All Elite Wrestling (AEW) could very soon shake up the world of professional wrestling on television for the first time in years.
It was announced Wednesday that the nascent promotion has signed a deal with WarnerMedia that will see AEW air a weekly wrestling show on TNT primetime beginning later this year. This marks the first time professional wrestling has aired on TNT since the days of WCW, which was bought out by WWE in 2001 after the so-called Monday Night Wars that saw the two companies go head-to-head in the ratings.
AEW’s current talent roster is headlined by members of a group known to fans as The Elite — The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson), Kenny Omega, Cody and Brandi Rhodes, and “Hangman” Adam Page. The Young Bucks, Omega, and Cody are also executive vice presidents at the company, while Brandi is also chief brand officer. Multiple time WWE champion Chris Jericho and former WWE commentator and executive Jim Ross are also signed to AEW, as are several other well-known independent wrestling stars
Both Rhodes and Ross spoke with Variety in separate interviews in the weeks before the WarnerMedia deal announcement. Rhodes said that he sees an opportunity for AEW to fill a gap in the wrestling word.
“The term people are using is ‘alternative,'” Rhodes said. “For many years throughout my youth and plenty of other fans’ youths, pro wrestling has been essentially just one company and that’s not really the case. I want to be the sports-centric alternative in the pro wrestling world and I think we’re on a good path to get there.”
First up under this new deal will be AEW’s inagural pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, taking place in Las Vegas on May 25. Double or Nothing will stream exclusively on WarnerMedia’s B/R Live while also being available on pay-per-view, as will future AEW events like those already set for June and July. An hour-long Double or Nothing pre-show will also air on WarnerMedia and AEW social media channels.
The media rights deal was negotiated by AEW president and CEO Tony Khan and Bernie Cahill, co-founder of Activist Artists Management, LLC, an entity where Khan is also an investor and partner. Khan is the son of billionaire Shahid Khan, the owner of several professional sports teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“AEW has a great opportunity because they’re not underfunded, the leadership has amazing vision, is young and youthful,” Ross said. “It’s probably the youngest group of decision makers ever in the business and I think that’s a pretty good statement because they’re going to be able to relate to that 18-34 demographic and 18-49 demographic very favorably.”
Ross dismissed the notion that AEW was going to challenge WWE directly as WCW did years ago, but did say that he feels a little competition is a good thing.
“Competition raises everybody’s game,” he said, “It will raise the wrestlers’ game, the creative people’s game, everybody. Everybody feels a sense of urgency when someone is competing with them…Competitive means being profitable. It doesn’t mean, ‘We have to have this to beat the WWE.’ Our job is not to worry about what WWE is doing, not their TV clearances, not who’s in the main event, nothing. With a growing company there are a lot of growing pains. It’s a mix of creative and athletics and a lot of different things. Our focus has to be us, period.”
Rhodes also touted the company’s plans to emphasize analytics as part of the show.
“One thing we really strongly want to present is wins and losses mattering again in pro wrestling. That takes more than the W and the L column,” he said. “We’re talking about percentage of times someone loses to this particular maneuver, percentages against somebody of this height, a whole by-the-numbers approach that really intrigues me. It’s not a cornerstone of AEW necessarily but it’s a great peripheral element we’re working on and that’s going to be exclusive to us.”
Rhodes, who is the son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and a former WWE star himself, expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to learn from people like WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. But he also felt something was lacking during his time with the company.
“[As] much as I say it was a wonderful job, it wasn’t wrestling. That’s something I’ve learned a lot about, the grittiness and the sports-centric element of the industry that doesn’t exist really anywhere else currently. We have the opportunity to seize that.”
News of the AEW deal comes after WWE signed a new deal with Fox that will see “SmackDown Live” move from USA Network to the broadcaster. That deal is valued at $1 billion over the next five years, with USA retaining WWE’s flagship “Monday Night Raw” brand.