Instead of resting and nursing his cold, my son went to play Warhammer with his buddies over the weekend. For the time being, Warhammer and Pathfinder have supplanted Dungeon & Dragons as the group’s go-to games. If you know anything about how Wizards of the Coast has bungled and severely damaged the D&D franchise with one bad decision after another, you wouldn’t be surprised by their choice.

The next day, my son stumbled into work looking as pale as a ghost and like he had been avalanched by King Kong Bundy 65 times.

I could have perhaps steered him in another direction but as I learned a long time ago as a father sometimes you’ve got to let your kids make their own mistakes. Whether they are younger or older, it feels counter-intuitive to let your kid put themselves through a table and do nothing to stop it from happening. Still, they have to learn life’s lessons and often than means you standing there with your hands in your pockets knowing exactly what is going to happen and letting it happen.

No matter how old they are though, there are times when things have gone so badly and so wrong for one reason or another that you would be irresponsible if you didn’t intercede and hold that lifeline out or string up that safety net for your child because you love them with all your heart and soul.

It is time that Shahid Khan, Tony Khan’s father and one of the principle owners of AEW, did exactly that for his son.

Back in 2019, AEW was a wrestling fan’s dream come true. Finally, there was a promotion that could provide an alternative to Vince McMahon’s WWE. At that time WWE was the McDonald’s of pro wrestling. It was wrestling for the mainstream with the focus on the angles and not the actual matches themselves. If you hungered for better in-ring action you watched NXT, Impact or NJPW.

Myself and so many others believed in AEW and what they wanted to achieve. Just as we believed in WCW and ECW until they were mismanaged into oblivion.

AEW reignited the hope that there would be a competitive alternative in North America to Vince McMahon’s brand of “sports entertainment”. Despite their missteps it appeared that AEW would be just that. In a short period of time they became everything fans and talent wanted them to be. Dynamite was “must watch” TV featuring veterans and some truly talented rising stars like Darby Allin, Jade Cargill, The Acclaimed and of course, MJF.

In case anyone would like to question my fandom here is my current AEW DVD collection. Courtesy: Me.

In 2022 though, the wheels began wobbling and now a just few years later, they have completely fallen off.

AEW is now known for putting on great pay-per-views and premiere events but their weekly television shows are terrible. They isn’t any long-term booking, there are random matches for no logical reason, people appear and disappear from AEW television and popular stars run hot and cold because of their inconsistent booking. Because of that, North American tickets sales have been in the gutter for some time signaling AEW’s continued diminishing popularity.

As of the writing of this piece:

  • AEW held its Battle of the Belts and Collision shows at the Truist Arena in Highland Heights, KY, this weekend. There were 2,471 fans in attendance.
  • With about a month to go, AEW’s presentation of Dynamite at the Angel Of The Winds Arena, in Everett, WA, on May 15th has sold only 2,511 tickets.
  • AEW Dynamite at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, IN, has at press time sold 1,898 tickets
  • AEW Dynasty on April 21 has sold 5,649 tickets thus far
  • AEW’s upcoming Double or Nothing event at the end of May has sold 5,239 tickets

Putting these numbers into context is that the company just signed marquee stars such as Deonna Purrazzo, Adam Copeland, Mercedes Mone, Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay who were proven to put butts in seats elsewhere.

These stars assuredly still can interest and excitement just not in AEW. Why? Because except for maybe a handful like Jade Cargill, MJF, The Acclaimed, Julia Hart, Jon Moxley, Hikaru Shida, Jamie Hayter, Darby Allin and Britt Baker whose presence and impact in and on the industry has grown since being there, most others have had their careers fumbled by AEW. Their stock, their value in the business, has plummeted due to their poor booking and presentation.

Take for instance free agent Matt Hardy. He reignited his career when he joined AEW in 2020 after it fizzled out during his second lackluster run in WWE. Things took a turn for the worse though with the launch of The Hardy Family Office in 2021 and it was all downhill from there including a dreadfully booked Hardy Boys reunion in 2022.

Imagine how incompetent your booking team has to be to botch the return of such a legendary team as The Hardy Boys but that is AEW’s modus operandi. They hot shot someone for about four months or so and then slowly but surely their appearances become more and more sporadic until they are completely forgotten about or almost completely forgotten about like these fine folks…

AR Fox
Bryan Keith
Ethan Page
Jake Hager
Jay Lethal
Johnny TV
Keith Lee
Lance Archer
Paul Wight
Scorpio Sky
Tony Nese
Kris Statlander
Mercedes Martinez
Penelope Ford
Ruby Soho
Taya Valkyrie

It boggles the mind when one thinks about how much talent AEW has that are not ready for prime time, is just squandered by poor booking, or paid to sit home for months and perhaps years on end, making sporadic appearances on AEW television. It is almost like WCW in the day when some talent flocked to or stayed with the promotion because they knew they could earn a very easy paycheck by doing next to nothing at all to actually earn it. It was free money! If you can even find someone who is willing to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in your bank account and you only have to show up for work a handful of times each year, why not?

