AEW (All Elite Wrestling) officially launched as a company with May's Double or Nothing event, and here's what they can do to become a true competitor to WWE. From the mid-1980s to the early-1990s, the then-WWF first rose to national prominence on the back of Hulkamania, while their main competitor, the NWA, was dominated by Ric Flair. By the mid-1990s, the NWA had morphed into the Ted Turner-owned WCW, and the outlaw ECW promotion had also become another challenger to Vince McMahon's pro wrestling throne. Unfortunately, by 2001, both WCW and ECW had gone out of business, and subsequently been bought by McMahon.
Since the downfall of those two companies, only Impact Wrestling made any real attempt to compete on WWE's level, and failed miserably by any objective standard. Now, AEW has arrived on the wrestling scene, sporting the backing of the billionaire Khan family, a WCW-esque national TV deal, and a willingness to present themselves as an alternative to the WWE's arguably quite stale brand of "sports entertainment."
The response from wrestling fans to Double or Nothing was almost universally positive, and AEW is soon to make a shrewd move by streaming its second show, Fyter Fest, absolutely free. With tickets for August's All Out pay-per-view selling out in 15 minutes, AEW is already poised to become the first real contender to WWE's market dominance since 2001. Keeping that in mind, here's a rundown of five crucial things AEW can do to cement itself as a real competitor to WWE and Vince McMahon.
AEW Needs To Be More Adult Than WWE
To make one thing clear right off the bat, the problem with WWE programming is by no means that it's rated TV-PG, and tries to stay family friendly. The aforementioned 1980s Hulkamania era was likewise appropriate for all ages, and produced some of the greatest moments in wrestling history. The problem is a lack of well-written stories and characters. That said, AEW can establish itself immediately as a viable alternative to WWE by embracing the TV-14 rating that served WWE so well back when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin reigned supreme during the "Attitude Era."
There's a large segment of diehard wrestling fans who miss the days when blood, weapons, foul language, sex appeal, and other adult content was not only allowed but encouraged. That's not to say that everything from the late-1990s needs to come back. There's no need for wrestling porn stars or wrestling pimps, and there's no need to have the female performers go back to fighting in pudding or while wearing underwear. Those things aside though, AEW shouldn't be afraid to target an adult audience with storylines and content not necessarily appropriate to be viewed by a 10-year-old fan wearing John Cena gear.
AEW Shouldn't Run Shows Directly Opposite WWE
This point may at first seem contrary to the idea of AEW trying to compete with WWE, but it's really not. At this point in its life, WWE is truly the 800-pound gorilla of professional wrestling. Competing with them won't be easy, and it won't be immediate. Another thing to remember is that many people who watch WWE aren't just WWE fans, they're pro wrestling fans. That means those people would be inclined to watch AEW programming if given the chance to do so, but forcing them to choose directly between AEW and WWE shows would almost definitely result in AEW coming out the loser, at least until the company has had years to establish itself.
For a recent case study in what trying to go head-to-head with WWE's product accomplishes, one need only look at Impact Wrestling. In 2010, the company signed up huge names like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam, and Jeff Hardy, and put their weekly show opposite WWE Raw on Monday nights. Impact was absolutely crushed in the ratings, and went running back to their old Thursday night timeslot within a few months. The WWE of today is not the same company WCW Nitro competed with in the 1990s, they're far more entrenched now, and to many people WWE is synonymous with pro wrestling. AEW simply can't afford to repeat Impact's mistakes.
AEW Shouldn't Sign Everyone That Leaves WWE
There's no doubt that between Raw, SmackDown, and NXT, the current WWE roster is bursting with high quality talent, a lot of which could be an asset to AEW in the future. However, it's important that, even though they have lots of financial resources, AEW doesn't sign everyone WWE casts off. WCW did this in the mid-1990s, and ended up with a bloated roster containing too many older stars that weren't worth what they were being paid. Additionally, as seen by Impact Wrestling's former willingness to snap up anyone who used to be in WWE and push them as a huge star, this practice can lead to an impression among fans that one's company is simply a WWE b-league.
Now, that's not to say that legitimately huge names, or superb talents that went underutilized shouldn't be signed by AEW. The company has, to its credit, been very strategic with its ex-WWE pick-ups so far, signing up stars like Chris Jericho and Jon "Dean Ambrose" Moxley, and overlooked fan-favorites like Shawn "Tye Dillinger" Spears and PAC, the former Neville. Those signings are good moves, but with more and more wrestlers reportedly unhappy with their spots in WWE, it's important that AEW not start opening up the Khans' checkbook to everyone.
AEW Can't Repeat WCW’s Overspending Mistake
While AEW is, as mentioned, backed by billionaires, WCW was owned and financially backed by media mogul Ted Turner for the majority of its lifespan. Unfortunately, Turner proved all too willing to try and spend WCW's way to success. One could argue that in some ways that strategy worked, but not when it came to actual profits. It's become infamously well-known that even during WCW's biggest years, including at the height of the enormously popular nWo invasion storyline, the company was often operating at a loss, or at least posting subpar profit margins for a company doing so much business.
WCW hit the nadir of its overspending in 2000, not coincidentally the last full year it was in business. WCW reportedly lost a whopping $67 million in 2000, which by no means sat well with Time Warner, who had by then purchased Turner's company and been stunned by how much of a money pit WCW had become. Turner himself remained loyal to WCW regardless, that was until Time Warner was itself merged with AOL in 2001, and Turner forced out of power. A few months later, WCW's assets were sold to WWE at a bargain basement price. The Khan family would be wise to look at WCW for an example of exactly what not to do when it comes to spending.
AEW Needs To Focus on Making One TV Show Great
One of the main reasons WWE's writing is so lackluster nowadays is likely just how many shows the company puts on per week. Between 3-hours of Raw, 2-hours of SmackDown, and one hour each of NXT, NXT UK, 205 Live, and Main Event, WWE produces a whopping 9 hours of new wrestling content every single week of the year. When one adds on to that all the monthly 4-hour pay-per-views, quarterly NXT TakeOver shows, annual series like the Mae Young Classic, and other random live specials - such as the Saudi Arabia shows - that stream on the WWE Network, WWE's creative staff might be the most overworked in the TV business today.
AEW has yet to firmly specify its plans for weekly TV on TNT, outside of the fact that the show will be 2-hours long, debut sometime this fall, and likely air on either Tuesday or Wednesday night. Thankfully, that would mean AEW wouldn't air opposite either WWE Raw or Smackdown, the latter of which moves from Tuesdays on USA to Fridays on FOX this fall. For at least the first few years of its existence, it's imperative that AEW not try to support multiple high-profile TV shows at once. AEW needs to focus on crafting a weekly 2 hours of TV that wrestling fans come to regard as must-see, before even considering additional weekly programming.