Before beginning my column, I have a confession to make. Let’s just lay it all out on the table, shall we?
Since the launch of AEW Dynamite, I have been very “pro” All Elite Wrestling. I had them pegged them to land on a big TV network due to the Tony Khan connection, I predicted them beating NXT on USA Network in the television ratings to start off the ‘war.’ I had followed along with their recent pay-per-view events and was even a fan of the signings. Even though, I (like most) grew up on WWE I knew that there was room for more in this wild and wacky industry we all love. The kickoff to All Elite Wrestling on TNT last Fall was amazing. It was a great time to be a wrestling fan. I watched the premiere and minus the infamous Chris Jericho cruise episode, I watched every single second of Dynamite. I could tell you all the characters, all the story lines, all the feuds, all the future seeds being planted, etc. I was legitimately all in.
Until the global pandemic hit.
There is absolutely no denying that professional wrestling lives and breathes by the live audience. If there is a hot payoff happening in the middle of the ring with a rowdy crowd, there is nothing better. On the flip side, if there is a dud of a match going on with loud “BORING!” chants, you will notice. Sports, in my opinion, can get by without much fan interaction. Heck, a lot of professional sports teams are used to playing in empty baseball stadiums or dead arenas. For wrestling, you NEED that sixth man…sitting in the crowd. With WWE, they can kinda sorta get away with it. Their shows have been somewhat entertaining, and they even pulled off a decent WrestleMania spectacle despite all the odds.
For AEW, it was different…and it was noticeable…and it was devastating.
That brings us to the question of the day: Why are AEW ratings down?
Empty Arenas – As mentioned above, the entire vibe of the program is off when there is no instant feedback. How do we know if Adam Page’s drunk gimmick is working with fans? We think it is a big hit, but we don’t know. How do we know if Matt Hardy and his tired silly stuttering wouldn’t be getting yawned out of the building a few weeks after his big arrival? We don’t know. How do we know if the women’s division is as bad as it is talked about? We don’t. What I <U>do</U> know though is that AEW thrives off their rabid fanbase. They were/are ECW in more ways than one. Most obvious is their passionate crew that will back them no matter what and go to great lengths to see them deliver an alternative product. Without that, it is as lifeless as it gets. They recognized that and tried to spice it up with the wrestlers at ringside betting on matches and interacting with different talent. That fell flat and was quickly abandoned. Good move. It made them come off as normal guys more than larger than life superstars anyways. Still, this one is out of AEW’s control. Just playing the hand you’re dealt. A bad situation all around. No amount of Jacksonville Dixie hype on Twitter is going to convince me otherwise. Sorry.
Absent World Champion – In late February, Jon Moxley was crowned the new AEW World Champion by besting Chris Jericho. That was clearly the long-term idea since mid-2019. Most of us suspected that as the big build for awhile. I agreed with the move then, as I do now. In late February and right after in early March, AEW was riding high on over 900,000 viewers Wednesday night. Nearly as impressive as their initial debut numbers. Awesome for the company and an awesome redemption for the former Dean Ambrose who wanted to prove his critics wrong after departing WWE last year. All roses, right? Wrong. That buzz wouldn’t last. After the hype died down, By April, AEW was running up three straight weeks of viewership in the 600,000 frame. Oops. While a lot could be said about the decline, I was always asking myself where the heck Jon Moxley was? He was still AEW World Champion, don’t get me wrong. He was still technically ‘there’ but not making much of an impact. No revolution. No shock value. No fiery promos. He showed up, strutted around, gave us blah matches and continued to carry the top prize in the company. The title that should be the centerpiece. The entire reason for wrestlers to be in AEW.
I didn’t get it. Chris Jericho, for all his faults, was ALL over our screens when the promotion jump started, and it worked. He was the main man from WWE. He was the legend. he was the former WrestleMania main eventer. He was the man who worked with every single top star in the world and provided that extra bit of mainstream publicity outside of the wrestling bubble. It made sense, and AEW started off with a bang. All good things need to come to an end though, and passing the torch to Moxley was a no brainer. Since that transion happened, the same spark surrounding the World Title is missing. Jake Hager? Mr. Brodie Lee? Is this Main Event in WWE or THE main event in AEW? I don’t claim to be an insider, but one day, we will figure out what the heck happened these past few months with Moxley. Felt off and still does. The show has not hit over 900,000 viewers since March and just last week drew 633,000. AEW needs its World Champion Jon Moxley back. Not Dean Ambrose-lite.
