The prospect of a new national promotion in the United States is a tantalizing one for wrestling fans.
Part of the reason that this is so beguiling is a positive thing – the success of AEW from its launch in 2019 has provided a roadmap for how to go about establishing a new promotion. However, part of this is also a response to a negative development. Most of us believed that the emergence of AEW as a competitor for WWE would for the first time in decades create an environment where the wrestler had a strong negotiating hand against the promotion. However, NXT’s dismal defeat in the Wednesday Night Wars led to a reversal of Vince McMahon’s years-long policy of talent hoarding and mass releases have become a frequent occurrence. And really, who can blame them? The entire purpose of their talent hoarding was to render unviable any attempts to set up a new promotion. But AEW happened anyway so what’s the point of having all these guys down in their Florida warehouse? So now we have this situation where there is a clear blueprint for success and a ton of good wrestlers without a contract just waiting to be employed. A lot of fans seem to think that all we need now is for some weirdo Mark Cuban/Jeff Jarrett/Triple H alliance to come along and open the doors of a new promotion. It may not be as easy as that.
Let’s consider some of the main factors:
Since the first batch of cuts in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, WWE hashave released an absolute ton of wrestlers. 79 wrestlers have left the company in 2021 alone. Alongside this, Ring of Honor has announced that they will no longer be retaining wrestlers on permanent contracts, instead of reverting to their old policy of paying per booking. This means that there are a lot of seasoned wrestlers out there without contracts. Indeed, one could argue that there is a far better standard of free-agent availability now than in 2019 when AEW was first putting together its roster. Leaving aside those who have already been picked up by AEW, there are still a lot of people available to the point where you could easily sketch out a solid roster with a clear hierarchy.
Of the talent available right now, the likes of Bandito, Jonathan Gresham and Swerve Scott could easily be brought in immediately and positioned as future stars. There are also plenty of workhorse types, such as Oney Lorcan, Samuray Del Sol, Taylor Rust and Buddy Matthews who may not have the charisma to be top stars but would be a vital component to putting on the quality of match that the current wrestling audience expects from their weekly TV. Acts such as The Briscoes and The Kingdom from ROH could form the beginnings of a decent tag team division while Nixon Newell, Athena and Mia Yim are all women with years of television experience around which a division could be built. There are even people like ECIII and Karrion Kross who may not be to the tastes of the likely audience of this article but would stand out on television due to their looks. The recent purge of Triple H allies from the NXT offices, most notably William Regal, means that there is also an abundance of experienced staff that would be vital to having a well-organized backstage structure in the early days of this hypothetical promotion.
However, there is also clearly something missing. Something vital. That is, star names who can be counted on to draw attention right out of the gate.
Bray Wyatt is a free agent but doesn’t seem particularly interested in wrestling anymore. Braun Strowman is also out there and was around the WWE main events for years. However, WWE waswere probably correct in their assessment that his novelty as a big man has worn off as his body breaks down. John Morrison is a relatively recognizable name who main evented in Impact and Lucha Underground but was never a WWE headliner. And Jeff Hardy is probably beyond his days of being a tentpole babyface star (and likely goes to AEW for one last tag team run with his brother Matt anyway.)
None of these people are anywhere near the level of star that Chris Jericho was when he signed for AEW on day one. None of them have the connection to a longstanding and diehard loyal fanbase like that cultivated by The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes in the late 2010s. And no one is close to having the vibe of wronged main event talent who was ready to be unleashed from the shackles of WWE creative to fulfill their real potential in the way that Jon Moxley embodied in 2019.
There are great announcers like Ian Riccaboni who could be the voice of a promotion but none that carry the mainstream kudos of Jim Ross, whatever we think of his actual performances. The only person who potentially ticks any of these boxes is Matt Cardona; he was on WWE TV for years, he has shown that he is adept at getting himself over through social media marketing and he clearly has something to prove being buried and then discarded by McMahon. But as good of a signing as he would be for a start-up promotion, he pales in comparison to any of the names mentioned above.
