam Cole, Brodie Lee, and even Kenny Omega.  And with AEW’s continual efforts to sign more recognizable stars, particularly from WWE, The Young Bucks are going to continue swimming upstream in the merchandise department.

Bringing this theory to closure, the sad fact is that it is a discussion that a lot of AEW fans will refuse to have, but need to have.  While the niche audience sees the value of The Young Bucks to the overall growth and development of the product, the facts seem to indicate otherwise.  They are not mainstream attractions, they are not paramount to the current booking and creative direction, they neither escalate nor de-escalate television viewership, and from a marketability and merchandise standpoint, their single greatest attribute is currently being overshadowed by the larger name stars in the business.

Bluntly put, we need to ask a simple question, “If The Young Bucks left AEW today, how badly would it hurt the overall product?”  It is important to recognize that this is not a “hate piece” on The Young Bucks, but rather an attempt to direct wrestling fans’ attention to a bigger picture about their true worth to All Elite Wrestling’s long-term success.

Sources:

Barnett, J. (2017, March 31). ‘Self made’ Young Bucks build a ‘polarizing’ brand on their own. USA Today. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2017/03/31/young-bucks-matt-nick-jackson-westelmania-wwe/99826416/.

Petrone, P. (2018, March 19). See the industries with the highest turnover (and why it’s so high). LinkedIn. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.linkedin.com/business/learning/blog/learner-engagement/see-the-industries-with-the-highest-turnover-and-why-it-s-so-hi.

Raghuwanshi, M. (2021, September 17). Complete aew dynamite tv ratings & viewership(us). ITN WWE. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.itnwwe.com/wrestling/aew-ratings-viewership/#aew-dynamite-tv-ratings–viewership-2021.

Top sellers for the year. Top Sellers – Year. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.shopaew.com/topsellers/all.


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Opinion

The Paradox of the Wrestling War in 2021

The IWC has been talking about a certain Friday Night and what numbers matter. Tommy Starr chimes in with his perspective on this “war”.

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“War is peace… freedom is slavery… ignorance is strength.”  These are among George Orwell’s key three slogans in his novel 1984, which exemplify the ideology that when one has the power to lull individuals into false senses of security, they will blissfully ignore truth and reality to serve a perpetual agenda.

Since the inception of AEW, wrestling media has insisted on this idealistic narrative of a born-again “Monday Night Wars” comparative to that of a bygone era of professional wrestling that has not been seen since and will never be seen again.  For one reason or another, modern wrestling fans have bought into this impractical religious doctrine hook, line, and sinker, despite statistical evidence that contradict this ideology.

To put this in perspective, if there is a genuine wrestling “war” in the wrestling market today, it is not merely a war of the companies of AEW vs. WWE, rather it is a frivolous war between the oppositional fans of AEW and WWE.  The center of authority that continues to drive this animosity amongst the opposing fan bases rests at the helm of the wrestling media and the individuals within the business itself.  The manipulative narrative of the wrestling media and wrestlers in the business have managed to perpetrate a falsified creed that AEW and WWE are “at war.”  It is interesting to note that this blanket statement hedges the particular element of what both companies are at war with. The common implication is the war of competition, particularly competition for viewership.  And while this narrative carries some validity, it misses the key detail of what this abstractive war revolves around.  It is a waging fight among AEW and WWE fans to try and claim superiority over the other, despite the apparent truth that both sides are failing to expand beyond their niche audiences.  Hence, neither party can credibly claim any form of superiority.  In essence, this religious irrationality to suggest that one company is directly “winning” over the other continues to miss the essential endgame of what winning a war truly looks like.

In the business world, “smart companies” understand and invest in long-term strategies of acknowledging that when they lose small battles, they allow their opposition to enjoy those smaller victories; meanwhile, they do not allow those battle losses to obstruct their long-standing progress.  So contextually, AEW would be wiser to accept that their Friday night edition of Rampage show running head to head with SmackDown lost in overall viewership numbers by approximately 288,000 viewers, despite the fact that not only was SmackDown running on a different network due to Fox coverage of the 2021 American League Championship Series, but that AEW Rampage had actually gained viewership from the previous week by about 15.14%.  Instead, wrestling media continues to propagate that overall viewership is subordinate to what truly matters in this equation, that being the key male 18-49 demographic.  What this discounts is that when one analyzes actual numbers, both shows essentially tied in the target 18-49 demographic at a 0.24.

A strategic business owner obsessed with “winning wars” understands his opposition’s leader and avoids engaging in projecting irrational and petty beliefs in order to stir up his or her army.  Rather, it would be wiser to quietly and cautiously observe the opposition’s decision-making to effectively counter-program and capture the attention of potential consumers.  This does not bode well for Tony Khan when he engages in social media warfare with the opposition to try and stoke a fire that merely exists in a metaphorical fantasy.  All the while, the rival niche audiences partake in nonsensical arguments over which organization “won” a war that has not, does not, and will not exist, despite a genuine hope that professional wrestling will ever reach that level of popularity again worth necessitating a war.

A true and authentic wrestling war in today’s culture should be the fight to reassemble a lost and/or new audience. Per discussion of a lost audience, that insinuates both parties fight for the admiration and trust of disgruntled audiences that have since tuned the product off from their habitual consumption.  Arguably, this can be seen as a lost cause, considering most of these wrestling fans have long since distanced themselves from professional wrestling. However, a business that can successfully earn back that trust of disassociated consumers is a fruitful investment. Catering to loyal and clinging fan bases may be short-term goals, but they are not expansive business strategies.  And based on the weekly viewership numbers, ratings, and key demos for both parties, AEW and WWE continue to cater short-term appeal to their niche audiences instead of investing in long-term strategic outreach to new audiences.  The art of mastery on this level is a war worth fighting for.

