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AEW’s TV deal is really good, even if it’s not Raw or SmackDown’s

WarnerMedia Upfront 2019 - Arrivals Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Amidst all the rumor and speculation about All Elite Wrestling’s television future the past few months, there was a flap about whether or not Tony Khan’s new company was going to have to take a “time-buy” deal to get on the airwaves. That’s the arrangement by which someone pays to get their show on a network, similar to the contract Impact was said to have with Pop TV a few years back (Impact always denied this, for the record).

AEW’s deal with WarnerMedia to broadcast a weekly show on their TNT cable network starting later this year, and stream pay-per-view (PPV) events on their B/R Live service starting with Double Or Nothing in two weeks, isn’t a time-buy. But that doesn’t mean the debate has ended over what kind of deal they did get.

Reporting from TSN’s John McMullen, backed up by Andrew Zarian of the Mat Men Pro Wrestling Podcast, indicates All Elite will not be paid by Warner for the right to broadcast their product. However, he’s been clear from the beginning that that doesn’t make it a time-buy, or a bad deal at all!

“Context of AEW TV Deal -- Platform is amazing and this is an unprecedented deal for a start-up. Confirmed from a source on the television side there are no rights fees but as we have been saying here for weeks that should not have been expected. It’s being treated like a sports property so production fees are there and a ‘great’ advertising split for AEW. Remember, it took Vince McMahon nearly 20 years of producing highly-rated television before he got a somewhat significant rights deal from Viacom at the turn of the century. The monster deal took over 35 years. TNA/Impact once had Hulk Hogan, Sting and Randy Savage and couldn’t get this kind of platform. It’s an amazing deal that those in AEW are ecstatic about. If it comes across as flat to some that’s because they were expecting rights fees due to some shoddy reporting. Right now AEW is set up like old WWE where PPV numbers and advertising will be significant to growth. WWE remains idiot-proof because of TV deal.”

When word of these reports made it to today’s Wrestling Observer Live, however, Bryan Alvarez was quick to refute them. Kind of. While he never said there were rights fees involved, he was adamant that AEW “are making money off this television deal”.

After he responded to their story about Alvarez’s statement by tweeting...

“No idea what was said but ‘making money on the deal’ is certainly possible and AEW believes they will. There are no traditional rights fees in the realm of typical sports TV deals.”

... 411mania reached out to McMullen. He explained further that while Alvarez’s wording protects him from being completely wrong, he’s confident in his sources who are telling him there are no rights fees in the TNT/AEW contract:

“Yes, he’s incorrect. Here’s the deal. People often spin these things how they want. For instance, 52 weeks of production at $500,000 is $26 million but that’s not rights fees. I’m coming from a sports background and things like production aren’t included. He may look at things differently.”

The main takeaway seems to be that Tony Khan and his negotiating partner from Activist Artists Management, Bernie Cahill, got AEW pretty much as good a deal as a company who’s never produced a show could possibly get. The exposure being on TNT brings gives AEW the best chance to build an audience which could some day lead to a WWE-type contract (and will help them sell PPV and tickets to generate revenue in the meantime). It looks like Warner will be pumping a lot of money into making their product look great, and All Elite will get some percentage of the whatever TNT makes selling ads during the show.

Dave Meltzer has promised more details on the contract in the next Wrestling Observer Newsletter, so we’ll see where he lands on the semantics of “making money” vs. “rights fees”.

But the only way AEW’s TV deal looks bad is if you were expecting them to get a billion dollars like WWE got for Raw or SmackDown. And if you were expecting that, well, as my Aunt ‘Cille used to say, “bless your heart.”

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