Like the saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted, especially if your name is Tony Khan.

We come to another cornerstone of any wrestling business and that is the television ratings and television rights. You definitely cannot take your promotion to the next level without some kind of television deal outside of YouTube. Let gloss over the fact that AEW doesn’t even have a streaming service or is part of a streaming service in today’s entertainment climate. Even TNA has a streaming service.

At the writing of this piece, AEW Dynamite’s 10 week average is 796,000 viewers per episode and a key demo of 0.27.

Jade Cargill is just one of several superstars who have moved on to greener pastures. Jade Cargill at WWE Smackdown at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, on Friday, April 12, 2024. Photo by: Brad McFarlin, Slam Wrestling.

Jade Cargill is just one of several superstars who have moved on to greener pastures. Jade Cargill at WWE Smackdown at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, on Friday, April 12, 2024. Photo by: Brad McFarlin, Slam Wrestling.

What’s worse than that is viewership is either down or about the same each week. Dynamite is not gaining new viewers. There is no growth. No matter who they sign, no matter what their main event is, no matter what angles they run, AEW cannot “pop a rating.”

Even making the mistake of airing the All In backstage footage, AEW only generated 8 per cent more viewers but the key demos did increase 30 per cent, so that’ s a small victory, I guess. In the quarter hour ratings, 880,000 tuned in to watch the All In video. When the segment concluded the audience dropped to 822,000 a decrease of 58,000. The episode itself ended with a viewership of 723,000.

The last time Dynamite topped 900,000 viewers was in October 2023 during the Dynamite Dozen Battle Royal episode. The last time Dynamite topped a million viewers was February 2023.

Despite what some fans might think these numbers do matter. They cannot be dismissed just because, for all intents and purposes, Shahid Khan bankrolled this venture. It isn’t wise professionally to keep shoveling money into a sink hole, a company that is under-performing and shows no signs of growth if only because it reflects poorly on your reputation as a business magnate. You become a laughing stock of your industry. Tony Khan may not have to pay attention to earnings season as most publicly traded companies do but AEW is not Amazon that can afford to stumble here and there. It isn’t a healthy business to begin with and there is no indication that it ever will be based on the last five years of its existence.

In the real world, people and companies you work with need to be paid. TV deals aren’t renewed due to poor or stagnant ratings. Advertisers and partners can choose to invest their time, money and personnel in better businesses that can give them healthy returns.

For those who don’t read The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, Shahid Khan is a billionaire businessman and a sports tycoon who is estimated to be worth $12.1 billion USD. Forbes ranked him 94th in the 400 list of richest Americans and is the 291st richest person in the world. He is the CEO of Flex-N-Gate a company that supplies motor vehicle parts. It employs 27,000 people and is ranked 30th in Forbes’ list of Canada’s Best Employers. It generated $8.3 billion in profit last year. Khan also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fulham F.C., AEW and The Four Seasons Hotel and Residences in Toronto. He is currently working on opening a Four Seasons property in Jacksonville, Florida. The man’s resume speaks for itself. He makes Ted DiBiase look like Skinner. He certainly knows a thing or two about operating and growing a successful business. 

People argued at the time that WCW would never go out of business with “Billionaire Ted” at the helm but it eventually did and, for good and for bad, it was bought by WWE in the end.

You don’t have support or agree with CM Punk on everything but one thing he was right when he said: “Their business, and I know a lot of people are going to be upset, is just not predicated… it’s not a real business. It’s not about selling tickets. It’s not about drawing money. It’s not about making money. It’s just not. I don’t know [what it’s about]. I think having good matches maybe? And there’s nothing wrong with that…Whether they can be successful is a matter of perspective. There’s nothing wrong with being stuck in that indie mindset…if you’re still happy that some goof gave you a five star match and the building’s a quarter full? We’re not in the same business.”

Punk is right. If you aren’t in the wrestling business to make money, improve your company, brand and reputation, you are basically a charity and that is what Tony Khan is running, a charity for wrestlers.

