After Ring of Honor’s Final Battle PPV last night (Dec. 15) in Garland, Texas, Tony Khan and some of the wrestlers who performed on the show sat down to talk to the media.
The final stretch of the nearly two-and-a-half hour press scrum (embedded above) was the AEW & ROH owner alone at the desk, and the first question Khan faced was about this week’s reports that WWE had met with AEW’s current television partner Warner Bros Discovery about the media rights package for Raw.
Khan didn’t dispute them, but instead framed them as standard operating procedure for networks. He also made it sound like AEW has or will be speaking to other networks about their next media rights deal, which is expected to start shortly after Raw’s does toward the end of 2024:
”Ring of Honor, we haven’t had recently as many, but we’ve had really good conversations about AEW. Even in recent days, I’ve had really good talks with Warner Brothers Discovery. We’ve been with them for several years — it’s a really exciting time for AEW...
“We’ve performing incredibly well for Warners Brothers Discovery and we’re a very, very strong relationship. With media rights and all the things coming up, everyone has to do their due diligence — it’s just part of the TV business.
“Where we stand, we stand in a position for AEW to have a huge growth year in 2024. There’s a lot of really exciting things happening that I know Warner Brothers is really excited about, that we’ve talked about... it’s been a great year for us... this was a big year for us with Warners Brothers Discover. They came to us and asked us to go from doing three hours of TV a week on TBS and TNT, expanded it to five hours. That’s been very, very successful...
“It’s a great relationship, and it’s going very very well for us. And part of the TV business, for both sides, is doing their due diligence and that’s just a part of sports and television, really. Being part of the NFL and the Premier League, I’ve seen that process play out with certainly with different TV networks looking at different sports, and the sports themselves looking at different TV networks.”
Khan went on to talk about his experience as part of the management teams for Fulham FC and the Jacksonville Jaguars, which lead him to believe AEW is in a “really, really good position” regarding its next TV deal. He circled back to ROH, saying the brands under his “promotional umbrella” and their partners constitute a “challenger brand”. That brings a lot of negativity, which he spoke about:
“To be AEW is to be under constant attack. You do a great show, and the next day somebody’s saying something negative. You do five great shows in a row, somebody says something negative. You do five great shows in a row, somebody says something negative. You break the ticket record for the most tickets ever sold for any wrestling show in the history of the world, somebody has something bad to say about it.
“At this point, I don’t worry about it. We just need to go out and do great shows, week after week — like we did. We were the number one show on cable this week, on Wednesday. We beat every single show on TV on Wednesday, out of hundreds and hundreds of shows, across hundreds of networks. We continue doing it, and everybody who works here is gonna be in a good position.”
Some of that Khan attributes to the wrestling world’s use of Twitter/X. He said conversation about other sports like American football are more spread out across the social media landscape, with leagues, outlets covering them, and fans having large presences on TikTok and Instagram. But not pro wrestling:
“I think it’s challenging because I’ve never seen anything quite like wrestling when it comes to such a large percentage of the business spending such a large percentage of their time on one platform, which is X — formerly Twitter. It’s amazing how many people in the wrestling business are on Twitter, all the time. And to be honest, I understand it because it’s a good reason: Engagement. Because there’s such a large percentage of wrestling fans, and you, the wrestling media, and opinion makers, and the wrestlers themselves, the companies — so many people are on this one platform, it’s pretty unique...
“It becomes a bit of an echo chamber and there’s a lot of bad faith. There’s a lot of bad faith posting on it, and you can have a great day in the business, like have the number show, and people will try and tell you you didn’t do something great. Or you can break the world record for the most tickets sold at any wrestling show ever, and have this massive huge success on PPV, and the wrestling’s great and everything’s great, and still people are trying to tell you there’s some problem with it...”
Despite that, which I’m sure is partly about this week’s latest round of doom and gloom about AEW following the WBD/WWE reports, Khan isn’t giving up. He closed a long answer to the question with an earnest explanation for why he intends to follow John Cena’s advice and never give up:
“To be AEW, no matter how good you do, there will be people coming for you, gunning for you. Because that’s what this is. There’s a reason that every single person who stepped into my position until now has gone out of business. I’m the only one left. Everybody who has stepped up and put millions of dollars into this and done it week after week — and there’s no offseason, you do it 52 weeks a year — it’s a fight.
“And that’s a credit to the fans. I know what it is to be a wrestling fan 52 weeks a year. It’s hard. But it’s also the most rewarding thing. That’s why you can’t get away from it for too long. That’s why we always come back to it. We’re addicted. And it’s worth the fight, and I love the fight, and I’m never gonna stop fighting it. No matter what happens, no matter how things change. It’s worth it. It’s the fight Jim Crockett fought, and Verne Gagne, and Ted Turner, and so many people who’ve tried. And God bless them all, and I’m doing this for all of you. And I know all of you are here in spirit.”
Perhaps that’s a little corny, and you can certainly discuss and debate the strategic approach Khan takes to his fight — but it’s hard to deny the man’s passion. AEW/ROH isn’t perfectly run, and no one is going to be able to please all wrestling fans, all the time. But the business is better for having “challenger brands” providing fans and talent with options. So while I might prefer AEW did more “not worrying about” and less talking about things like Twitter trolls and the All In attendance figures*, I do support TK’s fight.
Let us know how you feel about these quotes. You can check them out in their entirety along with the entire Final Battle media scrum in the video embedded at the top of this post. Khan’s portion starts at approximately 1:44.
* Khan talked about All In’s numbers A LOT during the scrum, and it’s clearly one specific thing that matters a great deal to him.