WWE Releases – I’m a fan of Luke Harper. He was actually one of the few wrestlers I followed before making it big. I enjoy Matt Hardy and think he can contribute a ton to the wrestling business in 2020. No doubt every promotion in the world would have hired him a few months ago during his brief free agent stint. No doubt about that. I think The Revival had some incredible matches in NXT (and WWE). I was at a non televised live event last year, and they just went out there for 30 minutes and made it seem so easy. The crowd gave mild reactions in the beginning but were 100% invested by the end. That is the mark of a great talent – making fans CARE. What I am about to say is not a personal knock on their abilities inside the squared circle. They are absolutely talented. However…
…those guys are not bringing in any kind of ratings bump. Anybody who thought otherwise was only fooling themselves. Again, I will reference the March numbers nearly at one million viewers to the slow downfall to the 600,000 range we currently sit at. FTR have been all over the program, and not one single care in the world has been given by the so called casual fans or anybody who may have followed them in their NXT primes. Matt Hardy teleporting and making weird noises was ‘cool’ years ago in Impact Wrestling. Doing that in an empty arena and rehashing what you have already done isn’t re-inventing the wheel. I don’t care if I miss a Matt Hardy promo or if he can change gimmicks during another one of his ‘matches’ again. I have seen it. Ho hum. Cool. Now move on to the next thing WWE likely told you was ridiculous. All the same Mr. Brodie Lee. He basically walked into the main event scene and was main eventing for the AEW World Title in no time. Ranking system? Win loss records? Who cares? Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper is not going to make me pay $50 for a pay-per-view, much less tune into a television special.
It is tough. There is no right or wrong answer. Should AEW have hired The Revival? Um, yeah. Duh. Should they have brought in a motivated and hungry Luke Harper? Probably, yeah. Matt Hardy? Of course. The Revival are in their mid 30’s. Brodie Lee is 40 years old. Matt Hardy is 45 years old. This nearing the old Impact Wrestling territory where dudes past their primes popped up every taping. We are about to see the same thing with recent WWE releases free to sign elsewhere come July 18th. Is AEW going to load up with The Ascension, Heath Slater, and Zack Ryder next? I would assume not, but I also wouldn’t be entirely shocked. Slippery slope. As viewership has shown, AEW had something going with MJF, Jungle Boy, Riho, Orange Cassidy, Scorpio Sky and others who may not be so mainstream or well known. Not so much anymore with the castoffs getting more and more attention.
Cody – Since Cody can no longer go after the AEW World Championship, he needs a persona feud to sink his teeth into. MJF did the trick months ago, but that seems to be done and over with. They can’t go back to the Dustin Rhodes thing. That card was already played. Without much of a choice, AEW pretty much created a belt to give to Cody because he can’t go for the big one. Now that is all fine and dandy, except there is no blood feud attached. Each week has been gentlemen fighting it out over who is the best man. Cool for classic old school wrestling but not in 2020. Cody had an absolutely FIRE promo many moons ago on Dynamite. You all know the promo. Him calming talking about the TNT Championship and shaking hands and kissing babies isn’t what he does best. The AEW fans love this dude. Get them invested in something because the TNT Title Open Challenge isn’t it. Probably should have let Lance Archer take that one. Then again he is over 40 years old as well.
NXT – The previous four reasons are just my opinion on watching the show up until the pandemic hit, and all the FUN connected to AEW was tossed to the side. You know what sucks the most though? The biggest thing that is harming AEW in the ratings right now isn’t even their own doing. It is just flat out because NXT has been the better product. I have pin pointed it back about a month or so when Karrion Kross and Scarlett showed up. That was an electric debut and was teased so well in the leadup. Women’s division is loaded. The cruiserweights are finally interesting. Keith Lee is emerging. Finn Balor is actually doing SOMETHING again. The Undisputed Era (mostly Adam Cole) is hanging on by a thread, and everybody knows it. Since then, the overall product has upped its’ game and has deserved the ratings victory, last Wednesday in particular. Some are speculating that Vince McMahon is putting his fingerprints on NXT nowadays. Fine by me. I don’t honestly care who is writing what show. If it is good, it is good. If it sucks, it sucks. If we have 457 year old Vinny Mac to thank, then so be it. AEW has lost that edge they had in the beginning, and WWE NXT has grabbed all the momentum. Does make you wonder how both shows would do on their own without the direct competition…
SUMMARY: Long rambling aside, listen, these are only my opinions. If you want to tell me I am wrong, be my guest. All I know is that like the ESPN show states – numbers never lie. There is no denying the fact that All Elite Wrestling has lost viewers and plenty of them over just the past couple of months. Why is that? I have my ideas. What are yours? Let me know in the comment section below or come yell at me on Twitter at the handle @JustinWatry – I am usually fairly interactive and wide open to any future column topics. Until then, thanks for reading!