It is coming up 18 months since AEW Dynamite debuted in October 2019. It has been a crazy period in wrestling and the world in general since then but it is fair to say that the programme, and AEW in general, have established themselves as a staple in the weekly rotation for many wrestling fans.
They’ve unquestionably done a great job in grabbing and cementing the position of the number two wrestling promotion in North America, maybe the world?
As the world awakens from its pandemic induced slumber, it is time to look at what AEW needs to do in order to carry on its trajectory of growth (I refuse to use the tired ‘get to the next level’ wrestling cliche!)
While tribalism in wrestling has never been more pronounced, we find it healthy and interesting to be able to point out AEW’s significant flaws whilst at the same time celebrating all the magnificent achievements and innovations it has set down in the last year and a half. Nothing in life is black and white and no company is perfect, as the AEW top brass would be the first to admit.
We asked our panel this week to point out what they believe to be AEW’s biggest flaw that needs correcting in order for them to flourish further. Before anyone rolls their eyes and writes this off as AEW-bashing, every single contributor to this column would consider themselves AEW fans who enjoy their product immensely and want to see it thrive. That doesn’t mean they have to pretend they can do no wrong.
By means of balance, next week we will ask the same panel to highlight AEW’s greatest strengths that have allowed them to write their names into the annals of wrestling arguably quicker than any start-up promotion in history.
CHRIS HATCH: Use the huge roster pool to keep things fresh.
The fact that AEW have platforms like Dark and the new Dark: Elevation I take as a benefit to the product, but I’m not sure that with such an array of talent available they are being utilised in the right way.
I get that it’s great to keep their roster fresh and active, and in particular the way that has helped a number of the unsigned independent talents in work during ‘The Pandemic Era’. But sometimes it feels like the same faces are rolling around the storylines on Dynamite and the potential to tap in to the market they have doesn’t quite get met.
We saw a while ago Hybrid 2 ‘move up’ to the main roster for a short storyline, but in my mind it was far too short and could have given the potential for them to step in to other feuds to mix the matches up, stay there for a few months and then move back to Dark. This could be a cycle with a few teams, meaning they all get some main roster exposure.
In the same breath being on Dark shouldn’t be seen as being downgraded. It plays a very important role in the company’s brand reach, it’s truly global exposure compared to Dynamite and there are less restraints than on live TV.
There are guys both under contract and not who I believe could do a really good job enhancing the main roster, but not needing to be seen as regular TV top-level guys for longer than a few months at a time.
GARY TAIT: AEW started with massive fanfare and with the names attached to the promotion, it was fair for fans of wrestling to be excited.
18 months on, the numbers, ratings wise, stay consistent and no real movement on the 700k mark. This bring us to what would you change? For me, it’s quite simple….
STOP CATERING TO YOURSELF!!
AEW’s biggest mistake, especially over the last year in my opinion, has been catering to an audience that is already there. That fan base that previously followed the Elite. That is your hardcore fanbase and they will defend the product regardless. They see no fault in anything the promotion does, even when it is clear that it isn’t that great (the explosion at Revolution being a prime example)
They do not appear to try and get more casuals fans in. The constant jabs at WWE, the forbidden door indulgence and this recent working relationship with Impact and NJPW. It caters to their already existing fan base. Whilst it is exciting, the fans that watch Impact and NJPW, already watch AEW.
The constant jabs at WWE, brass ring above the ladder for instance, is old and it’s been done now for 18 months. As a fan of WWE for 30 years, it does nothing but make me not want to watch the product. Which is a shame, as the talent in AEW is brilliant.
The promotion needs to start to realize, that to gain new viewers, you need to stop the in-jokes. They need to take a leaf out of WWE book with little recap videos during Dynamite. Let me know what happened on Impact. Let me know why I should care that Kenta attacked Moxley. The only people that knew the why, was the hardcore fanbase.
It is time for AEW to come out of their bubble.
PAUL BENSON: Hypocrisy is maybe too strong a word but AEW need to stop giving their critics and on-the-fence fans bullets to load their guns. Time and again, those connected with AEW at executive level make proclamations, some grand, some throwaway, that in the long term, they cannot be expected to stick to. Take the rankings system for instance. Sure, it is an easy way to gain the approval of a tiny segment of hardcore fans that still want to cling on to wrestling as a sport but for everyone else, exact win/loss records are simply not relevant. We know that wrestling is all about momentum in storyline and that doesn’t always sit in line with how many W’s you have on the ledger for the year. The problem with making such strong declerations that the moment you break them you let down that hardcore group and the wider fanbase get to point the finger and say ‘Told you so’.
This issue feeds into so much of what they do wrong. Like overhyping announcements to the point of parody and claiming to be the champions of wrestling welfare whilst at the same time having management claim it wasn’t up to them to stop a match when Matt Hardy splattered his head on to a concrete floor.
AEW have an enormous advantage of having a core of fans that will seemingly forgive them any trespass. With that group, there is always a reason to give the fans a pass. For the rest, well, their patience will be finite. Some will stick around longer than others but eventually, if you keep going back on your word, they will all drift away. It is far, far from too late for AEW to put this right. Let’s hope they do.
LIAM HAPPE: No more Dixie Khan, please: To paraphrase footballer Harry Kane, everybody regarded him as a nice, innocent young English squad member at Tottenham until one day, every non-Spurs fan was slagging him off. That, he pointed out, was when he knew he was succeeding. The same applies to much of AEW’s criticism. There are aspects of every area that need work, for sure, but not to the stage where it’s a potentially catastrophic weakness that could ruin them or wrestling (unless of course, you run a monetized podcast because nobody will hire you, in which case the industry is doomed).
However if there’s one thing I’d gladly shove into Room 101 tomorrow if given the chance, it’s owner Tony Khan’s alarming lack of social media awareness. His over-the-top hype for announcements turned a very cool ‘get’ in bringing Christian Cage over into an actual disappointment. I get that he wants to be front and centre sometimes when it’s his money, but AEW would be better off if he wasn’t coming off like the second coming of Dixie Carter from the TNA horror days.
JOSH CHAPMAN: For me, the biggest improvement AEW can make to its product is to not be so over reliant on gimmick matches and events.
It takes away from the product and the brand when every other episode of Dynamite has an In Your House style tagline rather than the odd two or three like in NXT.
In terms of matches, All Elite has the roster required to really challenge and push the dominance of WWE. Even more so now the forbidden door has been opened.
What works in Japan, what worked in noughties Impact, and in some cases what worked in peak WCW, doesn’t work elsewhere unless put together to perfection and that was shown by the god awful ending to the main event of Revolution this past weekend.
Allow the wrestlers and athletes from all the brands to show us their true in ring ability and talents in normal matches, especially when you’ve got the calibre of talent within the ranks that Robert Sto… sorry, Tony Khan, has assembled.
It might be boring but just look at the competition from time to time. After all, it works for Daniel Bryan and Cesaro.