Some have argued that there is a simple solution to this problem – make your own stars. But it is pretty tough to make stars without already having stars to put them over. Would Kazuchika Okada have been as big a star without Hiroshi Tanahashi? Or to stick with the AEW comparison, would Darby Allin have gotten over as big without the match with Chris Jericho and the rivalry with Cody Rhodes to give him the rub? The path to stardom would certainly have been a lot more difficult without them.
Related to this is the issue of finding a television deal. The reality of the modern wrestling landscape is that to make it big, you have to be on TV. WWE is completely reliant on its huge television deals while AEW is basically a wrestling TV show – it doesn’t run house shows at all. The good news for anyone looking to create a new promotion with a TV deal is that wrestling is doing comparatively well on television. Monday Night Raw’s year-over-year drops may seem scary but last week’s number showed a decline that was roughly commensurate with the cable average. Smackdown meanwhile usually does the highest demo of the night in its Friday slot on Fox, albeit with much lower total viewership than its competitors. AEW has, with Dynamite, arguably the most successful show of the three in that it is actually posting yearly growth in total viewership and demographic – something that no other wrestling show can tout. Tony Khan has proved that Vince McMahon isn’t the only person that can make wrestling a viable entity for major American television stations and, while all signs point to them getting a substantial increase on their deal in 2024, at around $45 million per year for Dynamite, Rampage and their quarterly specials, AEW offers Turner remarkable value for money.
So if you’re a television executive surveying the landscape and searching for relatively cheap but dependable content, perhaps you consider pro wrestling in a way that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But this prompts some considerable questions. Firstly, what channels would be interested in wrestling? I am no expert on American television so this is not even a rhetorical question. Who would consider jumping in? One possible home is Vice. They already run the successful Dark Side of the Ring documentary series and have experimented with running original wrestling content alongside this in the form of MLW.
Following one episode with lackluster viewership, this was not continued. (Note: this deal is now the subject of a significant legal case brought by MLW against WWE, who they accuse of attempting to negatively influence their ability to find a television home.) Vice was also rumored to be interested in broadcasting New Japan shows, although the fact that New Japan turned down the deal they were offered suggests that Vice would not be able to provide the finances to make a new promotion viable. Perhaps instead a sports network such as ESPN would be interested in wrestling as a dependable schedule filler, although there is the potential that there could be a lot of pre-emption for live sports.
There’s also the issue of finding a night to put the show on. Every night of the week has first-runfirst run wrestling programming on American TV. So would you suck it up and try to go head to head with an existing show? Really the only ones that you could take on successfully are NXT 2.0 on a Tuesday night or Impact on a Thursday. Other than entering into a risky head-to-head battle, you could perhaps instead seek to piggyback off of AEW Dynamite by starting just as it finishes up on TBS and hope that wrestling viewers are in the mood to watch some more. But then you’re counting on the audience not to be burned out by whatever another promotion is doing before you go on air.
This is probably the most important factor of all. Yeah, there may be a lot of talent available to sign. Yeah, television executives might be more willing these days to give a hearing to a pitch from a wrestling show. But is anyone going to actually watch it? As the previous section touched on, there is already a lot of wrestling on TV. If you wanted to watch all of the first run wrestling programming on TV across the week, you’re looking at a 12-hour commitment between three hours for Raw, two hours each for NXT, Dynamite, Impact and Smackdown as well as an extra hour for Rampage. It would be incorrect to imply that these shows all have huge amounts of crossover in their audience. But the reality is that you’d be trying to find an audience predominantly among those who are already watching some wrestling that week.
So who are you going to target? WWE fans or AEW fans? And what are you going to offer them that isn’t already available across all these other shows? There has to be a unique selling point. Maybe you could do shoot style or something, which would be completely different to what is currently on offer. But that has always proven to be a niche. Maybe a lucha influenced show targeted towards the Latin American demographic would be more fruitful, but that may require more specific knowledge and talent signings than doing a typical American wrestling show. The reality is that it’s pretty hard to capture people’s attention in 2022, especially in a wrestling landscape where two or three promotions already eat up a huge amount of the discourse. Although AEW and WWE do pretty well, the next promotion after them, Impact, wavers at in and around 100,000 viewers per week. One could argue that this is an accessibility problem, no pun intended – AXS pales in comparison to Fox, USA and TBS for visibility. Or it could be argued that its an issue of quality, or lack thereof. But it could also be the case that there simply aren’t enough people interested in watching another wrestling program consistently once they’ve gotten their fill from WWE or AEW.
