All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is a brand new professional wrestling promotion based in Jacksonville, Florida. They announced themselves — and shook up the wrestling world — on New Year’s Day 2019, which didn’t come as too much of a surprise to wrestling fans who’d been speculating a ton up to that point. The company was backed by president Tony Khan, also the co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars (and a wrestling fan himself).
Wrestling fans were stoked and also scratching their heads — what does this mean for WWE? Where will they watch their favorite wrestlers?
How All Elite Wrestling Is Impacting the Industry
The big thing about AEW is that it’s taking a wrestler-centric approach to pro wrestling. That’s different from the highly produced style of wrestling WWE is known for which puts business and marketing on a pedestal.
AEW is customizing its contracts to the specific wrestler, and working hard to be inclusive to everyone in the wrestling community. It’s allowing more generous rights to merchandise; wrestlers can even manage their own shops. Nick and Matt Jackson, creators and executive vice presidents for AEW, made a name for themselves by selling their own merch through Hot Topic while contracted with ROH, which no doubt inspired this business decision. This modernized way of handling a pro wrestling company could affect the industry as a whole — and steal wrestlers away from the promotions they’ve been with for a long time.
Their contracts are financially lucrative too. They even seem to be outperforming WWE contracts, as they managed to entice Chris Jericho to the new company, as well as win over friend and All Elite member, Kenny Omega (despite the ladder being offered a “fantastic deal” from WWE). It’s not easy to burn a bridge with a major wrestling company like WWE, but those contracts seem to be enticing wrestlers regardless.
All Elite Wrestling vs. WWE
WWE has been at the helm of professional wrestling for decades, but AEW’s introduction is threatening to shake up the industry. This became even more apparent after Khan signed former WWE wrestler Cody Rhodes. Then, during AEW’s inaugural event, the Double or Nothing rally in Jacksonville on January 8, 2019, Chris Jericho announced he was joining the company. Jericho has worked under major contracts for WWE, WCW, and NJPW, but said that the AEW offer was the biggest of his career.
The rumor mill is at work, with lots of talk about the other big names that could be joining AEW. While independent wrestling seems to be small and amateur-ish, despite the designation of “pro” wrestling, it’s not not a threat. For example, New Japan Pro Wrestling attracted A.J. Styles. Why? WWE is huge and has some of the best wrestlers out there, but managing all of that talent makes it difficult to keep every performer happy.
In terms of numbers, though, WWE doesn’t have too much to worry about, yet. Yes, AEW is launching Tuesday Night Dynamite, but WWE’s SmackDown Live is moving to Friday nights anyway. In 2017, WWE raked in more than 3 million viewers each week for Raw. Compare it with “The All In: Zero Hour” pre-show to the “All In” pay-per-view, an independent wrestling event that had only 196,000 viewers. The independent pro wrestling scene may be on the uprise, but it hasn’t come anywhere near WWE.
Protecting the Safety of Wrestlers
Many comparisons of AEW to the ECW (and their history of extreme injuries) evoke a big question: How effectively will the new promotion handle safety concerns? The wrestling world is rife with brain injuries, like concussions — and they can be ridiculously dangerous. There are many types of brain injuries wrestlers face, such as:
- Concussion: This can be caused by impact, shaking, or a whiplash-type movement. Concussions can be mild to severe.
- Contusion: This is when the brain tissue is bruised, which can cause pressure to build. Like concussions, contusions can be anywhere from mild to severe.
- Penetrating Injury: This happens when an object penetrates the skin, causing the object, skin, hair or skull fragment to contact the brain.
- Anoxic Injury: Serious trauma can cause an anoxic brain injury, which can lead to death in just five minutes if the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen.
Preventing concussions in sports is a hot-button topic. Improved regulations, like no longer allowing head- or body-checking, could help. Advances in technology can also better assess athletes and wrestlers to see if and how severely their brain has been affected by injury.
How All Elite Wrestling Will Deal With Injuries
AEW could possibly learn from where WWE has failed when it comes to taking head injuries seriously. Since they’re taking such a wrestler-focused approach to managing the company, it’s not surprising that AEW is prioritizing safety too.
Thoughtful contracts and merchandise management is great, but one of the biggest and most impactful changes that AEW is making has to do with the handling of injuries. Although health insurance has yet to be confirmed, the company is rumored to cover the costs for any and all injuries that occur at an event, which is much different from how many wrestling promotions cover injuries. It’s important to note that WWE does cover in-ring injuries.
Put yourself in the wrestler’s shoes: Would you stay with a big name company that has broad appeal and a massive audience? Or would you opt for better contracts and broader health insurance, even if it meant taking a risk? Time will show if AEW will adopt the regulations and new technology necessary to keep its roster as safe as possible while putting on a show to compete with WWE.