On Wednesday, May 19th, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and Warner Media announced that starting in January 2022, AEW Dynamite will move to TBS from TNT. In addition, a new (and long-rumored) show called AEW: Rampage will debut on Friday, August 13th at 9 p.m. Central/10 p.m. EST. Rampage will begin on TNT and then also migrate to TBS in 2022. Once on TBS, the show may or may not remain on Fridays.
As the final part of this announcement, AEW will also have four new annual “supershows” that will air on TNT starting in 2022.
In a statement to the New York Post, AEW President Tony Khan said, “while we’re looking forward to our arrival on TBS, we’re not saying goodbye to our original and current home of TNT, which will air four new special supercard events annually. Plus, the financial upside to our new agreement will give us the opportunity to continue to invest in and grow AEW to serve the most important people in our industry: our fans, our wrestlers, our staff, and our sponsors.”
After premiering on TNT with Dynamite on October 2, 2019, AEW, after strong initial ratings and buzz, renegotiated their Warner Media contract in January 2020, when they signed a four-year deal worth $175 million. Since its inception, AEW has attracted the youngest audience of any pro wrestling show on television, while also leading in viewers per home. In essence, more family members and friends watch together in groups than any other wrestling show and often more than any sport that is not the NFL.
Since running unopposed on Wednesdays (following NXT’s move to Tuesdays beginning April 7th), AEW has consistently hovered around 1 million viewers for Dynamite and had the #1 show on cable on May 5th.
So what does it all mean for AEW and most importantly, is this move good news for the young pro wrestling company?
Try as I might, I have a hard time finding a negative for AEW. Once news broke last month that the NHL has signed a new deal with Turner Sports, AEW’s television future was somewhat in question, as the NHL has long had a presence on Wednesdays and is obviously the more brand name property (despite their cable ratings being roughly half of what AEW posts on a weekly basis). A move to TBS, however, is likely the best possible scenario for AEW. TBS and TNT are in nearly the same number of homes, with TBS actually having a slight edge over TNT (81,789,000 vs. 81,342,000). That’s about as high as coverage gets in the United States cable market. There will also be far fewer preemptions on TBS. Anyone spinning AEW’s move to TBS as them being relegated to a lesser network because Turner has soured on them is a fool.
Turner continues to give AEW more programming and money. In addition to Dynamite, the new Rampage show, and the four supershows, TNT has ordered a reality series starring Cody and Brandi Rhodes called “Rhodes to the Top.”
That’s a lot of content.
And that’s the rub here really. Not only does this move show strong support from Turner, but it also gives AEW considerable future leverage in the form of content when their television contract runs out in 2024. As the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has shown, the real money is in TV contracts, with streaming content another huge potential revenue stream. When WWE signed their deal with Fox to broadcast Smackdown, one thing they could promise is eyeballs for a live event, which is about the only thing to draw ratings in today’s marketplace (as I’ve written about before). AEW delivers arguably a better value in terms of ratings for the money. Then, when WWE migrated their streaming service to Peacock, along with their considerable archives, they promised not quality but content. In today’s world television world, content, above all else, is king.
This is why the AEW news is important for the company. As a newer company, AEW needs content in order to guarantee a thriving financial future. One weekly show and four pay-per-views are simply not enough to create the necessary cache in the industry. Their television ratings will provide the metrics to draw the television money, but they need content to create a library worth selling. If I were AEW, I’d be creating content in the hopes of landing a streaming home. Fellow Warner Media company HBO Max, for instance, would make a wonderful landing spot once they decide to jump on the live sports streaming train. AEW can’t sell the history that WWE has, so they have catching up to do. This deal gives them that chance.
The second weekly show creates another opportunity to showcase their growing roster (outside of the YouTube-only AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation shows). Tony Khan has said that Rampage will not be a secondary show, but rather an “A” show. Of course, given AEW’s primary audience of 18-49 males, a Friday night (which also has two million people watching Smackdown on Fox) makes that a tough sell. Basically, don’t expect Rampage to do numbers anywhere close to Dynamite, but it will still be an important piece of the puzzle.
Then, rather than adding four more pay-per-views (a dying model that really only draws money for UFC, boxing, and AEW cards), AEW was smart enough to realize that television is where the cash is and added the four supershows to their lineup. The supershows also have the added benefit of providing a booking destination in between the very long breaks between PPVs. One of the major benefits of only having four major PPVs is the ability to do long-term booking angles, but there are definitely times where it feels like angles are strung out unnecessarily because of the pressure to save things for PPVs. These supershows should alleviate some of that.
Essentially, the task in front of them is as follows: Create as much content as possible by the time their current television contract runs out in 2024 without overwhelming the viewer and watering down the product. It’s not, by the way, a foregone conclusion that they won’t water down the product by adding more television. To this point, AEW has played it smart, providing logical booking without alienating fans, so I trust that they know what they’re doing. However, I also lived through World Championship Wrestling (WCW) adding a second show (WCW Thunder), and am still scarred from that experience. There’s something to be said for having a two-hour show and being a destination for fans, all while leaving them wanting more. Are three hours a week too much? Nah, not really, but it is another show that families and fans will have to make time for in a crowded entertainment atmosphere. From a long-term financial perspective, however, this has to be viewed as a massive positive for a company still in its relative infancy.