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Tony Khan, Cody Rhodes talk AEW’s approach to talent wellness: Schedule, union, insurance, more

Brandi Rhodes’ Twitter

They may not view themselves as competition for WWE, but All Elite Wrestling has positioned itself as an alternative to Vince McMahon’s empire. Especially since AEW won’t have an in-ring, on-screen product to judge for another week, comparing those alternatives currently involves looking at the two companies’ approach to talent contracts and relations. Early remarks from The Young Bucks about insurance for wrestlers, Cody Rhodes’ past comments on unions, and John Oliver’s recent HBO report criticizing WWE’s talent wellness also draw questions about how Tony Khan’s new company will offer a different way of taking care of talent.

Answers to those questions take up a significant chunk of a Bleacher Report profile on the new company by Kenny Herzog.

Oliver’s piece is covered as AEW talent & Executive Vice-President Rhodes again explained his union stance, and discussed how the company will accomplish their goal of taking care of in-ring talent:

“When I said a union would kill wrestling, I was specifically talking about your mom-and-pop indies that can’t afford an ambulance to come to the building. There’s a lot of people who saw the story John Oliver did and immediately called for a union or better care for their wrestlers. Better care is paramount, and one of the first ways you do that is raise the pay floor, which we’ve done.

[Matt Jackson and I want to] continue to push to a place where there is some sort of governing body that helps protect the current generation but also older veterans that will soon be retiring.”

What Cody says he wants to push for sounds a lot like a union, and is indicative of the tightrope he, Matt & Nick Jackson of The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and a few others are walking as wrestlers & management at AEW. A quote about across the board health insurance (which was previously said to for those working in the office but not those on wrestling-only contracts) further illustrates how talent isn’t treated as a single entity by All Elite right now:

“At AEW, our contracts aren’t blanket contracts. There are several wrestlers outside the EVP element that are going to receive benefits and health care. That’s a first for wrestling, and these are slow and steady steps and I’m super proud. But it can’t happen overnight. That’s what I should have said all along.”

President & CEO Khan was more concrete when discussing another aspect of the business which factors into talent wellness. His statements also give us more insight into AEW’s business model, which will focus on television and pay-per-view (PPV) over non-televised shows:

“[My] big goal is to establish a better work-life balance and quality of life for our performers with less time on the road [and] very good money comparable to what you’d get at the highest level in the world of wrestling, because we can make the bulk of our revenue from pay-per-view and television. I’m not planning on doing hundreds of non-televised events on tour, because I don’t think that would represent a large enough revenue stream for us and profitable enough business sector for us to risk the health and well-being of all these wrestlers. I’m not gonna have an offseason, but there will be a lighter schedule and we’ll work people in and out.”

Working wrestlers “in and out” isn’t much more specific than Vince saying it’s “easy” to give talent time off when they want it, but not running a traditional touring schedule would mean less wear-and-tear on performers. It also gives us a real example of how All Elite Wrestling will be different.

Whether AEW is able to offer blanket health insurance to more of their roster (Rhodes reiterated that all wrestling-related injuries will be covered “100 percent”), or talent gets a chance to see how beneficial a lighter workload can be over time, will depend on if Khan is correct they can make most of their money from TV and PPV. He says in the piece that All Elite is not paying for television time, but doesn’t give any indication how much they think they’ll make on the WarnerMedia deal to broadcast weekly on TNT, or selling PPV through outlets like B/R Live, Fite and cable/satellite providers.

Everything is still theoretical at this point, so put these things on the list of things to watch after Double Or Nothing on May 25. Until then, go check out Herzog’s entire piece at Bleacher Report for more from Khan, Rhodes, Jim Ross, and the Bucks.

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