In an interview with Entrepreneur.com, AEW President Tony Khan was asked how he tries to make AEW more genuine to the fans than their chief rival, WWE. For Khan, it’s largely in delivering to the fans what’s been promised.
“There’s a lot of differences (between AEW and WWE),” Khan said. “I don’t do really cheap DQ finishes to prolong something. There are other wrestling programs where you might see multiple DQs and count outs in a week. I believe in giving the fans a finish to the match. I believe in not false-advertising programs and people. I might hype something I really believe in, but there’s a big difference between hyping something and false-advertising outright, and I’ve never done the latter. I think that’s why we have a lot of goodwill with the audience.
“Following through on the things you say you’re going to do and trying to deliver a show that’s in the spirit of what the fans want to see week in, week out and offering fresh matches and fresh programs is a big part of it. You know, not doing the same matches 17 weeks in a row over and over again.”
Later Khan was asked about some of the missteps AEW has encountered in their first two years. Khan pointed to three examples (one of which he clarified wasn’t a misstep) and explained how he, and AEW, reacted to them all.
“So at the end of 2019, we were in a head-to-head battle on Wednesday nights, and this went until very recently,” Khan stated. “And that was clearly the time where we just weren’t giving our fans what they wanted. We’d started with this great audience, and there were a lot of people with good ideas, but there were too many people, too many ideas, and there was just too much.
“It was overwhelming. I promised myself I was going to work harder and come up with my own ideas. I would still solicit outside suggestions, but I was only going to do stuff I really believed in, and I was going to be more meticulous. I believe it made a big difference and we came back much more focused, much more organized and with a great response to our next several shows. From the end of 2019 to the beginning of 2020, the numbers turned around, and I was really proud of that.”
Almost as soon as Khan and AEW turn things around, a new obstacle hit in the form of COVID-19. Khan talked about the difficulties of keeping AEW’s business going while also keeping his talent safe.
“We were doing the best business we’d ever done, and then the pandemic hit,” Khan said. “All of a sudden we went from having our full roster to having less than 30% of them available. In the month of April, 29% of our roster appeared, and the 71% that did not appear included a lot of the biggest stars in the company. And with that 29% of the roster, we fought on. We did win the demo every week, but the ratings were tighter than I wanted. Every week was a dog fight.
“For these tapings, I really felt like we had to keep the momentum going, but also so that we’ve fulfilled our obligations to our TV partner by producing new shows. The last thing I ever would want to do in this situation with everybody’s livelihood at risk is breach the TV contract. That is our lifeblood revenue stream. And so we taped enough wrestling matches to do up to six or seven weeks of Dynamite.
“We kept the stories alive, found fresh ways to do it, and I was really proud of the way we literally put over a month’s worth of shows together in 15 minutes; the work held up. As an entrepreneurial object lesson, it’s trying to make the most out of what you have even if your resources are limited, and sometimes it’ll be your best work.”