Home AEW’s Tony Khan clearly feeling the pressure as broadcast-rights season ramps up

AEW’s Tony Khan clearly feeling the pressure as broadcast-rights season ramps up

Chris Graham
tony khan
Tony Khan. Photo: All Elite Wrestling

Tony Khan, talking with reporters at the media scrum after the Ring of Honor “Final Battle” pay-per-view on Friday night, sure sounds like a guy who is afraid the end might be near.

“There’s a reason that every single person who stepped into my position until now has gone out of business. I’m the only one left,” Khan said, rather cryptically.

“Everybody who stepped up and put millions of dollars into this and done it week after week, and there’s no offseason, you do it 52 weeks a year, it’s a fight,” Khan went on. “And that’s a credit to the fans. I know what it is to be a wrestling fan 52 weeks a year. It’s hard. But it’s also the most rewarding thing.

“That’s why you can’t get away from it for too long,” Khan said. “That’s why we always come back to it. We’re addicted, and it’s worth fighting.”

These seemingly out-of-nowhere comments from Khan about “fighting” come as speculation is ramping up on the interwebs about Warner Brothers Discovery having interest in WWE’s “Raw,” which currently airs on USA, but WWE and its new corporate parent, TKO, are shopping around with the broadcast rights up for renewal next year.

WBD would have to significantly scale up in terms of the money it outlays for wrestling to be able to get “Raw,” which is currently getting $265 million per year from NBCUniversal under a deal that expires in October, with WWE and TKO said to be expecting to get upwards of $400 million per with a new deal, which seems a tad bit high.

I say that because the new deal for “Smackdown,” which is moving to USA from Fox in 2024 at a reported cost of $287 million per year, is actually in line with what Fox agreed to shell out for the broadcast rights back in 2019.

Even if the market for “Raw” ends up getting WWE and TKO in the range of the current deal, WBD, if it were to want to get into the WWE game, would have to be willing to shell out several multiples of what it’s paying AEW right now to be able to do so.

Warner is paying a reported $46 million a year for AEW programming, roughly a tenth of what WWE is apparently expecting to get for “Raw,” and a sixth of what they’re likely to get.

Now, yes, “Raw” gets in the range of double the viewers that AEW’s flagship weekly show, “Dynamite,” gets on TBS each week, so, more eyeballs.

But the eyeballs drawn by “Dynamite” would seem to suggest that WBD would have to be willing to pay more to reup its content deal with AEW, with the WBD-AEW deal set to expire in 2024 as well.

Just doing quick math, Khan should be asking for a new deal in the range of $150 million, give or take, just based on the market valuation of the pending deal for “Raw” and the already announced deal for “Smackdown.”

That’s what Khan is “fighting” for. The hundreds of millions that he’s shelled out to launch AEW since its debut in 2019 only pays off if he hits it big with this next contract.

If WWE and TKO land “Raw” on WBD, with USA tied to “Smackdown” beginning next fall, Khan could find himself on the outside looking in, reduced to trying to pick up the pieces, in the manner of TNA, which airs on AXS TV, which is on your cable and satellite lineup, though the vast majority of you have never heard of it or tuned in, even accidentally.

This, then, is why Khan feels “under constant attack,” as he described it in the “Final Battle” media scrum.

“You do a great show, and the next day somebody’s saying something negative. You do five great shows in a row, somebody says something negative. You break the ticket record for the most tickets ever sold for a wrestling show in the history of the world, and somebody has something bad to say about it. At this point, I don’t worry about it,” Khan said, though he quite clearly does worry about it.

“We just need to go out and do great shows week after week like we did,” Khan said. “We were the number one show on cable this week on Wednesday. We beat every single show on TV on Wednesday out of hundreds and hundreds of shows across hundreds of networks. And if we continue doing it, everybody here’s going to be in a good position.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].