Wrestling’s New Ringmaster
Sure, pro wrestling’s “fake” (so is Game of Thrones), but the physicality — as well as the emotional highs and lows from the audience — are very real. Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling (AEW) started as a bet when a journalist wondered if anyone not named WWE could fill an arena and get a sizable pay-per-view audience. A group of independent wrestlers did just that and parlayed the success of the show to get a wrestling-loving investor (Tony, whose family owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars), and a network deal on TBS and TNT. Tony is not just AEW’s owner, but the creative head, too — the wizard behind the scenes, orchestrating the creative drama known as kayfabe. His unique approach, inclusive roster (including Nyla Rose, the first openly transgender wrestler), and weaving wrestlers’ offscreen anxiety and substance abuse issues into storylines has worked. Dynamite, AEW’s flagship show consistently rates #1 in the coveted 18-49 TV demographic, not to mention the thousands that flock to the live shows every week, the always-on social banter, robust merch sales, and the new unscripted reality show All Access — fans just can’t get enough.
AEW began producing its flagship show Dynamite on TNT in October 2019. Momentum started to build for the touring wrestling troupe, but then the pandemic hit. Khan pivoted the show to Jacksonville’s Daley’s Place and Dynamite continued with no audience, using its own wrestling roster as the chorus to the in-ring drama. In September 2021, once full-capacity shows were allowed again, AEW held Grand Slam at a more high-brow location, Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, NY. More than 20,000 fans packed the tennis venue for a raucous evening of action, with many calling the match between superstars Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson the best of all time. Then, Khan took a big gamble on AEW’s All In, held in August 2023 at London’s Wembley Stadium. There, 70,000+ fans attended, making it one of the all-time biggest wrestling audiences ever. Not bad for a company that started on a bet.