AEW has been breathing down the WWE’s neck for more than two years now. During this time, they’ve grown quite a bit. They’ve got a multitude of weekly shows instead of just one. They’ve established and held numerous successful PPVs. They’ve cemented their image in the eyes of many from being just an alternative product to the product. the one thing that concerns fans is the graveyard called WCW. AEW’s numerous signings of legends have led fans to ask – will AEW suffer the same fate as WCW?
Let’s analyze this properly.
AEW has spent 2021 signing all these big names. They began with Big Show and Mark Henry in non-wrestling roles. Then came Christian Cage, CM Punk, and now, they’ve signed Brian Danielson. These are veteran stars that are the joy for many.
They’ve also signed castaways such as Miro and Andrade. These are two talented wrestlers that were unhappy in WWE. Bray Wyatt could be on his way, and that would be a huge signing.
But with Punk and Danielson, fans started asking – is this business model sustainable?
Here’s the deal. The big boys will obviously get paid more because of their experience and drawing power. However, it is uncertain how much revenue AEW is pulling in. At this point, it’s probably not enough to pay this stacked roster and still make a turnover.
WCW had a similar troupe. They signed Hogan and every single person who hanged out with him. They signed every ex-WWF washout that they could. What they did with them is a different story. The company ended up amassing a huge roster full of wrestlers—way too many to use them effectively.
They were paying huge sums of money to these wrestlers. Even someone as mediocre as Buff Bagwell was getting paid more than $200k for just flexing around. Things got much worse. They also flew ALL OF THEM to every arena they worked in, regardless of whether they were needed or not.
This was WCW, a company that was already an established money-maker.
They also have to be more careful in the creative process. It is obvious that the established ex-WWE stars are draws that need to be featured more. But this will undoubtedly get in the way of their homegrown/indie talent.
WCW had the same problem. They kept featuring old-timers and barely created any new stars.
They kept shoving the NWO down the fans’ throats despite the idea becoming stale. They signed the Ultimate Warrior so that Hogan could defeat him in a grueling matchup and discarded him. They brought in a red-hot Bret Hart and accomplished nothing.
Hulk Hogan had creative control, which he used to bury everyone he could. WCW also gave Kevin Nash control. He used this to squash those who he called vanilla midgets (Future world champs like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, etc.)
This screwed them financially AND from a creative standpoint.
AEW and Self-Realization
The death of WCW has always been hanging over AEW’s death. They were known as a company with a lot of financial backing to step to the WWE. Their owner, Tony Khan, has always been vocal about this comparison.
He said: “I don’t want to be the next ‘blank’ wrestling company of the past—fill in the blank. We love wrestling of the past, wrestling of the present, and wrestling of the future… That’s what gives us a great chance to retain and gain audience share”.
The people that ran WCW to the ground also tried their hand at running TNA. They didn’t learn from their previous mistakes. AEW’s leadership, however, is different.
They have always been aware of the troubles of the industry. They say that they tend to avoid the mistakes that companies like WCW make. AEW knows exactly what went wrong with WCW. That’s why they won’t go down the same path.
What AEW is Doing Different
A Better Leadership
Fans don’t talk enough about what differentiates AEW from WCW. WCW was owned by Ted Turner, who made a promise to keep wrestling on the air as long as he owned TBS. Wrestling was his only real draw in the early days. So, he was willing to pay for virtually anything WCW President Eric Bischoff requested.
After WCW started losing ratings and AOL Time Warner bought WCW, they wanted to pull the plug on it. This led to its closure. AEW, on the other hand, is owned by Tony Khan, a lifelong wrestling fan. He doesn’t just see it as a job like Bischoff did and a profiteering racket like Turner did.
It’s his dream come true.
Valuing Expert Advice
Khan has sought out the best wrestling minds available and listens to their input along. He has also given limited creative freedom to his wrestlers. This is very rare for a wrestling company actually to give the workers and the fans power.
Jim Cornette has constantly criticized Khan. Khan, on the other hand, said that he had learned a lot from the seasoned promoter. This shows how much respect he has for the business.
Excellent Talent Relations
Apart from the creative freedom, every wrestler is allowed to work in the indies. This helps them earn outside AEW if they’re not being paid enough. Tony is also close to his wrestlers, unlike a large wrestling corporation like WWE/WCW.
The wrestlers know what a rarity this is, and they bust their behinds to make the company successful. Even the EVPs had to be forced to quit jobbing to the under talent just to get them over more with the fans! One can never imagine Hogan, Nash, or Hunter doing that.
Building Up Talent
Yes, Khan has picked up an alarming amount of Vince’s castoffs. Except unlike Bischoff and WCW, his acquisitions still have juice in the tank. Plus, the older ones are coming in with the knowledge beforehand that their main purpose is to build talent.
They’re building up Ricky Starks, MJF, Sammy Guevara, Dante Martins, and all the other amazing young, relatively inexperienced talent that are already there. They’re not trying to be TNA version 2.0. They’ve cooked up three shows so that everyone can get their just screentime.
So, will AEW end up like WCW? Don’t count on it. They’re building stars, trying to spend less, listening to the experts, and are loving what they’re doing. They know what they have to do, and they have their goals in check. AEW is certainly doing its best. And by the looks of it, it’s working.