Also to be kept in mind is that this promotion is going to have to draw on the road as well as on TV. Perhaps it could be run from a studio but the Wednesday Night Wars, as well as WWE’s empty arena shows during the first months of the pandemic, proved that being in a small building and looking like small-time promotion generally is off-putting to viewers. Currently, GCW marks try to tout their promotion as the third biggest in the United States off the back of around 2,000 tickets sold for the Hammerstein Ballroom show. New Japan, albeit colder than it has been in years, does around the same for a big American show these days. ROH can’t even get that many tickets sold. AEW does well in a lot of markets, having succeeded remarkably in New York and Chicago in recent months. However, Dynamite is far from a guaranteed sell out. Major WWE events like Summerslam and the Royal Rumble have done tremendously well since live crowds have returned but house show ticket sales have been soft at best while Raw and Smackdown both struggle to sell out in arenas even with half capacity set-ups. This is not WCW in 1998. So how viable is it for a new promotion to come onto the scene and consistently sell enough tickets to justify national touring while looking good on TV? Especially without major stars who come with pre-existing loyal fanbases. You could seek to run regions that have been underserved by AEW so far – they haven’t yet done a show on the West Coast and there are plenty of large metropolitan areas across California, Washington, and Oregon from which to draw an audience. But you’d have to move fast because its unlikely that AEW neglects these states forever.
This one is pretty simple but also fundamental. A new promotion needs to have a big money backer to get off the ground before they even think of putting on a show. You need a ring. You need a stage. You need a touring organization to bring it around the country. You need to book venues. And of course, you need to sign and pay wrestlers and staff at a competitive rate, especially because other promotions may be sniffing around them and it’s easier for them to go with a safe bet over an unproven prospect. So we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars here potentially.
Does anyone have that type of money and feel like burning it to turn their wrestling booking fantasies into real life?
Finding one of those people in Tony Khan seemed too good to be true for wrestling fans. Finding another is an even tougher prospect. But how many fans really knew about Khan before he burst onto the scene. Yeah, he would have been relatively visible to football fans as the chairman of Fulham FC but how many of those knew he was also a big wrestling fan?
The point is, there could be more of these people out there that we simply do not know about. As a long term message board poster and Wrestling Observer Newsletter reader, Khan’s understanding of the business was more akin to that of a hardcore fan as opposed to a money mark with hazy memories of seeing Hulk Hogan on TV as a child. Will another super rich investor have the correct influences and instincts to go along with the money? There is an outside chance that there’s a billionaire Keepin’ It 100 mark who’ll pay Disco Inferno a ton of money to book a promotion. That would get ugly very quickly.
These points frequently get misinterpreted as me not wanting a third promotion to exist. Or thinking that it’s impossible.
Neither is the case.
I’d love it if more people wanted to throw ridiculous amounts of money at wrestling. It would be great fun and there would be a lot of drama. But we also have to consider the realism of this. There are a lot of pieces in place that make a new national promotion a possibility. But there are also some huge questions that need to be answered as to its viability.
I understand the impulse of wrestling fans to want another promotion. A lot of wrestlers that they like have lost jobs and it would be great if somewhere existed for them all to be signed to. What a way to land on your feet after WWE releases you or ROH cuts your contract, especially with AEW’s roster increasingly packed out. But some rich guy isn’t going to set up a promotion just to give people jobs out of the goodness of their heart. Instead, we may have to come to terms with a more difficult reality. That WWE’s hoarding of talent over the last few years has created an overproduction of wrestlers that the business cannot sustain. Independent promotions and training schools had to pump out more wrestlers to fill the gaps left in the scene as WWE hoovered up anyone with the slightest name recognition. But now that many of these people have been shed, as well as the evaporation of ROH as a permanent employer, we may have reached a sad point where there are more wrestlers than there are bookings and that some people might not be able to make a living from this anymore.
A new national promotion may be the panacea to this huge issue. Or it may just be a fantasy.
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