Tony Khan will tell you he has been a lifelong fan of pro wrestling and the 39-year old co-owner of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars is involved in everyday operations of the team. Last year the Jaguars pursued and selected quarterback Trevor Lawrence as their first round selection in the 2021 NFL draft.
During that draft process, Khan was also on the scene putting the finishing touches on another All Elite Wrestling (AEW) Wednesday evening, block of live and tape programming televised on the Turner TNT and TBS networks.
He had a vision three years ago. AEW would be another successful option for pro wrestling fans because, for years, the industry has been inundated with live WWE programming and house shows.
But this has never been about competing head-to-head with the corporate and granddaddy known as WWE. This was about providing wrestling fans another option and superstars an opportunity that opened a door for more exposure.
There is another viable pro wrestling promotion and the vision has been successful. Khan and AEW return to the New York City area Wednesday evening with a live broadcast of AEW “Dynamite” at the UBS Arena in Elmont, Long Island.
“I think wrestling fans have been hungry for an alternative show for a long time and we provided that for them,” Khan explains. “We’ve been able to fill a void that existed for a long time. For almost two decades there wasn’t a second national wrestling promotion with television on a major television network.”
The vision has worked as ratings on the Turner broadcast networks have been stable for Dynamite and the one-hour Friday evening delayed broadcast of AEW “Rampage” that is taped following the live two-hour program. There are also blocks of AEW streams seen weekly on YouTube that provide more opportunity for an expanded roster of talent.
Many of the superstars under AEW contracts are known to wrestling fans. The veteran and personable Chris Jericho arrived after a tenure with WWE as did John Moxley, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryant), CM Punk, and Keith Lee a new addition Others come from New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring Of Honor (ROH), a reputed pro wrestling organization that Khan recently purchased and will include their taped library of epic matches.
But when fans tune in or when AEW is at a venue in their town, they come to understand that this product is different and an alternative choice. There is a mixture of old school pro wrestling and theatrics that are hardly seen with the other guys who rely on demographics and do what their television networks dictate.
AEW is non-stop action and the theatrics at times are hard core with those occasional scenes of a bleeding face and a 60-year old Hall of Fame icon known as “Sting” jumping from a lower balcony to confront his adversaries outside the ring or using a baseball bat as a weapon.
Talent that I have talked to said they enjoy working with Khan and the company. They appreciate and enjoy the liberty of having freedom to be a part of the creativity that further enhances their character and role in storylines that culminate with four annual AEW pay-per-view events.
“When we came in we got to meet high expectations and delivered with great television and pay per view,” Khan explained to me Tuesday before departing to New York City for the second AEW event at UBS Arena.
“Fans gravitated to the shows,” he said. “Great matches Wednesday night on TBS and Friday night on TNT, that was something that people had been missing. Wrestling on TBS and competition in pro wrestling has made it stronger. There is more creative freedom.”
“It’s been a great deal for us,” Khan said about the working relationship with the Turner networks. “A great choice to move Dynamite to TBS this year. We’ve had a lift in ratings. I think the deal has worked very well. Dynamite has consistently been a top show on cable.”
Dynamite is also one of the top five shows on cable and Khan is proud to point out the program recently ranked second behind NBA playoff coverage. There are close to a half million subscribers that view “AEW Elevation” and “AEW After Dark” on YouTube.
Unlike the other guys, AEW talent is not dictated to working with a script when they are on camera to build up or continue a feud. Their top heel, Bad guy, MJF (Maxwell Jacob Friedman) is a perfect example of great on camera presence and works up a crowd. He returns home to his roots of Long Island Wednesday evening and signed a contract for a main event of the next AEW pay-per-view event “Double Or Nothing” taking place in Las Vegas in a few weeks.
Again this is not about competing for ratings with the WWE. Fans of pro wrestling will always recall the Monday night ratings war when pro wrestling exploded again as WWE RAW and WCW Nitro went head-to-head on different cable networks. As Khan says, AEW shows are showing fans enjoy the experience.
“Because we try and put great wrestling matches on every week. It’s such a great roster of wrestlers across the spectrum. Stars and the fans themselves are such a great group of people. There is really a great camaraderie at the shows. The fans ban together, they are the stars of the show. Why we had success of taking the show on the road the past year. Had such great engagement with fans.”
Khan will return to Jacksonville and prepare for the next block of AEW programming and continue to conduct business with the Jaguars. It’s a busy life for this American sports executive and constantly looking ahead to assure that AEW remains competitive and fan friendly.
There could be plans for a streaming network that would include more live programming and AEW moments of the past three years. Khan said there has been research about a streaming network with Warner Media but nothing has been finalized.
“We have a great thing happening on television with Warner Media, they are a higher player and fans ask me all the time about an AEW library and also more streaming content and definitely looking to doing that,” he said.
There are, as Khan said, any number of possibilities to expand more with this partnership and because pro wrestling is never dull with a loyal fan base it can never be ruled out of the equation.
“Gonna be a lot of announcements,” he said. “This is going to be a huge year for us. Definitely not running out of announcements and just a really existing time for the wrestling business.”
Wednesday evening will be another AEW televised live event in the New York market that will live up to expectations as “Dynamite” because Tony Khan had this vision.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso Watch Rich and Robert Rizzo live Tuesday evening 10PMET “Sports With Rich” ParrotTV.com YouTube. Like, Comment, Subscribe.