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EXCLUSIVE: AEW'S TONY KHAN ON THE COMPANY'S LONG-TERM FINANCIAL OUTLOOK, INVESTING DURING THE PANDEMIC, THE EIGHT-FIGURE VIDEO GAME INVESTMENT AND MORE

By Mike Johnson on 2021-06-22 11:00:00

Last week, I attended an AEW media event at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City to promote their debut their on 9/22. 

During the event, I sat down with AEW President Tony Khan to discuss a number of topics, including the revelation in a recent Forbes profile on Khan and AEW that the company was "in the red" due to an eight-figure investment into AEW's future video game.  When I asked him to explain the investment as well as his thoughts on those who pointed to the company "in the red" as a sign something is wrong, Khan responded:

I know the wrestling end is profitable this year.  We're going to make money in wrestling this year because of our great partnerships.  Our pay-per-views are way ahead of anybody's projections. They're all up year over year.   So far, our two biggest pay-per-view events we've ever done have been the two we've done in 2021. They're both up year over year in a major way. 

Going back to live events with great advanced sales and the big things we're doing like this announcement of AEW Dynamite Grand Slam in New York.  The week before, the huge crowd we've already got over 9,000 tickets sold in Newark and we'll definitely sell over 10,000 tickets.  I expect to sell out Newark also the week before we're here and just love the schedule as we go into all out this summer.  It's a great time to talk about it, so to your point, we've got this great wrestling operation.

I've made this huge investment into video games and it's comical to me that anybody would try to pull it… it goes to show that I think people will try and take a negative out of a positive sometimes because this is a hugely positive thing. Our wrestling company is very profitable. The only reason I won't net money this year on AEW in our second full year of operations, which is pretty amazing, frankly, for a startup that has had the level of investment that we've had behind AEW and the amount of time that this has been going, that we'll be significantly profitable already as a venture. 

The huge market cap this company would potentially have if I had any interest in taking it public, which I don't...I care about the company so much, and it is a great asset, but I don't see it as an asset to leverage or try and squeeze every dollar out of it.   I'm a people person.  So I would say this honestly, like I care about running a profitable business, but I also take a lot of pride in the fact that I didn't lay people off through the pandemic. Almost everybody, we have a over 95% retention rate of people through the pandemic and I actually had significantly higher than 95%. Almost everybody that we started with is here. 

Not only that, but we've added so many people through the pandemic and expanded and grown in the past year in so many ways.  I'm not trying to cut back at all.  I want to grow the company and invest in people now with the fans coming back is a great time to do that.   So that anybody would try and draw a negative out of the fact that the wrestling operation is profitable this year, but that the company technically won't be in the black because I'm making this huge investment into gaming and video games.  

In particular, it's crazy because like that's going to be an even bigger investment that's going to pay off huge that I've made this huge eight figure investment in video games because that we won't see any revenue from that until 2022. That's why it's not going to pay off in 2021 on our books.   For the purposes of the calendar year, that may be true. But in 2022, we're going to have a huge year, uh, when we start seeing the receipts of the games and we have a great TV contract. We'll continue to expand and grow as a live events and touring company, but also as a television and pay-per-view company.

I expect we'll continue to see great growth. And with the launch of Rampage, things are really shaping up for a great 2022 as it will be the first full year of Rampage.  So, it's going to be a huge year for us, but in 2021, I'm making an investment.  While a lot of people were pulling out and cutting back and not investing during the pandemic, I made an investment in people and also frankly, a huge investment in video games.   I'm an investor in the gaming space, and I think I've been a savvy investor. I made a large investment with my family that I pushed my family to make and kind of, along with AEW, I would describe it as one of the two investments where I've kind of dragged my dad across the goal line a little bit.

We put $20 million into Epic Games, which looks pretty smart now because it's worth a lot more than that now.   So gaming is something we know a lot about, and I happen to work with very closely a gaming expert by the name of Kenny Omega who's put together some great ideas and is doing a great job, uh, along with Nick Sobek and a lot of other great people I work with.  We're going to deliver a great game for people next year, and we're going to make a ton of money.   We'll be very profitable on all things next year. But this year is a profitable wrestling year for us and that's big and making a big investment in gaming is a good thing.   It shows the health and the stability of the company. So it just goes to show that like, if you want to try and draw a negative out of something positive that there's people on Twitter that will try and do that sometimes.

AEW returns to touring weekly with Dynamite on Wednesday 7/7 in Miami, an event that recently opened up additional seating as COVID-19 protocols for seating were rolled back.  The promotion debuts on NYC on 9/22 with tickets for that event going on sale on 7/16.

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