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What’s the potential of AEW?

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A few days ago, headlines were made on social media that The Undertaker was announced for Starrcast, the convention in association with All Elite Wrestling’s Double or Nothing event in May. The last time the legendary grappler was seen on WWE programming was the sloppy tag match at the Saudi Arabia event last November.

As of this writing, there’s no indication that he will be involved in WrestleMania, which is usually the event that showcases him each year. In some ways, it might’ve been a better farewell for him to retire with the emotional conclusion at Wrestlemania 32 than the possibility of the lackluster tag match in Saudi Arabia as his final bout. I have to say, I’m very surprised that Undertaker took appearances outside of the WWE umbrella, simply because he’s so closely associated with the company and sacrificed a lot for it, but his current contract doesn’t restrict him from outside ventures. Reportedly, his price is $25,000 per hour for an autograph/photo session. Don’t get me wrong, if The Undertaker can make that type of cash just for signing his name then there’s no reason for him to leave money on the table. Still, it makes me wonder, did he want to work another WM match, but management didn’t have plans for him?

This could simply be a business deal that gives him the opportunity to make easy money, but given the convention’s association with AEW, it adds another aspect to the story. The announcement of his appearance seems to have two possibilities in terms of what it could translate to for the Double or Nothing weekend. This signing could strictly be for the money, and the Undertaker is willing to schedule an appearance with anyone that can pay his fee or it could be used as a way to spotlight All Elite.

Obviously, the 53-year-old legend won’t be wrestling for AEW, and probably shouldn’t compete again, but if he makes an appearance at the Double or Nothing event, even out of character, it can be used as a major endorsement for the AEW brand. A simple camera shot of Undertaker watching the event in the front row brings a certain credibility to the company because of the level of respect he has among fans.

Last week at the Double or Nothing ticket rally, a few more names were confirmed for the event that takes place in May, and fans were able to sign up for ticket codes in advance of the pre sale for the event. Within minutes of those codes being available, the AEW website crashed because of the amount of web traffic. Eventually, everyone that requested a code was able to secure it, but just a few days later, the amount of allotted pre sale tickets sold out in under thirty minutes. It took just four minutes for tickets to sell out for the general public sale a few days after that. So, the pay-per-view broadcast at the MGM arena will have an entire building of diehard fans, which will create a great atmosphere for the show.

However, as is usually the case with professional wrestling on social media, some fans are overestimating what this sell out actually means for the new promotion. Yes, it’s an incredible accomplishment that Cody, The Young Bucks, Omega, and others created such a buzz for themselves without main stream television exposure in the United States. They are tremendously talented, and regardless of what happens with AEW, they have certainly made history in the industry. At the same time, the success of All In and Double or Nothing must be put into perspective.

All In had several selling points, considering that it was the first event put together by the Elite stable and it booked talent from different organizations to promote dream matches. Double or Nothing has a special event draw to it because it’s the kick off of the company that has the potential to change the landscape of the industry. But, much of that scenario is a novelty, which is fine because it garnered a sellout, but the totality of this situation is AEW drew a sell out for its first show. How do they follow up and will it lead to diminishing returns are much more important questions in the grand scheme of things. Keep in mind, the greater goal, if not being direct competition to WWE, is to be in the same conversation. For that to be accomplished, there are many steps in the process and if it happens remains to be seen.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of this equation is, how does the AEW roster translate to the general public? Remember, The Bucks, Cody, and others are very popular with the diehard fan base, but the point of major TV exposure is to allow the AEW roster to be perceived as stars to the causal fan. How the AEW product translates to a main stream audience could be the most important key to success for the company. That’s why it was such an important piece of the puzzle for AEW to sign Chris Jericho, because he can still go in the ring, and he’s a recognizable star that can get viewers to the show to sample the product.

Make no mistake about it, if All Elite is going to make an impact on the level they’re hoping for, they definitely need to get WWE fans to notice their show. Does that mean fans won’t watch Raw? No, but some of the audience will have to add All Elite to their wrestling line-up if AEW is truly going to get off the ground. As Jericho detailed on his podcast, he signed a three-year deal for great money so there’s no doubt that the goal of AEW is to at least be in the conversation of sports entertainment on a main stream level.

Considering that WWE has such a strangle hold on the market, and a brand name that was built for decades, head-to-head competition probably shouldn’t be the goal for AEW. It’s very possible All Elite becomes a compliment to WWE as opposed to directly competition and there’s nothing wrong with that. From a business perspective, success is measured by revenue and profitability so if AEW becomes profitable then “competition” with WWE is a moot point. More importantly, if All Elite is profitable, it gives wrestlers and fans more options, which is what the industry has lacked since WCW shut down. Granted,there were successful independent groups, but that’s a different scale than a national promotion.

AEW’s ability to offer comparative wages could really be a game changer because it allows to top-tier talent to have leverage and options. Specifically, the past few years, the WWE has signed almost everyone they wanted because it was the best money offer in the industry. Competitive money makes the decision for underutilized talent to leave WWE to rejuvenate their career much easier if another organization can offer financial security. If All Elite gets off the ground, the paradigm of the industry could shift and that would create new opportunities for the entire sport. But again, much of that depends of how AEW translates to the general public, which isn’t going to be done through one event, but rather how their television builds angles, and markets the product.

Among the talent announced was Kenny Omega, Pentagon, and Fenix. Omega is one of the best in-ring performers of his generation and someone who AEW could build around in the future. Pentagon can go in the squared circle and he has a tremendous gimmick so given the right exposure, he could be a major star. Fenix is also another solid addition to the roster.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope AEW is successful and eventually can become competition for the WWE, especially because the McMahon empire often reaches a level of complacency from the lack of any legitimate competition. That said, All Elite must be kept in the proper perspective, it’s a sell out of one show, and at this point, there’s no way to gauge the level of drawing power the company will have among the general public. Aside from that, the entire AEW scenario is probably the most intriguing situation for the industry since WCW closed and it will be very interesting to see what network signs AEW to a TV deal this year.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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