AEW Boss Tony Khan on Closing Out Year Strong & Changes in 2023
What better way to usher in the festive season than bodyslams and superkick parties? All Elite Wrestling will be serving up a big helping of both during its “Holiday Bash” and “New Year’s Smash” shows closing out 2022.
The festivities begin during the December 21 of Dynamite with match five in the “Best of Seven” between Death Triangle and The Elite, as well as Jamie Hayter’s first women’s title defense against Hikaru Shida. Rick Ross is also meditating a face-to-face between Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland.
For Tony Khan, this time is about celebration, reflection, and looking to close the year on an impactful note. The enthusiastic founder couldn’t be happier about what the company has been able to accomplish. For this entrepreneur, the truth is in the numbers. Here Khan runs us through the data. He also opens up about the accomplishments, challenges, and future of AEW.
What are you most proud of when it comes to AEW?
Tony Khan: That we’ve grown year-over-year. As of right now, [Dynamite] is up nine percent in total audience, four percent in the 18-49 demo, and 25 percent in viewers 18-34. It’s tremendous to see those gains in today’s day and age. These are really good signs for our company.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge?
I’m very proud of the AEW staff and wrestlers that we were able to have a strong year in a challenging environment. A number of things throughout the year came up that could have impeded us at different times. Time after time, we always came out stronger. Recently, we’ve been doing some of the best shows we’ve done. It’s emblematic of the strong performance of AEW this year.
The company was definitely bit by the injury bug, which gave the opportunity to the likes of Ricky Starks to step up.
We had a point in the summer over a matter of weeks we had Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, and CM Punk injured. MJF left, and Jeff Hardy had an incident and was unavailable along with other people who were out. The company really rallied over the summer. We had some great events. Simultaneously, it was a very important time for AEW because we had stars step up and a lot of the younger wrestlers step up. We were able to rebound. I think getting Bryan Danielson back was huge for us for the 150th episode of Dynamite’s “House of the Dragon.” It was an eventful year. We crossed the million-dollar threshold for the first time and hit that multiple times. We did it five times this year. Four times consecutively on pay-per-view, as well as “Grand Slam.” We rebounded well.
There is talk of the AEW set and presentation getting a change. What can you tell us about that?
I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag necessarily, especially so close to the big day. But at the start of 2023, we’re going to open the year on Wednesday, January 4 with the first Dynamite in Seattle, marking a full year of Dynamite on TBS. We’ll definitely have a new look, to say the least. I’m excited about it. I think it’s a nice thing to present to the fans, but frankly, I’ve found more so than ever, the more you talk about these things. When you build them up, you don’t want to create expectations that are impossible. I will say the set will be beautiful though. The look of Rampage will also be different. This will affect the way people view AEW on Wednesdays and Fridays in terms of presentation with the set and the show with the same great action.
You’ve recently brought [former WWE VP of global TV production] Michael Mansury on board. What has he brought to the team?
Mike just started with us and is a huge acquisition for AEW. He has so much knowledge in TV production. To have him join us as a co-executive producer and senior production executive is really great for us. It’s so important to have someone with his experience. Right now he is evaluating things in terms of presentation. I’m excited about what he will add to AEW.
#AEWDynamite: #HolidayBash TOMORROW @ 8/7c on TBS
•Best of 7 Match 5: #DeathTriangle v #theElite
•AEW Women's World Title: Hayter v Shida
•#FTR v #theGunns
•#theBoss @rickross mediates @RealKeithLee face-to-face w/ @swerveconfident
•@bryandanielson+#RickyStarks appear Live pic.twitter.com/1IM9Cr0UBp
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) December 21, 2022
Where does the company stand on how talent uses social media? What is the stance on stars entering into other business ventures that bring additional income from platforms such as OnlyFans and other income coming in?
I try to be flexible with the wrestlers and staff utilizing their personal social media. I certainly recognize they are leading their own lives the other five days of the week when they’re not wrestling. They are representing the company as great wrestlers of AEW, but they are also all independent people with separate lives. I try to give people that piece of mind. That I’m not trying to be “Big Brother” trying to change everything they do in their life. It’s a balance. We just want people to promote AEW when they can and do their best to help us grow our wrestling business.
Along with AEW, you are very involved in a number of family businesses with top positions within the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham Football Club. Not to mention your recent purchase of Ring of Honor. What do you say to people who think you might be stretching yourself too thin?
I love all these businesses. I feel very fortunate I’m able to work in these industries. I love the people I work with. Every day is different. I try to find balance. It depends on the time of year, and where we are at. Where we are on our calendars. Wrestling never takes a day off. You don’t have downtime in wrestling. Then there is the NFL Draft or English Premier League transfer window that is always looming in the off-season. For me, I love moonlighting between these great loves
What can we expect from Ring of Honor with the recent relaunch of HonorClub?
As I understand it the numbers we already reached in a very short time are strong in membership and customer base. More than ever before. It’s a great value to join HonorClub right now. We’re going to be following up soon to talk about when the weekly Ring of Honor TV will launch and stream on HonorClub for sure. There are a lot of interesting partnerships and possibilities with great wrestling companies. Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling had a great working relationship we are rekindling. We are looking to rekindle that long relationship. Ring of Honor may be in the strongest position they’ve ever been in its 20 years. It’s the perfect time to take the training wheels off.
A new era for ROH.
We’ve created a lot of familiarity with the brand. It’s also beneficial to both brands. For example, I had earmarked Claudio [Castagnoli] to be a top star for Ring of Honor, but when we had this mess of injuries back in June before Forbidden Door, he came to AEW. It really helped us and came in to debut with Ring of Honor. He ended up coming out a month earlier and cutting his vacation short. An example having the two companies benefited us.
What can you say about the final two weeks of AEW shows?
“Holiday Bash” is going to be great tonight on TBS. They are really important shows. Expect the same fun holiday spirit and Christmas theme along with great wrestling. We have some big championship matches and implications. For “New Year’s Smash” we’re going back to a building we haven’t been to in three years. The [1STBANK Center] is one of the last buildings we visited before the 2020 lockdown. The Denver area will have a great crowd. A great way to end the year.
What is the holiday season like at the Khan house?
My family is a big Christmas family. My mother is one of the biggest fans of Christmas I know. There will be a nonstop loop of Christmas movies playing. We also end up watching a lot of football. So ti will be about balancing movies with football. Last year, we also watched Rampage because it was on Christmas day. It’s a Wonderful Life, we always like to watch. Scrooged with Bill Murray is also a classic.
You know Renee Paquette wants to get her own Christmas movie.
I would say Renee and my mom are both Christmas queens.
AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TBS
AEW Rampage, Fridays, 10/9c, TNT