“There’s only room for one Khan in the wrestling business, It’s me, Tony Khan, not some con man from Connecticut.”Tony Khan – AEW
Of all, the pro wrestling business was based on fake chauvinism, but since founding AEW in 2019, Khan has steered clear of overtly trashing the competitors. His tone in the video comes off as more flippant than high kick, perhaps due to his babyface demeanor. Khan should also refrain from gloating too soon. AEW is currently suffering early growing pains after two years of moderate development while attempting to escape the fate of everyone else who has tried to confront Vince McMahon’s WWE over the previous four decades—but he has already made a significant effect on professional wrestling.
Khan launched AEW with a significant investment from his father, billionaire Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, estimated to be worth up to $100 million. Its first three months on TNT were successful enough to land a four-year, $175 million agreement with WarnerMedia to show Wednesday night Dynamite, a moniker he chose when he drew up episodes in his junior high notebook a quarter-century ago. By going head-to-head with—and defeating—WWE, McMahon’s two-hour event has rocked pro wrestling’s power structure, and AEW will be debuting a new weekly show on Fridays in August.
Khan, a tiny numbers geek with a chuckle rather than a sneer, has showed little interest in crushing McMahon with a figurative steel chair, but his love for wrestling is undeniable. He managed online wrestling message boards as a kid in Champaign, Illinois, and loved to wear “Macho Man” Randy Savage outfits for Halloween far into adulthood. He was waiting for the chance to reinvent the Spandex-addicted entertainment he adored all the time.
Born and brought up in 1982, the same year McMahon bought out his father’s share in the World Wrestling Federation, as it was then known. Back then, pro wrestling was mainly a regional industry, with organizations and promotions generally respecting one other’s limits.
McCahon’s firm controlled the Northeast, but McMahon was determined to become a national and eventually worldwide star. Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Ronnie Piper, and others were stolen from other areas by him. In the 1990s, World Championship Wrestling, owned by billionaire Ted Turner, was the final significant opponent to the WWF, with their “Monday Night Wars” ratings crushing the WWF’s for years. However, by 2000, WCW’s edge had eroded. When AOL purchased Time Warner in 2000, it disposed of the struggling wrestling business. McMahon paid $4.3 million for it and became the Only and Undisputed Champion.
Twenty million viewers tuned in each week to see WWF programs in 2000. Its weekly TV viewership totaled fewer than 5 million last year, according to Showbuzz Daily.
“I’m pleased that WCW failed because it provided a space for us to come in and flourish.”Tony Khan
McMahon conquered every wrestling ring, Khan observed and studied, and his father encouraged him in his enthusiasm, even if he didn’t really comprehend it. A father-son excursion to a dingy Philadelphia arena in August 1996 was Shahid Khan’s first investment in his son’s wrestling enthusiasm. Khan, a 13-year-old student at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, received the prize for taking the admission exam and enrolling.
His father followed his own ambition of owning the NFL while Khan attended the University of Illinois and worked at a biofuels firm. When Shahid Khan acquired the Jaguars in 2012, he tasked Tony with starting the franchise’s analytics department.
Former WWE stars Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes were set to become free agents at the end of 2018 and Khan saw an opportunity to seize the moment. To employ wrestlers and build the framework for AEW, he just required tens of millions of dollars in funding. His father Shahid Khan, a self-made auto parts entrepreneur of Pakistani origin and worth an estimated $8 billion, agreed albeit reluctantly.
Khan and Rhodes met at a Jaguars game in the autumn of 2018. Rhodes grew up hearing naive fantasies of new wrestling promotions from his father, but this was the first time he’d heard a pitch in an NFL owner’s suite. It was Khan who flew Rhodes to Japan, where he was working for New Japan Pro Wrestling, for the signing of a contract, promising to send Rhodes a check within 24 hours of signing it.
Khan had a product to market, and four months after AEW’s New Year’s Day 2019 premiere, he sealed a trial arrangement with WarnerMedia to show the program on TNT. With enough big talent lined up—including WWE’s former announcer and talent executive Jim Ross—Khan had a product to sell. Dynamite began on October 2, 2019, and in January 2020, the two parties agreed to a $175 million extension, which would keep the program running through the end of 2023 and include ideas for the third hour of weekly material. The epidemic put a stop to that growth, but AEW announced on May 19 that Rampage will debut on August 13 and air every Friday at 10 p.m., directly after WWE’s Smackdown on Fox.
The $43.75 million AEW got from TNT last year accounted for the majority of its revenue, yet it is a rounding error when compared to publicly listed WWE’s record $974 million in sales in 2020. Still, AEW’s pay-per-view and ticket sales are increasing, and the new program will help the company’s bottom line. Khan anticipates that its wrestling section will turn a profit this year, while an eight-figure investment in video game development will keep the company in the red for the time being.
At initially, Vince McMahon, like most of his competitors, did not appear to be endangered by AEW. On a conference call with analysts in July 2019, he stated he couldn’t picture TNT putting up with “blood and guts and horrible things,” without naming his newest competition. In a promo leading up to Dynamite’s debut, Rhodes implied that the statements were disparaging of wrestlers’ enthusiasm and retorted, “if you say we’re blood and guts, I say you bet your ass we’re blood and guts.” The term has subsequently been trademarked by AEW, and a “Blood & Guts” episode of Dynamite aired on May 5.
WWE’s initial response was a colossal failure. The successful NXT franchise was relocated from the premium WWE Network to USA Network in the autumn of 2019, but after losing the Wednesday rating war, NXT was relegated to Tuesdays in April 2021. Since then, Dynamite has averaged over 1 million viewers each episode, which is roughly half of what WWE receives for its main Monday night show, Raw.
While WWE focuses around “Mr. McMahon,” the ludicrous figure McMahon portrays in the ring, Khan remains off camera, apart from the odd social media promo. According to Rhodes, AEW does not have a writers’ room like WWE and that its in-ring promos are unscripted, an approach that is appealing to new viewers. Two years in, 54 percent of its viewers are under the age of 50, which is higher than the viewership share for WWE’s Raw, NXT, and Smackdown.
But even though WWE lost the battle on Wednesday night, it is still winning the war. McMahon agreed to shift its collection of programming from the WWE Network to NBC’s Peacock streaming service in 2020, and WWE hosts at least one pay-per-view event every month, as opposed to AEW’s quarterly events. Every spring, their flagship WrestleMania event crowds a football stadium.
However, WWE is considerably thinner as a result of the epidemic. This spring, the business dismissed more than 20 of its roughly 200 wrestlers, some of whom were signed by AEW, and the budget cuts have fuelled suspicion that McMahon, 75, is preparing the firm for sale.
AEW, on the other hand, operates in the shadow of the Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field at Daily’s Place, the 5,500-seat amphitheater connected to the stadium where Dynamite has been hosted during the epidemic. It will take the show on the road again in July, visiting Miami, Dallas, and Austin, Texas.
While McMahon enjoys yelling in and out of the ring—he famously shaved his head after losing the Battle of the Billionaires to Donald Trump in 2007—Khan prefers to let his wrestlers do the battling. He’d rather relive the glory days of the Monday Night Wars than have McMahon’s sleeper hold on wrestling for the next two decades. According to Khan, if AEW’s fans and TNT are happy, he isn’t concerned about WWE.