Sources:

  • Casey, C. (2021, October 18). Who won Friday night’s ratings battle between WWE smackdown and AEW Rampage? WWE. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://comicbook.com/wwe/news/wwe-smackdown-aew-rampage-oct-15-ratings-war-who-win-tied-demographic-smackdown-wins-audience/.
  • Feloni, R. (2014, August 14). 33 war strategies that will help you win in business. Business Insider. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/war-strategies-to-win-in-business-2014-8.
  • Thurston, B. (2021, January 15). Key demo and total audience: What are they and how much do they matter? Wrestlenomics. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://wrestlenomics.com/2020/07/14/key-demo-and-total-audience-what-are-they-and-how-much-do-they-matter/#:~:text=With%20a%20new%20head%2Dto,advertisers%20to%20the%20programs’%20networks.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: October 2021

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

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Bron Breakker

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

We’re more than halfway through October, and you know what that means! It’s time to make a list of my five favorite wrestlers! It’s either do this or write about the latest wrestling news, and as fun as it is to talk about television ratings, this seems more productive at the moment.

5. Mercedes Martinez

It’s considered impolite to discuss age. At least it used to be. I’m not sure anything’s considered impolite anymore based off of what I read on the Internet & see on television. People have pitched manners out the window as they’ve become accustomed to not worrying about getting punched in the face. There’s a point I’m trying to get to here, and that point is that it’s nice that women’s wrestling has arrived at a place where I can write about somebody that’s been wrestling about as long as I’ve been an online wrestling journalist, and they’re kicking ass & taking names. Makes me feel a bit less creepy.

Martinez’s return to the indies & emergence in Impact Wrestling has gone well. What Impact is doing with her isn’t exactly rocket science: have Mercedes Martinez destroy everybody in her path to a title shot, and make people believe that whoever the champion will be between Mickie James & Deonna Purrazzo will have a difficult test on their hands. Simple, right? Throw in the incoming debut of the IInspiration, and it’s pretty easy to get excited about the Knockouts Division & where it’s headed.

4. Bron Breakker

Yes, the name is pretty awful. Yes, NXT 2.0 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire after a few weeks. But it’s tough to deny the talent of the son of Rick Steiner. Dude has the physicality & the speaking tone of his father & uncle. Not quite the size of Rick or Scott in later years, but if genetics are any indication he’ll get there. It won’t be long before he’s NXT Champion, heck, I’m kind of surprised he didn’t get drafted to Raw or SmackDown already. He’s got money written all over him.

As for that pesky name issue…names aren’t as big of an issue as we like to think they are. Dolph Ziggler would have been future endeavored years ago if bad names held talent back. You also have to keep in mind that WWE will probably change his name before he gets to the main roster. No need to sweat the small stuff here. This guy will be a star somewhere under some name. Probably for the best the longer he holds off using the Steiner name, given how the wrestling business works.

3. Junior Dos Santos

If you’ve followed mixed martial arts for any length of time, you know that most fighters’ careers don’t end in a blaze of glory. Fighters want to keep fighting, and even if the losses keep stacking up they still think they’re one win away from getting back to the top. Young fighters are looking to make their names, and beating the brakes off of fighters with track records is a good way to do that. At age 37, JDS has entered that phase of his MMA career. He’s lost four straight fights, all via TKO, all to younger fighters looking to make a name. He could keep doing that, or he could move on to something else while his name still has value.

Why not pro wrestling? Granted, I seem to be one of the few people writing words on wrestling websites that actually like AEW’s angle with American Top Team & Dan Lambert, but JDS is the perfect fit for something like this. He’s a large human being, wrestling fans by & large know who he is, and he has the type of athletic ability that should transition well to pro wrestling. He’s lost a few fights, but the people he lost to are doing pretty well in UFC’s heavyweight division. I’m willing to give it a chance. Also, when the inevitable AEW vs. WWE shootfight rumble happens, AEW’s going to need him around.

2. Roman Reigns

It’s like we said years & years ago: Turn Roman Reigns heel and people will start to like him. I don’t know why the idea took so long to enact, but WWE finally turned Roman Reigns heel and people have started liking him. How about that? Amazing how these things happen. Roman’s charisma has become much more apparent in his role as the Tribal Chief, Head of the Table, Big Dog, Island of Relevancy or whatever else they’re calling him this week. The interactions between Roman & Brock Lesnar have made for good television, so good that I think even Patrick O’Dowd is on the Paul Heyman bandwagon these days.

That all being said, I think I’m enjoying his off-screen character more than his on-screen character these days. Reigns has taken the baton from Seth Rollins & become Mr. WWE Defender, and does it in a way that’s less whiny than what Seth used to do. Perhaps a bit delusional, but much more convincing. Who would win in a shootfight between Roman & CM Punk is completely irrelevant, as last I checked none of these people were shooting in WWE or AEW rings, but he managed to make people care about it somehow. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

1. Bryan Danielson

I know we’re supposed to care first & foremost about what company somebody works for these days. So I’m sure there are some of you out there that have decided that the man formerly known as Daniel Bryan has to be washed up and no longer one of the best wrestlers in the world. Or he’s unfairly putting his life on the line outside of the welcoming bosom of WWE. Nah, it’s probably just the easy “B+ player” talking point that most of the same folks went with when Bryan was still with WWE.

Me, I just care about what’s going on in the ring. Whether other people like it or not has never been one of my main problems. As I’ve pointed out before: I don’t get paid by any of these companies, and I don’t get paid by other people to shill for them. All I know is that it’s a joy to have Bryan Danielson back on my television, and his matches have been as good as expected. It really doesn’t take all that much to make me happy, just good wrestlers doing good things.


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