On Wednesday, news broke that AEW Wrestling would be making some huge changes in terms of their broadcasting deals.
First, they announced a new show, AEW Rampage, which will be an hour-long installment of AEW wrestling on Friday nights at 10 PM ET. This marks AEW’s fourth show, but only their second installment on television and will debut on August 13th on TNT. More details will come out on this show in the coming weeks.
Then, came the big news. AEW Dynamite, as well as their new show, AEW Rampage, will be moving to TBS in 2022. Dynamite will stay on Wednesday nights, where it has been the number one Wednesday night program for over a month now, while Rampage will move nights, with most signs pointing to it finding a new home on Tuesday nights. AEW will not abandon TNT entirely, however. AEW will host quarterly big shows on TNT, like December’s “Winter Is Coming” to keep eyes on the network.
This is AEW’s third major TV deal, and it comes not only in the midst of an upward trend in ratings, but also right after AEW won the supposed “Wednesday Night Wars” when WWE moved WWE NXT to Tuesday nights. Things are looking very good for Tony Khan and the rest of AEW’s executive’s down in Jacksonville, so the timing of this deal could not have been better for them.
There were quite a few factors that played into AEW’s move to TBS. WarnerMedia (parent company of both TNT and TBS) recently signed a deal that would start airing NHL games on TNT, which would work alongside their already lucrative NBA TV deal. The NBA schedule has already been a problem for AEW to overcome in the past year and a half, but with the NHL deal, it would likely become too much to try and work around. TBS’s only sports commitments are to the MLB and NCAA March Madness, which are far easier to schedule around (March Madness only would conflict for a week, which could be the week for one of the quarterly events on TNT, while the MLB playoff schedule is also fairly short and could even be avoided entirely, thanks to their affinity for daytime games).
While the schedule getting easier is a big deal in itself, money is the strongest force on Earth, and it likely played a huge role. As mentioned previously, AEW is in the midst of historic growth and has far exceeded any expectations set on them. Their TV ratings have grown around 150% (the exact number is hard to pin down, but it’s the nature of TV ratings) in the last month and a half, they will begin touring again in July, and their partnership with Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling has the entire wrestling world watching (rumors are swirling that parts of New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament will air on Dynamite which would bust the rating ceiling wide open).
Tony Khan and AEW executives were likely able to leverage this success and further potential in their negotiations with WarnerMedia, resulting in a more lucrative payout for the “Tee-shirt company”. In a statement about the new deal, Tony Khan noted that this new deal expands their financial capabilities and gives them the opportunity to keep making AEW better. This means more money for talent (Samoa Joe, Chelsea Green, and Bryan Danielson are all free agents), more money for shows (fans have been begging for unique sets for pay-per-views for years), and more money for further business ventures. The one thing that would always keep AEW from competing with WWE on a significant level was money, and now that AEW is earning heaps of it, even a full head-to-head ratings war is not off the table.
Of course, there is the final piece of this perfect deal that needs to be examined, TBS itself. TBS is one of the most significant names in wrestling history. The former Turner Broadcasting System (or WTBS) was one of the first networks to televise professional wrestling nationally, airing Georgia Championship Wrestling in the seventies. For about a year in the mid-eighties, it was actually even home to the WWF, although that deal would not last long when Turner Broadcasting replaced them with Jim Crockett Promotions.
Oh, you do not know Jim Crockett Promotions? You may know them better by the name they used after 1988 when Turner Broadcasting bought them out, World Championship Wrestling – WCW!
TBS was home to WCW for 13 years, fighting tooth and nail alongside its creation through the entirety of the “Monday Night Wars”. If it were not for the glaring mistakes made by Eric Bishoff, Hulk Hogan, and Kevin Nash, along with WWE stumbling into lightning in a bottle in Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley, TBS may have won that war.
For the first time in twenty years, wrestling is coming back to wrestling’s television home, and some familiar names and faces are coming with it. Tony Schiavone was the voice of Nitro, Jericho was one of the few homegrown talents from WCW, the Rhodes family is in the back making sure things run smoothly, although this time in the form of Dusty’s sons. Dustin Rhodes, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard (although Blanchard never wrestled under the WCW banner, he was a part of the Jim Crockett version of the promotion). The biggest returning name, Sting, was the face of WCW and WCW Nitro in the nineties.
This is significant, whether you like it or not, and will mean a ton to a ton of people. Tony Khan has already made note of how important this return to tradition is for him, but there is no doubt that this is also emotionally significant for Schiavone, Sting, and especially the grandsons of a plumber, Cody and Dustin Rhodes.
That is just considering the effect it will have backstage. Imagine all of the old-school wrestling fans who loved WCW and appreciated what it stood for. They were burned just like everybody in that promotion was, and for a promotion like AEW, that is obviously inspired by and has a respectful appreciation for WCW, comes along and returns to the home that WCW built, those fans are going to feel appealed to and reached out to. The fans who stopped watching wrestling because they could not stand the Mcmahons or they felt betrayed or they preferred the style of wrestling that WCW offered are likely to come around and give AEW a chance because it now looks like the version of wrestling they loved even more.
Tony Khan and WarnerMedia definitely took this into account when putting together this new TV deal. They saw the potential and all of the upside the deal provided and went all-in on creating the most perfect deal possible. Hopefully, they go all-in on the potential, and AEW continues to get even better moving forward.