Success is hard to quantify. In my life, I’ve decided that success would be living comfortably and treating those around me with respect and care. Obviously, the business world is different and is often driven by much more exciting ideas such as obtaining infinite money or putting a competitor in the dirt. If you’re not in that space, you may not recognize the difficulties this presents, and how the allure of one more dollar tomorrow can blind you to a stable path towards it over the course of the next several decades.
AEW is here to stay. If you’re reading this and think, “actually, once the TV deal is up, they’re owned real hard, and WBD is gonna leave this golden goose wallowing in the mud,” please stop reading. In fact, here’s a link to Easy E’s podcast so you can have another goofy old suit talk about things he doesn’t understand. You’re welcome!
If you’re someone who understands that AEW is a strong value proposition, you understand that the only discussion pertaining to their deal is scale. Will AEW make eleventy-billion dollars? Eleventy trillion? A measly eleventy hundred-million? These numbers are all pie in the sky and unfathomable to you for a few reasons. Reason one: eleventy isn’t a real number, I fooled you all! Reason two: Hundreds of millions and billions of dollars is a lot of money.
Tony Khan has a decision to make, and for the first time in his life he may actually need to drop his business hat in order to make it. It is almost certainly true that having access to CM Punk for TV ratings will make this next TV deal much stronger. It is absolutely true that if he somehow finds a way to do this, CM Punk is going to embarrass him in front of the world yet again if he can keep his bones intact long enough to do so. Tony Khan may very well turn a $900M TV deal into a billion dollar TV deal, or even a $1.1B dollar TV deal, but like most things in this world there is an associated cost.
If you need to understand who brought this promotion to the dance, I’d encourage you to examine the second letter in its name and what it stands for. Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and even “Hangman” Adam Page are great wrestlers with great brand value, and the hardcore fanbase of the promotion is almost unreasonably attached to these wrestlers. Naturally, CM Punk and his associate Ace Steel found a way to piss off those guys, and to even get in a physical altercation. Whatever version of events you believe, there isn’t one that’s come out that makes CM Punk or Ace Steel a positive to locker room morale.
But things can change right? Well not if you’re CM Punk. CM Punk is a sentient black cloud, capable of great flashy things just long enough to make you forget that at the end of it all he will find a way to piss on your parade. There’s no expectation that he will work out in the long-term, the only question being honestly posed right now is “Can Tony keep Punk happy long enough to secure an inflated rights deal?” Better still is the fact that CM Punk took the time and energy to answer that question for us yesterday, and the answer was a resounding no.
Make no mistake, this is a pattern of behavior for Punk. When he was in WWE, he was a top five most pushed act and left in a blaze of glory. When he was in the IWA, he made enemies. When he was in WWE developmental, stories of him being difficult to deal with filled newsletters week to week. When he was in ROH, he was mostly on good behavior — well, except for some incidents with Kevin Steen, Teddy Hart, and this recently rediscovered story in an interview with Colt Cabana.
He can’t get along with The Elite, he’s called out every newsletter of repute and has made enemies with every locker room leader who’ll give him an audience. After being given a second chance in a business he fled ten years ago, he pissed on the opportunity at the first sign of inconvenience. He’s never been afraid to take his ball and go home, and that will not change now that he has more leverage and power than ever.
And so, if you’re Tony Khan, you have a choice to make. You’ve done the impossible, you created a competitive second wrestling company in the United States within five years. You’ve differentiated yourself, and you’ve got long-term commitments from some of the best wrestlers in the world, and more importantly, you have their respect. You’ve created an alternative to the WWE that has grown organically and a locker room that, for the most part, feels bereft of drama when Punk and Steel aren’t involved.
That’s a world you could live in, a victory lap you could take for the next decade.
Or, you could turn an unfathomable amount of money into a slightly larger unfathomable amount of money, and risk compromising everything you have worked to create since AEW started. In the world of wrestling, success stories are often rare and fleeting. Brands like WCW are touted as world-changing when their runs are often around a decade in length, and their period of success is even smaller than that.
AEW can be the strongest of the bunch just by treading water for the next decade. The company itself is an unmitigated success story, and my only hope is that that can be enough.
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