I had an epiphany a few days ago. After hearing countless people tell me how much better and more exciting All Elite Wrestling is in comparison to plain old NXT, it finally dawned on me. 25 years after the fact, I am on the other side of the argument, an argument that I defended with the same passion that AEW hardcore fans do for their product today.
Back then, I was the pro-ECW guy who was there at the dawn of something I thought was revolutionary and wondered how some wrestling fans couldnít see the greatness in the product that I did.
Today, I am the guy that AEW fans wonder how he misses seeing the greatness in the brand that they love.
The positions have changed for me, and it allows me to have perspective on the fanaticism (which what the word fan is a shortened version of) that some AEW stalwarts have about their product (as its the same thing that some ECW fans exhibited back in the day). Since some of their statements are not always rational, or even coherent at times, I donít give them all credence, as back in the day I was often very critical of ECW (such as being the first wrestling journalist to say that chair shots to the head needed to stop, long before Chris Nowinski came along and started his great work uncovering the horrors of CTE). Itís pretty clear to me that some of these AEW fans wonít admit that their company does anything that isnít completely perfect, but I get where their passion comes from. I saw the same thing from hardcore ECW fans, even as the company was circling the bowl in 2000. With some people, when they truly love something critical thinking and the ability to see warts goes out the window, and blind loyalty kicks in. I saw it with some ECW fans then, and I see it with some AEW fans today.
Now, before I go any further, I donít want some nitwit to create a straw man argument and say, ďYou hate AEWĒ. That is pure BS. I donít hate them at all. Anyone that thinks that is extrapolating the fact that I donít get the same pulse in my pants for AEW that they do. AEW is similar to Raw and Smackdown to me. I like some of it, I love some of it (like the great piece on Cody Rhodes that aired on Wednesday) and some of it I donít care for at all. And, I do like the NXT product better as it speaks to me more than the AEW product does. And that is understandable since I am not the target audience for AEW, while I am for NXT.
That doesnít mean I hate it, it just means I donít love it the way that some of the AEW fans do. They are two very, very different things. When I make a critical statement, such as in a company where they have told us repeatedly that rules matter and we have seen clear examples every week of where rules are broken without any consequence, I donít point that out because I ďhate AEWĒ. I point it out because itís inconsistent with their own mission statement, which makes it hypocritical. I am the kind of person that wants to be called out if I do something wrong. It doesnít make me mad, I appreciate being told when I screwed up because I want to fix it and try to never make that mistake again.
The bottom line is that I literally want AEW to succeed as much as any fan out there does. Itís good for the wrestlers. Itís good for the fans. And even to the dolts that think I hate AEW guess what, itís good for my business! So when I critique AEW, itís because I am not only am I doing my job, I am trying to offer my advice to help them do thing I think are important to their success.
So with that said, itís time for me to take some of YOU to task as some of you fans are letting AEW down, in a big way. The proof is in the numbers.
The first episode of NXT on USA did a little less than 1.2M viewers. October 2 drew a combined 2.4M viewers for both NXT and AEW. That means that at least a little over 1.2M people who didnít watch NXT when it debuted, tuned in to see AEW. Those were new viewers.
That first week, AEW garnered 1,409,000 overnight viewers in the 8-10 hour. The next week (on two channels) the number dropped to 1,140,000 viewers. This week, they were down to 1,014,000. That means in two weeks, the show has lost 28% of its audience. That is not a good thing. Itís hardly crippling, but itís not the kind of trend that is good for AEW in the long term. And that is what itís all about with AEW, the long term.
Before I go any further, itís time to kill straw man argument number two that the reading comprehension challenged will try to make. I am NOT saying the number is bad. The number is pretty damned good actually. Week three, they are still over a million viewers and were the number five program for the evening in the coveted 18-49 demographic. And, for the third week in a row, they beat NXT. They are off to a strong start. The point I am making is that some of you hardcore fans that have been so supportive of AEW are letting that strong start slip away. When 395,000 viewers watch the first show and bail by week three, that is a trend that needs to stop quickly.
If you are someone that is watching the replay, or recording and watching it the next day, and you are a Nielsen home, you are hurting the product you love. If you are, like me, a YouTube streamer and you havenít gone into your settings and enabled the option to allow your viewing habits to be sent to Nielsen and have your viewing habits sent to be counted (as I have done), you are hurting AEW. In fact, since I watch the show in the real time window, I am actually helping AEW more than you are, and you probably think I hate them! Oh, the irony is delicious.
Hereís the bottom line in all this: At the end of the day, for AEW the higher the viewership numbers are in the 8-10 time period on TNT, the more money AEW can ask for in rights fees on their next TV deal. That is the holy grail they are seeking, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Running four PPVs a year and one show a week, even with merchandise sales, is not going to raise the kind of revenue that Tony Khan needs to make AEW a viable, profitable venture. As WWE has shown, the one thing that will do that is getting a strong TV deal where rights fees are paid for at a premium. One million viewers is great, it really is. But remember it was not all that long ago that TNA did that number on Spike TV and yet couldnít get rights fee deal commensurate with the number of people that they were drawing.
To kill straw man number three, I am not saying TNT will cancel AEW. They wonít, at least not if they keep producing at the current level. The numbers are great for them and much like USA, they want to win the basic cable network prime time race (which is why I see NXT getting a longer rope than some people do to find their audience over on USA, they deliver a solid number weekly at a very cheap price, plus they get to hurt TNT by chipping away at AEWís audience). A guaranteed million viewers a week at a low cost is a great deal for TNT. They pay for production and give AEW the lionís share of the ad money, and they get a great number for a low price. Winner winner chicken dinner for them.
But if the next TV deal they offer is similar to this one, and no one else offers AEW a better option, Tony Khan may very well be in a position where he will have to decide whether he wants to use his own money to prop up a wrestling company, or whether itís time to shut it down. I never bet on a billionaire keeping a money losing company alive for long because that isnít how they got rich in the first place.
So to all you hardcore fans, who for years called for your voice to be heard, who said give us a product thatís not Vince and we will show you it will kick WWEís ass, you are on the clock. You need to step up and stop the audience regression that AEW has seen week over week. If you allow the number to continue to drop, and it leads to the end of AEW, you have no one to blame but yourselves. Donít let that happen.