Breaking down the AEW-TNT deal: Is this going to work?

AEWIt’s official: All Elite Wrestling, AEW, as we will come to know the acronym, will debut on TNT in the fall.

“Wrestling fans have wanted – and needed – something different, authentic and better for far too long,” said AEW President and CEO Tony Khan. “AEW is answering the call. AEW is about more than wrestling. It’s about a movement fueled by wrestling fans who have been underserved and perhaps even disappointed by what the industry has produced in recent years.

“AEW is rising to the occasion with Double or Nothing, and today taking it a step further by partnering with WarnerMedia, which is as committed as we are to making wrestling fans the one and only priority. With WarnerMedia, AEW is poised globally to redefine wrestling as we know it today.”

We don’t know a lot in terms of details yet: night of the week on which the show will run, the length of the show, the time slot, whether it will be live or pre-recorded.

The big news is the news: that AEW has a partner in TNT that knows the wrestling business.

Now, there is the part to TNT being back in the wrestling business that makes you think back to when TNT couldn’t wait to get out of the wrestling business, back in 2001, when WCW was on its last legs, a stunning fall from its stance as the clear leader in the Monday Night Wars just a couple of years prior.

There was always a feeling that the folks at Turner back then were embarrassed that the company had anything to do with pro wrestling, so when times started getting tough, it was no surprise that Turner cut bait and sold WCW to Vince McMahon for basically pennies on the dollar.

Maybe the folks at WarnerMedia and TNT have done case studies of the internal history there to learn what went right and what went way, way, way wrong with the WCW fiasco.

One key difference this time around would seem to be the fact that AEW is owned by an outside entity, headed up by Khan, who has deep pockets, with a net worth more than double that of McMahon, and significantly, Khan seems committed to using his money to make AEW work.

That would fit into what seemed to make WCW work, at least for a time, when Ted Turner was in charge of his TV operations, and was committed to wrestling and the Atlanta Braves because he was a fan of ‘rasslin and baseball, and also knew that they were important programming staples.

We know that Khan is committed, but we don’t know yet how committed TNT is. I haven’t seen any numbers related to the deal, and we still don’t know what TNT has in the works in terms of promotions and marketing, which will be key.

It would be nice if we could see some commercial spots on the air during the Eastern Conference Finals, which begin tonight on TNT, though that may be asking a lot.

The Double or Nothing pay-per-view will help build some buzz, but that’s preaching to the choir, basically.

People who buy Double or Nothing or read about it online are already going to tune in this fall.

AEW isn’t going to come out of the gate drawing 2 million viewers a week, even on TNT, a basic-cable staple. It’s more likely going to launch in the 1 million or so viewer range, and grow from there, assuming there’s support from TNT in terms of cross-promotions, which will be aided when the NBA returns in late October.

As long as everybody is in to making money, AEW will, eventually, make money.

The roster of wrestlers – Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Cody, The Young Bucks, Adam Page being the core – tells us something about the quality of the in-ring action.

Khan’s billions, and his willingness to spend them, tell us that the production will, again, eventually, come with a certain amount of quality.

I’m assuming TNT isn’t going through with this rollout as some sort of go-through-the-motions exercise, so they’re going to put their butts into the effort.

Looking into my crystal ball, this is going to work. I’m excited.

Column by Chris Graham


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