WWE’s shift in strategy, from amassing a huge roster of wrestlers to aggressive cost-cutting through talent layoffs, should be a useful recruiting tool for any other wrestling company trying to lure top stars and prospects to sign with them. AEW President Tony Khan seems to know that.
He made his case to prospective All Elite talents on Sirius XM’s Busted Open Radio. It came up when Khan was asked about Maxwell Jacob Friedman’s latest mention of a “bidding war” for his services when he becomes a free agent in 2024:
"I just think there's a lot more security with a contract here."— SiriusXM Busted Open (@BustedOpenRadio) November 19, 2021
While discussing @The_MJF's promo on #AEWDynamite, @TonyKhan talks about talent releases & the pride he takes in being Owner of @AEW @TheMarkHenry @RyanMcKinnell #AEWRampage #AEW pic.twitter.com/KDhOh9osBG
“Yes, I knew he was going to say that, he’s been saying it for a long time. I have no problem with it... I signed him to a five year contract two years ago, he’s got three years left on it. I’m totally fine with it, because frankly — there may be a bidding war in 2024, I’m fine with that.
“But anybody who signs a contract there [WWE] these days is not signing a real contract, in my opinion. It’s a temporary arrangement. People who come wrestle with me, a lot of these people are frankly lifers and they know that. And there are some people who are here, and work really hard. And there’s some people here who come in and work more than really hard. Some people come in, and I feel like this is their actual life and will be with me for the rest of my life. And I don’t know if everybody who works for my competition can say that. I think there are people who work there and they aren’t sure they will be there next week.
“So I just think there’s a lot more security with a contract here. I can’t say I’m gonna extend every contract or bring every person back, but I also through the last couple years have not been doing mass layoffs even though I’m not the most profitable company of all time. I don’t brag about being the most profitable company of all time. I do brag about bringing in a lot of revenue for a start up and being a real success story. But what I will brag about is that we haven’t been doing mass layoffs and we haven’t fired 15 people last week or 18 people the week before that. It’s not anything to be proud of when a company lets all those people go, and when you’re putting press releases out like that frequently, I don’t think it’s a good thing. And so, to me, I don’t want to make light of that kind of thing ever.
“But when you talk about one particular wrestler in a bidding war, I think each person is their own individual case, and in that case [MJF], that’s a very special talent and there may be multiple people coming for his services. But we’ve seen most of the talent going in one direction, and I think that’s for a variety of reasons, but I’ve been very selective in the people I’ve signed. And every time there’s been a mass layoff on the other side, and there’s been 15 or 18 or 20 people — and I don’t mean to make light, because each time, every one of these people matters, and the exact number does matter... every time it happens it’s terrible, and I can’t say I would be able to take on every one of these people. You know, I think if there’s 18 or 20 people let go, on average there’s a few of them that I’m thinking really help AEW, and we can continue to grow.
“And as we keep going, I think some of the people who have contracts here are going to expire, and we may eventually not be able to keep everybody, but I don’t take any pride in trying to cut costs or let people go. I really do take a lot of pride in how many people we kept working through the pandemic. So I just take a lot of pride in all the people that work here and I know that not everyone is gonna work here forever, but if somebody’s not gonna work here, please know that I’m gonna feel really, really bad about it. And that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t let a lot of people go yet, and I’ve eaten some of those costs, especially through the pandemic when there was really nowhere else to get work in wrestling.
“I expect AEW to be around as long as I am alive, and hopefully I’ll have kids some day and they’ll be a part of it too. So I expect to be in the wrestling business for the rest of my life, and like I said, there are people here who will be here with me for the rest of my life. I can’t say everybody will be, but there’s a lot of people like that. Then there’s a lot of people who know I would be there for them for the rest of there life. So anybody who leaves AEW is leaving that. And I don’t know if people on the other side have the same feeling of loyalty, or family.”
Obviously, a lot can change over the course of the 39 year old TK’s life - let alone the lives of the future offspring he hopes to bring into the family business. But he’s not lying about his track record to date. Combine that with the 100+ people WWE’s cut loose prior to their contract expiration over the past year-and-a-half, and the comments of folks like Taya Valkyrie and Paul “Big Show” Wight about their experiences as WWE contracted talents... a lot of people are probably going to listen to AEW’s sales pitch when weighing their options.