By: Jack Wannan
Tony Khan’s world is only getting bigger. If helping run the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the Premier League’s Fulham FC all the while producing two weekly shows of AEW television and the revival of Ring of Honor wrestling wasn’t enough, maybe two more hours of wrestling a week will push him to his limit.
Despite the many moving parts of Khan’s life that feel hard to keep up with even as an outsider looking in, he’s a stickler for details. When talkSPORT reported that Fulham midfielder Joao Palinha had a release clause in his contract, Khan made a quick quip to the site on Twitter, saying such a clause didn’t exist. He looks at many different places to hear feedback on AEW, checking the TV ratings for episodes and even watches Cagematch.net close enough to observe that the site recently implemented new rules for voting on matches. “I don’t know if [the change] is better or worse,” he thought. Khan seems like someone who obsesses over his work even as the tasks continue to stack up.
Khan’s wrestling world will expand this week, as AEW launches Collision, their third weekly TV to get up and running since 2019. It will take place on Saturdays, coming just one day after “Rampage” airs and three after their flagship “Dynamite” program runs on Wednesdays. The show is scheduled to debut from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois this week, with returning star CM Punk as part of a six-man tag team main event. It will be the beginning of a show that Khan hopes the show can learn from the promotion’s previous success but also form an identity of its own.
“I want to take some of the great things we developed — that are part of the working formula — but I also want to create a distinct show with a distinct identity,” said Khan in an interview with POST Wrestling and Wrestlenomics. “I believe we can do that with Collision. [We can] present a great wrestling show every Saturday night.”
Khan considers AEW a “challenger brand,” offering wrestling fans an alternative to the top promotion, WWE. Their role is to convince fans that there is a better alternative to what the dominating product is on the market. This idea, which Warner Brothers talked to him specifically about, sees AEW as Burger King while WWE is McDonald’s, for example. And “if you look at Burger King’s marketing, a lot of it is ‘hey, McDonald’s sucks, guys.’”
It could be argued that AEW’s onscreen product is very similar to that of WWE — maybe the same way that the Burger King Whopper is on a sesame seed bun just like the McDonald’s Big Mac. Khan sees AEW as a product that is “influenced by a lot of people.” But in the end, he feels the promotion’s roster provides the best in-ring product available at the moment.
“If you want to watch pro wrestling — a lot of it is opinions — but to me, I believe the best group of pro wrestlers in the world is the group in AEW,” he stated.
The growth of AEW means that he’s certainly not the only person who thinks that. But with the expansion of the promotion’s TV programming recently came some restructuring. AEW’s two weekly web-series shows Dark and Dark Elevation, aired their final episodes recently.
The show featured quick matches that often lasted no more than a few minutes. It gave up-and-coming talent a chance to grow, and more tenured wrestlers a chance to stay active when not involved in a TV program. While that show will no longer run, Khan hopes that ROH TV — which returned in February — can be a new platform to elevate talent and gear them up for appearances on AEW TV.
“In the future, Ring of Honor is going to be really important for the development of AEW,” Khan told POST and Wrestlenomics. “Thankfully, we were able to devote thousands of matches across hundreds of episodes of Dark and Elevation to really fostering a young roster [and] building people up. And now I think we have a great outlet also in a sister company in Ring of Honor and also in our partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling, and other great partnerships.”
Khan went on to express interest in putting together more excursions for talent, allowing them to work with promotions that AEW has a working relationship with.
When the new Collision show was unveiled last month, many expected that the announcement of a new TV deal for the flagship program Dynamite would be mentioned as well. This is because the assumption was that Dynamite’s deal will expire sometime this year. But that announcement never came, causing some to wonder what the future of AEW on Warner Brothers channels will be.
Khan likes to hold his cards close to his chest in some situations, and TV deals are certainly one of them. He didn’t go into specifics when asked about AEW on TNT and TBS, but expressed optimism that their relationship with the channels will continue beyond this year: “I can’t say much because of our contract with Warner Brothers Discovery, but I definitely think we’re planning into 2024.”
AEW continues to expand, but with that growth comes new and unique challenges. In the coming weeks, the goal of Collision garnering and maintaining interest on TV and in live attendance will be one of the main tasks of the promotion. It’s hard to know how things will go on the TV front until the show airs soon. For tickets, the promotion is currently fighting to earn big gates in the weeks that follow their Chicago premiere. Wrestlenomics reported Saturday that the promotion’s Toronto, Ontario, Canada show on June 24 had only sold 1,812 tickets, and the following week in Hamilton, Ontario sat at just 800 tickets.
The juggling of tasks for Khan and his team has been a success in the wrestling world so far. How things will go once another ball is added to that juggling performance very soon will be seen.