How can you keep your employees focused on growing the company, motivate them, increase your market share, build better working relationships with other companies and promote better cost control and budgeting when you keep throwing good money after bad?

I hate to say this but the fall of AEW sits at the feet of one person and one person only. That is Shahid Khan’s son. The poorly constructed and conceived AEW corporate infrastructure has finally caught up to the promotion with Khan desperately trying to plug the holes in the weakening dam he built in 2019 with papier mâché.

AEW’s Executive Vice Presidents. Courtesy: AEW Dynamite.

One aspect of the corporate structure alone is very eye-opening. Part of an Executive Vice President’s job is to give guidance and set a standard for all of the other supervisors and managers while also subbing for the president when the need arises. They are also supposed to help a company “achieve their financial goals, create businesses plans and solve internal issues as they arise, preside over operations, prepare budgets, identify ways to maximize revenue, ensure company policies and procedures are followed by each department and attract, retain and motivate staff.”

Those are some lofty set of objectives, aren’t they?

In his infinite wisdom Tony Khan made the Young Bucks EVPs. Based on the above description should an EVP:

  • Storm a locker room and confront an employee about them “speaking out of school”?
  • Poke fun at the situation, which by all accounts included several assaults, on national television numerous times?
  • Eight months later, flippantly introduce real backstage footage to continue their public feud with a former employee who is now employed by another promotion?
  • Use company airtime to support an employee who without the booker’s consent mentioned and mocked a serious backstage dispute live on their biggest event in the company’s history? An act which led to a violent confrontation backstage and the loss of one of the company’s biggest stars?

The above is the tip of the iceberg yet despite the persistent unprofessional conduct Tony has not stripped The Bucks of their executive positions. One only has to wonder what kind of working environment exists in AEW with Tony unwilling to do what needs to be done time and time again.

At least Kenny Omega was honest about his role as an EVP when he recently spoke on a Twitch stream about how some locker room disputes are best settled by throwing hands then shaking hands and having a beer afterwards.

“Don’t make me an EVP in 2024! You cannot do that stuff anymore. I just feel that sometimes that is how you have to settle things. This is exactly why I have no power nor should I. That is just how I feel,” Omega said.

Speaking of talent going completely off-script and childishly airing backstage feuds on the public airwaves, Will Ospreay did so on the last episode of Dynamite and we have yet to hear any kind of disciplinary action. Ospreay is the best wrestler in the world today and Paul Levesque/Triple H, who sparked the entire situation, is a top executive and booker in the industry today, yet that kind of immature pissing match makes both men look childish and unprofessional. It is like Khan cannot control his own employees.

Tony Schiavone interviews Will Ospreay at AEW Dynamite at Toronto's Coca-Cola Coliseum on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Photo by Steve Argintaru, Twitter/Instagram: @stevetsn

Tony Schiavone interviews Will Ospreay at AEW Dynamite at Toronto’s Coca-Cola Coliseum on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Photo by Steve Argintaru, Slam Wrestling. Twitter/Instagram: @stevetsn

If one or two people are criticizing you, well, that is just the peanut gallery chiming in, but when many fans, reputable media, veteran talent and other leaders in the industry are all voicing the same complaints and the same criticisms for years and years, odds are that many people cannot be wrong. The problem is Tony Khan listens to the wrong people and has surrounded himself with an echo chamber filled with people who won’t tell him the truth for fear of losing their seat on the gravy train or because he is such a nice guy. Khan may be a nice guy but that doesn’t mean he is a good businessman. If he was, the corporate foundation of AEW wouldn’t have been what it was, a club house filled with people perfectly willing to take Tony’s money for doing very little in return. How trustworthy are people who would use you and treat you like that?

It is quite clear that Tony Khan doesn’t have the wherewithal to turn his passion project into a real business nor does he have the self-awareness or the skills needed to turn AEW around. I desperately want AEW to return to its former glory. I want every brand to succeed not only as a fan who watches everything from Stardom to WWE but as someone who wants pro wrestling talent to be able to ink the best deals they can for themselves and their families. Everyone wins when there is a competitive marketplace.

I disagree with Punk when he said: “[AEW’s] always going to exist as long as Tony wants to put money into it.” It will exist as long as Shahid Khan burns his money. I would argue from one father to another, that AEW’s current state, the decision Khan made to air the All In footage along with all the other massive blunders he has made in recent years that this is one of those times when things have gone so badly and so wrong for one reason or another, that you would be irresponsible if you didn’t intercede. Someone needs to stop Tony Khan from digging that hole AEW is in and that person is Shahid Khan.