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IF I WERE ADVISING TONY KHAN....

By Dave Scherer on 2022-07-22 11:10:00

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If you were advising Tony Khan right now, what would you be telling him about his recent shows?

Well, if I were advising Tony I probably would have been fired or quit by now to be honest.  This past week’s Dynamite may have been the worst episode of the show yet, and that isn’t just because of the hideous last 15 minutes of the evening either, but let’s start there.

At a time when WWE just may be a bit vulnerable in the eyes of bigger companies and partners due to Vince McMahon’s NDA-Gate, Khan has doubled down on the kinds of matches that make most of the companies and partners that WWE works with want nothing to do with pro wrestling.  Let’s look at who WWE does business with on TV in the USA, FOX and NBC Universal.  About two years from now, their rights deals with WWE will be in the heavy negotiation stage…..provided that they still want to do business with Vince McMahon.  It’s very possible that the NDA situation may give them pause in that scenario, especially if more cases come to the forefront and Vince McMahon stubbornly refuses to leave the company. 

FOX had the Roger Ailes scandal.  NBCU had the Matt Lauer scandal.  It’s entirely possible that they may not want to continue to do business with Vince McMahon, especially if this situation keeps growing and more women step forward.  That could give AEW an opportunity to come to the table with one or both of those companies and offer their product at a discount to what they are paying WWE.  Take FOX for example.  They pay $205 million a year for Smackdown.  If they decide to move away from WWE andAEW came in and offered Dynamite for $105M, they would get a huge bump in rights fees and FOX would pay much less for programming.  If AEW could do 75% of the number that Smackdown does, it’s a win.  Even if it does half, if FOX made the decision to move away from WWE it’s still a win for them because there isn’t anything out there that I can think of that will draw 1M viewers every Friday night for them.

Barbed Wire Everywhere, with it’s very real violence and bloodletting, will not be the kind of product most companies will want to associate itself with.  Think back to the days when WWE couldn’t get paid what it felt it was worth due to companies thinking so little of wrestling fans.  Now, watch the match from Wednesday and ask yourself, “What Fortune 500 companies would want to align itself with men slicing themselves with real barbed wire?”  If your answer isn’t, “Not many” you don’t know a whole lot about business and how it works.  Most advertisers don't think highly of people who like the last fifteen minutes of Dynamite.

Aside from that, the overall booking has been bad for a few months now.  Last week, we got Wardlow vs. Orange Cassidy in a match that should have not happened.  Khan made it hard for his fans to get behind either guy because they like both.  This week, among other things that Eps and I will discuss tomorrow, we got the Jungle Boy-Christian-Luchasaurus segment.  So Lucha supposedly turns on Jungle Boy and aligns with Christian.  He never explains why.  Then he suddenly does a 180 WHY?  It’s Vince Russo booking at its worst.  

I get that AEW is missing top guys right now.  CM Punk is hurt.  Brian Danielson is hurt.  Adam Cole is hurt.  Kenny Omega is hurt.  MJF is God knows where doing God knows what.  That is a lot of talent to be missing.  That’s why it’s so much more important to start working on getting new people over, giving us backstory on the characters and telling stories that get people beyond the hardcore fans invested.  AEW isn’t doing that right now. 

They get people to a point where the fans care about them, like Thunder Rosa and Wardlow, then Khan books them in situations which cools them off.  It makes no sense.

And don't take my word for it.  Just take a look at the audience numbers for this year’s FyterFest vs. last.

07/20/22 FyterFest Week 2

910,000 0.32
07/13/22 FyterFest Week 1 942,000 0.32

07/21/21 FyterFest Week 2

1,148,000 0.44
07/14/22 FyterFest Week 1 1,025,000 0.40

Those are big losses, especially in the demo.  For those blaming cable TV being down as the reason for this, look at Raw from last year vs. this.

07/18/22 1,764,000 0.46
7/26/21 1,814,000 0.49

Even if people are right and they are blaming dininishing cable viewership for AEW's loss, that theory goes out the window when we see WWE being pretty close to even year to year, and AEW struggling.  Last year they were very close to WWE in the demo and now?  Not so much.

You know what else it tells me?  For all of its problems, WWE still gets people to tune in and that makes them valuable to partners and advertisers.  

I am not saying AEW should become WWE, God no.  But if I were advising Tony Khan, I would be telling him to step out of his own bubble and look at the picture.  Obviously, he likes to watch men slice themselves open and take big, big bumps (even if it means guys go on the disabled list in AEW far more frequently than they do in WWE).  But the data here shows that on a week where he advertised a barbed wire that Tony the fan wanted to see, he lost viewers from the previous week and year.  That tells me the hardcore like it, the casual fan not so much. 

Some may blame the losses on the lack of stars off the show, and there could be some merit to that.  But I also blame the bad booking and too many stunt show matches that, while they appeal to Tony and people like him, they turn other people off.  I know the hardcore fan thinks that is sacrilege but it’s true and the numbers back it up.  The solution to the problem is as simple as it is obvious, Khan should put that stuff on PPV, where the hardcores will buy and the casual fans won't ignore Dynamite.

Some make the argument that Tony is giving his current TV partner what it wants.  To a degree, that’s true.  AEW was first in the demo this week, which is great.  But also keep in mind that this management team didn’t bring in AEW, they have a contract with them their predecessors signed.  Maybe Discovery loves AEW, maybe they don’t.  We will find that out next year when it's time to do a new deal.  At the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

Tony Khan shouldn’t just be thinking about making Discovery happy.  He should be thinking of growing his product so that in a new landscape where it’s hard to find an audience, and WWE may be less desirable to bigger companies, he can maybe create a bidding war.  If Tony improved the booking and took the garbage wrestling stuff to PPV, it wouldn't cost him a single hardcore fans.  But, it would probably bring in more casual fans and make him more attractive to work with to big companies that care about who and what they associate with.

To answer the question, if I were advising Tony Khan I would tell him to stop thinking like a hardcore wrestling fan, limiting the potential growth of his company in the process, and think like the businessman that he is in all of his other ventures.  And, I would probably be fired.

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