How Tony Khan Eroded The Audience

On a week when the focus of the wrestling world is rightfully on WWE, I wasn’t going to cover Tony Khan’s latest blunder, mostly because it’s low-hanging fruit, but after the ratings report for the show that had the total miss of his “big announcement” this past Wednesday on Dynamite, it became clear that one of the reasons that All Elite Wrestling has lost so much of the goodwill it originally had is because of the nature of such announcements. This week’s edition of the show garnered 805,000 viewers, a slight decline from last week and one of the lowest recent ratings for the Wednesday show. Obviously, fans didn’t tune in for the announcement, and if anything, the audience knows that these segments amount to Tony’s time to play Vince McMahon on camera since there was actually a drop in viewership compared to the previous week.

You can only hype a “big announcement” so many times and have it fall flat or be completely underwhelming before fans lose faith in it. It’s an amateur hour bait-and-switch tactic that is used as a substitute for compelling programming that would actually give fans a reason to watch the show. When you take into account the overall decline in numbers compared to a few years ago, Dynamite was able to get around a million viewers during CM Punk’s rather brief in-ring tenure in the organization, AEW is in danger of being labeled as a secondary group that will be known more for its fumbles than its success.

All Elite Wrestling has been in existence for almost five years, and the past two years has been a narrative of backstage chaos within the organization. Some might cite it as easy criticism, but it also might be the harsh reality of the situation. Sure, by all accounts, Tony Khan is a great guy that genuinely cares about his roster. That’s wonderful and professional wrestling, especially now, needs more of that, but being a nice guy doesn’t mean that Tony Khan is automatically going to be a successful promoter. Again, it might be harsh, but this might simply be a case of a really big fan of wrestling that has no qualifications to be a booker other than his family has enough money to give him a company and pay for the television production. Calling Tony a money mark would be a little misguided, as All Elite has some success, and had the potential to be a lot more than it is now when it originally launched, but at the same time, Khan isn’t some wise mind that made waves in the industry because of his booking brilliance. He became the promoter of the second-largest promotion in the United States by default since there weren’t any other alternatives to WWE because his billionaire family funded it.

An example of a true money mark on a national level was Dixie Carter. Double J used the Memphis sales pitch to get her to rescue the company in the early days, and Hulk Hogan worked her for as much money as possible before the organization imploded. Dixie was left with nothing because she allowed old school carnies to con her.

On the flip side, the aspects of All Elite that hindered the expansion of the product were the decisions of Tony, his mismanagement, or his social media posts that made his wrestling project look bush league. Sure, there will always be politics in pro wrestling, that’s the nature of the beast, but Tony Khan is responsible for the status of All Elite more than some old school carny trying to politic for a better spot on the card backstage. Proof of this is Tony’s goal to win The Wrestling Observer’s “booker of the year” award since its an example of how his fandom is the priority ahead of drawing money. Tony is a longtime subscriber of Dave Meltzer’s newsletter, and at one point in time, the publication was a resource for the niche demographic of diehard fans that wanted as much information about the industry as possible. Between the expansion of wrestling rumor coverage online, and Dave’s skewed bias that is almost comical at certain points, The Wrestling Observer doesn’t have as much importance as it did in a prior generation. Somehow, Tony’s goal is to win the confidence of the newsletter that he read in his youth, but the problem is, if he books to win an award for a niche publication, that’s a direct clash with how to book for a national television audience. How much money does AEW get if Tony wins the “booker of the year” award? Unless it includes a cash prize, it should be completely irrelevant to All Elite’s business model. That’s not even a jab at Meltzer, but rather to point out that running a pro wrestling group on national television is supposed to attempt to draw as many main stream viewers as possible, which is why the show is on TBS. If Tony wants to get the best reviews from the niche fan base then he could’ve run independent shows for a lot less money than what his family gave him to start All Elite.

The “big announcement” this week was that Dynamite will be in Boston next month and when tickets go on sale. The broadcast team mentions on-sale dates and where the company tours as a way to advertise upcoming shows on a regular basis so why exactly did Tony Khan need an on-camera segment to announce there will be a show in Boston? Sure, the former Sasha Banks is expected to debut in her hometown, and it makes sense to promote that there will be a show there, but take the Tony Khan segment for what it was, it was simply another announcement of an upcoming show. How is that worth promoting as a “big announcement?” It just seems like a rather desperate attempt to get an artificial ratings boost.

Silly segments like this, and the Wembley on-sale date announcement before this only damage the credibility of the organization. It already has because less viewers watched the show to see the announcement. At this point, the fans know that the “big announcements” aren’t usually important so they skip the episode. Once the fan lose faith in a project, it’s very difficult to get them to believe in the concept again. The lack of attendance is proof of that. When All Elite began, the audience wants the project to be successful because they wanted an alternative and thus a spark to an otherwise stagnant industry. However, the CM Punk/Young Bucks debacle, the slapstick booking, and the overall lack of direction eroded the fans’ belief in the company. When the narrative is that the promotion isn’t up to par to be a true alternative, the audience will realize that even their support won’t change the direction of a vanity project. Eventually, it becomes a smarter decision to save the cash, which is exactly why fans aren’t buying tickets the way they had when there was still the novelty of a new organization a few years ago.

As far as Mercedes Mone signing with AEW, it probably won’t make a dent in the grand scheme of things, which isn’t an insult to her talent, but rather that we’ve seen this story before in All Elite. A star debuts for the organization, gets the spotlight for a few weeks, and then gets lost in the shuffle to become just another name on the roster. Is Edge truly a difference maker in AEW? For someone that is known for her frustration with management, which led to her walking out of WWE a few years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Mone eventually becomes disgruntled with the booking process in AEW. The company isn’t going to automatically draw better numbers for ticket sales or ratings with the addition of more stars from other companies, TNA tried that philosophy for years. The presentation and approach to the product are what would need to change for there to be a noticeable shift in All Elite business, but that would involved either Tony recognizing that his fandom doesn’t translate to drawing money or someone in the company telling their boss that he’s wrong about his decision. Neither are going to happen so as unfortunate as it is, All Elite is probably going to be typecast as a secondary organization that’s a vanity project more than anything else.

The bottom line is, revenue and profit are the true barometer of success. All Elite Wrestling lost $34 million last year, but it didn’t make a different because money is no object to Tony Khan. However, the decisions that lost the millions of dollars have an impact on the perception of the audience. Again, if the fans lose faith in a company then it puts a ceiling on the level of success that can realistically be achieved. The television ratings have declined nearly 20% compared to a few years ago and there’s a noticeable decline in live attendance. Clearly, the fans aren’t thrilled with the overall direction of the organization, but at least Tony Khan gets to play wrestling promoter with these segments on television.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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