Tony Khan appears confident AEW will get a new rights deal. At least, that's how it sounds judging from the AEW President's comments during his media call promoting this Saturday's World's End pay-per-view.
However, is Tony Khan being realistic about AEW's options for a new rights deal or is he living on Cloud Nine? Let's look at what Khan had to say:
“We have a great relationship with Warner Bros Discovery. It’s amazing now. We’ve been talking to them for several years and this coming weekend marks the five-year anniversary of the launch of AEW. We announced the formation on January 1, 2019 and here we are, days away from the five-year anniversary of that. Warner Brothers Discovery has been an indispensable partner throughout this journey.
Warner Brothers Discovery has been a big component of AEW's success. Its Dynamite show allowed the fledgling promotion to secure an audience. Dynamite's ratings success quickly won it an extended deal and, eventually, two additional TV cable shows (Rampage and Collision).
I’m very excited about the future of AEW and excited to work with Warner Brothers Discovery throughout 2024 and going forward after that, there is going to be a lot of exciting conversations about AEW media rights. It’ll be a very exciting year and a lot of things are going to happen. We have a great situation with Warner Bros Discovery and it’s been a great year for that partnership.”
Unfortunately, there have been complications in AEW's efforts to secure a new rights deal, an apparent decline in interest in the AEW product and second, WBD's potential interest in acquiring the rights to the WWE's RAW.
Wrestlenomics' Brandon Thurston noted that while Dynamite's ratings (including those in the all-important 18-49 demographic) haven't been significant when you take the overall decline in TV viewing for TNT and TBS, that's not the case with Rampage and Collision. Thurston also suggests that declines in Dynamite's attendance further support the idea interest in AEW has diminished.
The second complication is more concerning because WBD choosing RAW over AEW's products would put AEW in a bad bargaining position. Even the most optimistic AEW fan is unlikely to believe WBD will pay for RAW and AEW's products. So what happens next?
Tony Khan appears to think AEW has options besides WBD. Although Khan sounds hopeful that AEW and WBD will continue working together, he noted:
“We’re under an exclusive agreement. I can’t say what the future of AEW will hold for certain, but I know there is a lot of interest in pro wrestling, and judging by the market, I’ve had lots of interest in Ring of Honor, which I’m holding and looking forward to having an extra card to play later in the coming year in such negotiations.
H/T Inside the Ropes
Wrestling's popularity suggests there will be interest from streaming services and cable channels in acquiring the rights to AEW and even ROH. The question is whether Tony Khan can secure a lucrative deal on a platform with a large viewership.
With uncertainty about AEW's financial picture, that is, whether the company is making money or losing money, industry observers such as Brandon Thurston have suggested that AEW needs to bring in twice what it's currently getting from WBD to be profitable.
Skeptics will naturally question whether AEW's plucky President is being realistic about AEW's options. Obviously, Khan isn't going to comment during a press conference that AEW's options for a new rights deal are grim.
The reality is that Khan has options. As mentioned, the biggest questions are how much money AEW can secure for a new deal and whether it will be on WBD or another channel (or streaming platform). However, there are other factors that could help or hinder AEW. Will AEW's next partner be interested in five hours of AEW television? Furthermore, will there be interest in additional content through something such as a streaming service similar to the WWE Network?
Although some fans and pundits believe the WWE is sitting in the proverbial catbird seat for putting RAW on WBD, this shouldn't be considered inevitable. First, WBD may not want to pay the hefty price tag for WWE content. Second, the rumors of WBD possibly merging with Paramount could lead to the new company deciding it doesn't want wrestling.
Whatever AEW's TV future, expect Tony Khan to project confidence about AEW's future on WBD. Whether the confidence is justified remains to be seen. What we can be confident about is that AEW will find a home somewhere. However, whether the company turns a profit or is forced to consider scaling back the scope of its operations.
Photo Credit: AEW