By and large, the wrestling world has been glad to have All Elite Wrestling. The upstart company – funded by a benevolent billionaire – isn’t to everybody’s tastes. You could make a strong argument that it alienated some of its potential audience by doing too much ‘goofy’ stuff in its first few weeks of television, and its writers still incorrectly assume that everyone who watches ‘Dynamite’ also watches ‘Dark’ and the various companion YouTube shows, but it’s been on a hot streak of television, and it’s been selling pay-per-views and tickets at arenas in respectable numbers. If this was a normal first year of operation, we’d probably say ‘so far, so good.’
This is not, however, a normal first year of operation. The Khan family, the Elite, and TNT could never have known that the world woud be crazy. They’re being forced to play the cards they’ve been dealt, and for both them and WWE, that’s meant staging shows inside empty arenas or WWE’s Performance Center. For WWE, that’s an inconvenience. They’re losing out on money, but they’re a gigantic long-tenured company with the resources to cope. For AEW, it’s a disaster.
Success or failure for AEW will be determined how the company fares during its first one or two years of operation. It needs to be able to demonstrate that it can consistently hold an audience and turn a profit. The accounts from the company’s first two years will probably determine whether the Khan family continues to fund it or pulls the plug on an operation that could potentially cost them millions of dollars. Tony Khan might be a huge wrestling fan and the man making most of the decisions, but the money he’s playing with is largely his father’s.
Shahid Khan might have a personal fortune in excess of seven billion dollars, but he didn’t make his fortune through foolish decisions. If he sees large losses, he’s likely to cut the purse strings eventually. Spending two to three months making television shows without being able to sell tickets to fund those shows is likely to result in losses. He’ll understand why those losses have happened, but that doesn’t mean he’ll grant his son a free pass to carry on.
Looking back, it made perfect sense that AEW’s second big show ‘Double or Nothing’ had a Las Vegas-inspired gambling theme. Opening AEW was a bigger gamble than staking everything you have on one spin on burning wins. No successful businessperson has ever gone through life without taking risks and making gambles, but online slots isn’t a gambling game that anyone has any control over. You might get an indication of how likely you are to make your money back if your chosen online slots website publishes ‘return to payer’ information, but you still can’t do anything to influence the outcome.
The Khans – and the Elite – have just found out that they were playing slots rather than poker this whole time, and right now, their winning lines are failing to appear. This is going to cost them big money, and it’s way too early in their development to confidently predict that they can weather the storm.
At the time of writing, nobody knows how long this situation is going to continue for, but it’s already affecting the quality of the shows that are being produced. On the most recent episode of ‘Dynamite,’ both Matt Hardy and Brodie Lee (the former Luke Harper) made their AEW debuts. Both debuts had been planned for a long time, and the way they were presented was clearly planned to draw a pop from an arena crowd. Fans should have been going crazy when Brodie Lee pulled back his hood and revealed himself to be the Dark Order’s ‘Exalted One.’ When Vanguard-1 descended from the roof, and the camera panned up to reveal Matt Hardy standing in the rafters at the end of the show, there should have been a standing ovation.
Hardy even repeatedly mouthed the word ‘delete’ in a way that would have had thousands of fans joining in, but there were no fans there to do so. As a result, it felt flat, and so both debuts won’t have provided the fledgling company with the momentum they would have hoped to gain from their two new (presumably expensive) recruits.
The difference in stance between the two companies couldn’t be starker right now. WWE has said that it will continue to run three shows a week from its Florida-based Performance Center and will also run WrestleMania from the Performance Center too. It’s even going to split the event across two different days and make it a weekend-long wrestling celebration. AEW, by contrast, can’t even say for sure that they’ll be able to air an episode of ‘Dynamite’ next week at all. There’s supposed to be a ‘Blood and Guts’ special show with a War Games match happening, and that’s the story that the past three weeks of television have been geared toward.
We no longer know when that might happen, or if it will happen at all. If AEW is forced to stop, nobody knows when they’ll be able to start again. With less than a year’s worth of television under its belt, this is the last thing the company needs to be dealing with right now.
None of this, of course, is AEW’s fault. They couldn’t have prepared for this, and they couldn’t have responded any better to the circumstances they’re faced with. As positive and willing as Tony Khan is, though, he and his father won’t be able to put up with uncertainty indefinitely. The Khans are in this to make money, and right now, AEW isn’t making any. The company has been an outstanding addition to the wrestling landscape and forced WWE to face up to the fact that it now has competition in a way that seemed impossible five years ago. We just hope that they’re still here to fight that battle twelve months from now when all of this is hopefully over.