Two years ago, not even the most optimistic industry observers would have predicted AEW would be in the position it is today.
But even with top rated cable shows, packed houses at major venues like Chicago’s United Center & New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium, and big names like CM Punk & Bryan Danielson in the fold, a lot of wrestling fans scoff when CEO Tony Khan calls All Elite “the top company in wrestling”.
As long as most media consumers equate WWE with pro wrestling in their minds, scoffing at claims like that are a reasonable response. But in a recent appearance on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast, Khan modified his boast a bit. This time, he also had more receipts to support promoting his company as “the market leader” over WWE.
“In some aspects, they [WWE] are the market leader. In other aspects, we’re now the market leader. So at the beginning [when AEW launched in 2019] that may have been the case, but there were a lot of reasons why I felt I could come in and compete. There were a lot of great wrestlers that weren’t being featured on television, and there are a lot of wrestling fans out there that were looking for an alternative product, that weren’t satisfied with what they were getting on those shows. So I do think there was definitely a great opportunity to come in and compete, and I saw some vulnerability, frankly, in the market leader at the time, and it’s opened up a lot of market share for us, for me to bootstrap a new business, and build it up and again a lot of that market share where now, in a lot of significant business metrics, we are the worldwide leader.
“It’s the youngest skewing audience of all sports programming on all of television. There have been more weeks than not in the past several months where we’ve beaten every major sporting event in terms of having the youngest viewing audience. Our Wednesday night show and our Friday night show have both finished as the #1 show on cable in the 18 - 49 year old demographic. We have a more affluent fanbase than other wrestling organizations, but really, people from all kinds of backgrounds. More likely to be college educated audience, so it’s a very attractive audience to an advertising base, particularly with the age demographics that they have. So having such a young engaged audience is really important for us, and it’s also a very consistent audience.”
Putting AEW as #1 in anything other than buzz among internet wrestling fans is still promotional hyperbole at this point. But TK’s answer here does demonstrate to the business community how remarkably successful AEW’s been in a brief time. And if he can demonstrate to sponsors, partners, and advertisers their ability to attract young people with money to spend is sustainable, it’s not unthinkable the “market leader” debate could be more than just hype in the future.