WWE went head-to-head with AEW this week and, despite the best efforts of Vince McMahon's company, the fledgling AEW came out on top in the ratings. For the best part of two decades, WWE has enjoyed something close to a monopoly on the mainstream wrestling market, with their closest competitors either operating abroad, or bringing in nowhere near the same level of revenue as the Sports Entertainment brand.
That has all changed with the emergence of AEW. Spurred on by a challenge from wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, former WWE wrestler Cody Rhodes joined forces with indie favorites The Young Bucks and NJPW's Kenny Omega to bring together the best wrestling talent at 2018's All In event. The show was a runaway success and, with the financial backing of Tony Khan and a TV deal with the Turner network, ultimately lead to the formation of AEW as a new, alternative wrestling company.
Despite their claims to the contrary, WWE clearly took the arrival of a new, weekly televised wrestling show seriously. In response to the announcement of AEW's premiere on TNT, WWE struck a deal to put their NXT brand on the USA network in exactly the same time slot. In order to ensure viewers kept their eyes glued to WWE programming, the October 2nd episode of NXT also promised fans minimal commercial breaks and featured a stacked PPV-quality card with 3 championship belts on the line. Major returns were made by both Finn Balor and Tomasso Ciampa and an extensive advertising campaign was launched in the weeks beforehand.
Now the numbers from night 1 of the Wednesday Night Wars have come in, and they make for hugely encouraging reading for AEW. As reported by Variety, the upstart promotion's first show was seen by 1.4 million across its two hour time slot, with NXT managing just 891,000. Putting these numbers into context, AEW still trails behind WWE's flagship programming, RAW and Smackdown, but for the debut night of a brand new company (and with a TV-14 rating, as opposed to WWE's PG), AEW Dynamite's ratings look very strong indeed and surpass the numbers many had predicted beforehand.
Ever since its inception, AEW has continued to break records and defy predictions and it seems the opening episode of Dynamite is no different. The premiere had already attracted a hugely positive response from fans and celebrity attendees such as Kevin Smith, and it's impressive early viewing figures consolidate the successful start Cody and the gang have made on the TNT network. In fairness, it must be said that this week's NXT was also exceptional and featured a number of fantastic matches.
For WWE, the gulf in viewership will undoubtedly be a source of embarrassment and perhaps even a cause for some concern. The company went to a lot of effort and spent a lot of money to ensure that their show came out on top and to lose by such a margin won't have gone down well with shareholders. WWE has since released a statement congratulating AEW on their success but reiterating that the rivalry will be a "marathon not a one-night sprint." While this sentiment is certainly true, it's also somewhat ironic since WWE was the company taking special measures for their October 2nd episode, ramming the card with their biggest names and cutting ad breaks to compete with the Dynamite premiere.
Now that AEW has made a splash on weekly television and scored a decisive first victory over WWE, it'll be fascinating to see where both companies go from here. How will WWE respond to this week's drubbing, and can AEW continue its upward trajectory?
WWE Smackdown premieres tonight (October 4th) on Fox. AEW Dynamite continues October 9th on TNT.