During a recent interview with Monaco Streaming Film Festival, AEW President Tony Khan spoke in depth about his future plans for AEW’s growing roster. One thing he’s focusing on is making the potential stories and matches AEW has to offer last for years to come.
“We have a great chance here to build an office, and keep gaining new fans, and one of the key things I’ve tried to do here with AEW is hold back a lot. When you’re in a position with a lot of talent and you can unload and do big matches, I think it’s very tempting to just unload the clip and start putting hot, big matches out there,” Tony said. “I am doing that but I’m not going to use them all up in one week or two weeks, and burn through all of the great stories that I feel could last for years here. So I am trying to be methodical in terms of not killing the golden goose.
“… I think WCW built one of the greatest rosters ever in wrestling, and they were competing with WWF in the ’90s. And I thought one of the mistakes they made is they had so many exciting matches in WCW and it was like week, after week, after week they burned through them,” he added. “But not only did they burn through them, there were very unsatisfying conclusions. A lot of them ended in disqualification or something that wouldn’t make me that hungry to watch a rematch. Despite all of this, I can talk with the benefit of hindsight about the business mistakes WCW made. They also rose to incredible heights and proved that it’s possible for a wrestling company to do this.”
Tony concedes that when the company first started in January 2019, their roster was filled with stars they wanted to build up instead of seasoned veterans like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Sting. He notes that some talent wanted to witness AEW’s growth from afar prior to signing a deal with the company.
“When we started AEW, there is no question– we didn’t have the greatest roster of star power, but we did have exciting, young wrestlers and a show people wanted to see. It’s kind of the chicken or the egg, there is no way I could have launched with the rosters of stars I have because some of them were not available or out of contract when we launched, and others wanted to see how this went before they committed to it. They had to sign up and see some proof of concept before they signed up, essentially became a guinea pig in a new wrestling company. There was initially a ton of interest in AEW when we launched and there does continue to be. I sometimes wonder, if I was able to launch with all the star power I have now, which clearly there was great demand and people wanted to see it, but it wasn’t possible then. And now, it actually is possible.”
Since AEW’s inception, the tribalism between WWE fans and AEW fans has seemed to steadily grow in intensity. There remains fans that enjoy multiple pro wrestling products and deal out equal praise, but others take to the internet and affiliate with one or the other in a war of words.
Tony believes that this is not much different than the tribalism that took place between WWF, WCW, and ECW in the ’90s. However, he recognizes that the biggest shift in today’s warfare is how accessible technology is to get out your opinion.
“There is nothing new [about tribalism], there is nothing new about that. It’s just more widespread than it used to be, but even in the last wrestling boom, online, there was a great amount of this. It was just the medium was very different– there were less people in the chat rooms, the forums. This was all happening on dial up internet for the most part, and there was a huge amount of tribalism back then and I was a part of it,” Tony admitted. “And now I see it, not from the other side but where the battlefield is just much larger. There is much, much bigger of a fanbase online talking about these events, talking about AEW and WWE compared to when I was a kid.
“Now, the companies people probably talk about the most are WWE, AEW, and NJPW. I would say, when I was a kid, it was the WWF, WCW, and ECW. New Japan was a company that worked with WCW a lot but they hadn’t necessarily built as much of a reputation in America where they could stake a claim that they were one of the top 3 companies legitimately. So, that’s pretty interesting. The battlefield on television is very different. There may not be as many linear TV viewers as there were, which is kind of misleading to people, I think, because then they think the wrestling boom isn’t real. The pay-per-views show that it’s real, and really, the TV revenues are what make it real because the TV rights fees are much higher than they ever were.
“That’s what got me into the wrestling business, is the TV rights fees,” Khan continued. “The reason I plopped down millions and millions of dollars to sign up wrestlers and to build this business plan, it was because TV rights fees justified it. If we could build a hit TV show, which we did, we could command big rights fees to build a company around. So that was the business model. We signed a $175,000,000 four year extension that’s really been one of the key, lifeblood revenue streams of this company. In particular, when live event touring revenue dissipated through the pandemic. That was our key revenue source.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Monaco Streaming Film Festival with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.