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When the indie supershow ALL IN was first announced, it was unclear what the event's potential was. No company outside of WWE had successfully run a major arena show on US soil since World Championship Wrestling in 1999. The Bullet Club, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling had made some strides in the US market lately, including a quick sellout of a 4,000 seat arena in Long Beach, CA, as well as selling more than 6,000 tickets to a ROH show in New Orleans during WrestleMania weekend. Still the idea of selling more than 10,000 tickets to a non-WWE show seemed outrageous. After all, the ROH show in New Orleans was heavily promoted as the first clash between Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega, and only drew 6,000 people, despite also being during WrestleMania weekend. How could largely the same group of talent hope to draw 10,000 fans only a few months later?
Shortly after tickets went on sale, we got our answer; ALL IN was a tremendous success, selling all available tickets in under 30 minutes. Despite the fact that they had never drawn a crowd close to that number, and they did not have the benefit of running WrestleMania weekend, ALL IN was promoted well enough to nearly instantly sell-out a big arena in Chicago. In the following weeks, additional events and announcements were made, including a huge convention in the days leading up to the event, as well as broadcasting deals to show the event worldwide.
How were Cody and The Young Bucks, the promoters and along with Kenny Omega, the leading draws on the show, able to pull this off? Rapid growth is one explanation, even over the last few months between the New Orleans show and ALL IN, the profile of the wrestlers, and more importantly wrestling outside of WWE, has grown. There are a variety of factors, from the establishment of Honor Club as a streaming service for ROH; to NJPW putting their world title on Omega, to mainstream media outlets such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN dedicating more time to covering (and therefore promoting) wrestling outside of WWE, that have increased the popularity of the stars, as well as ALL IN.
Perhaps the biggest factor of all though has been the success of the YouTube Series "Being The Elite" which started off as a way to pass the time on the road and has turned into the main promotional vehicle for the group. If ALL IN is The Elite's WrestleMania, than Being The Elite is their Monday Night RAW, furthering along storylines each week and building the show. For fans of The Elite, the show has been a phenomenom, and a must-watch program each week as more characters get introduced and storylines unfold. Since they lack an actual television program to promote ALL IN (although Ring of Honor have promoted the event at times on their programming) Being The Elite has allowed the group to reach the modern, hardcore fan on a weekly basis, harnassing the power of social media better than any other promotion.
The mere presence of a reoccurring role on the YouTube series has proven to be a boon to a wrestler's career, most notably for Flip Gordon. A relatively unknown high-flyer working on the New England indie scene, Gordon began appearing on the series first as a rookie being hazed by the group and later as someone trying desperately to get booked for ALL IN. Through his work on the show, Gordon has gone from a minor regional name to being one of the fastest rising stars on the indies, finding himself booked in NJPW as well The Crash in Mexico. Veteran wrestlers who aren't associated with the group have seen their stock rise by appearing on the show as well, including the members of SoCal Uncensored, Jay Lethal, Nick Aldis and Chuck Taylor.
The sellout is also indicative of how branding and the promise of something historic is key to selling tickets in today's wrestling world. ALL IN sold out with a few names announced for the show and no matches confirmed. In the old days, it used to be that individual stars and big matches were what sold tickets, but today, a strong brand name that fans trust is key. WrestleMania sells tens of thousands of tickets each year before a single match is confirmed for the show. They do that because over time WrestleMania has built up a reliable reputation as a big event that fans believe is going to be a very important show; it doesn't matter what specific matches are on the show because fans trust that WrestleMania is going to be a big deal no matter what.
The same can be said for ALL IN; fans trusted that the people behind the show (Cody and The Young Bucks) wouldn't disappoint them with a lackluster show, and were willing to buy tickets well in advance because they trusted the brand of The Elite. Another key factor is that by being the first non-WWE show to draw 10,000 fans to a US show this millennium, fans are interested in becoming a part of history by attending the show. This holds true for the Madison Square Garden show next year; the idea of being a part of history is tantalizing to fans, particularly those interested in seeing a strong alternative to WWE. People who believe that the card for ALL IN is disappointing because there is no Omega vs Okada match or something like that, and that if fans knew in advance this was the card they wouldn't have sold so many tickets, completely don't understand why ALL IN has been successful. Fans are not interested in seeing a collection of five-star matches; they want to be part of something important and see their favorite stars, and no matter how you look at it, ALL IN is going to provide that.
The show itself is an interesting amalgamation of talent; Cody and The Young Bucks have said that they want to provide matches at ALL IN that fans have not seen elsewhere. Since they are running a show independent of any promotion, they were able to mix the rosters of seemingly every non-WWE promotion in the world. The main event is going to be a six-man tag team match between The Young Bucks with Kota Ibushi against Rey Mysterio, Fenix and Bandido. This will probably be a crazy match filled with high spots that the crowd will love. The Bucks excel in these types of matches and Ibushi is one of the best performers in the world. Mysterio is a legend that won't have to do much for the crowd to pop, but he can still go at a high level when he needs to. Fenix is very talented, and Bandido is an up-and-comer who has all the tools to be a major name on the independents.
The sub-main event matches will be big name single matches, including Pentagon vs Omega in what I think is going to be more of a character-driven match as opposed to a spectacular athletic contest that Omega has become known for. There will also be NJPW ace Kazuchika Okada taking on Marty Scurll, in what could be a defining match for Scurll, as he has never been given an opportunity to work with such an established name in a high-profile singles match. The most anticipated match may end up being Cody against Aldis for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, a match that has been sufficiently hyped by the YouTube series "Ten Pounds of Gold" as Cody chases the belt that his father Dusty chased for decades.
The undercard could end up being insane. The most notable match is Hangman Page vs Joey Janela in a Street Fight. Both guys are known for taking crazy bumps and using weapons; and since this match has to also involve Page being confronted by Joey Ryan (who, according to Being The Elite storyline, he murdered in Tokyo) it means it will also take on the supernatural. There will also be the Ring of Honor World Title Match between Jay Lethal and the winner of the pre-match battle royal; a women's fatal four way with Chelsea Green, Tessa Blanchard, Britt Baker and Madison Rayne, and Christopher Daniels taking on actor Stephen Amell. Amell has some other pro wrestling experience, including, wrestling a match at SummerSlam in 2015, and he'll be working with one of the most experienced wrestlers in the world. Daniels has done a great job in his promos lately, really building the match with Amell as a major event. There is also room for surprise appearances, most notably PAC (aka Neville) who was curiously released by WWE just a week before ALL IN.
By selling 10,000 tickets, ALL IN has already been a declared success, but the magnitude of that success remains to be seen. With the event being sold on traditional PPV, the potential is there for unforeseen revenue. If the show does well on PPV (I'd say 50,000 buys or more would be a huge success, especially because the show is also available through different streaming services) that could open the door for more opportunities down the road. The pre-show is going to be available on cable network WGN America, and if it draws strong viewership it could create the potential for a regular television series, either for Ring of Honor or a splinter promotion, to end up on cable.
It's also unclear whether ALL IN will be the beginning or the end of The Elite's success outside of WWE. The fact is WWE is rich with cash and also paranoid of another group gaining ground on their empire, so they can afford to make big offers to the key players to make ALL IN a one-time deal as opposed to an annual event. Perhaps the most interesting development in wrestling over the next six months will be to see where the group's key players (Cody, Omega and The Bucks) end up, whether they re-sign with Ring of Honor and NJPW; or take WWE's big money offer. ALL IN may end up being the start of a major wrestling revolution in the US, or it could be the last independent success story for The Elite before they went to WWE. Anything is on the table, which makes ALL IN probably the most important wrestling show of the year.