aew’s-first-year:-winning-a-ratings-war-while-fighting-the-unthinkable

All Elite Wrestling vowed to be different when it launched “AEW Dynamite” on TNT a little more than a year ago. The company believes the show has found success by delivering on its promise.

“We try to think of this more like a Netflix show,” said Matt Jackson, one half of The Young Bucks tag team with his brother Nick and one of AEW’s four executive vice presidents. “We want to pay off the viewer and make them feel happy and gratified for finally getting to the pay-per-view and ordering that pay-per-view and being like, ‘that was the end of the story.’”

Their product has made AEW the clear winner of the perceived ratings war with WWE’s NXT so far. Dynamite has also been one of the most popular Wednesday shows on cable in the coveted 18-49 demo – even as the novel coronavirus pandemic has stripped away the company’s usually raucous crowds.

“This is what we all dreamed of being, being successful, but the pandemic happened in the middle of it,” said Nick Jackson, a fellow executive vice president of AEW. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around what we’re still doing on a weekly basis.”

The company will celebrate Dynamite’s year on television with an anniversary show on Wednesday (8 p.m., TNT) in which all of its titles are on the line, including a main event between AEW champion Jon Moxley and No. 1 contender Lance Archer.

Since its debut, Dynamite has reached a total of 58 million viewers — an average of 1.09 million — thus far across all of TNT’s platforms, which includes television and streaming services, according to Warner Media. It is averaging 830,000 television viewers per week and a .32 rating in the 18-49 demo. NXT is averaging around 690,000 viewers, while “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night SmackDown” average roughly 1.7 million and 2 million, respectively.

AEW
Matt Jackson delivers a superkick to Sammy Guevara.All Elite Wrestling

Dynamite, which had its contract with TNT extended until 2023, fared 34 percent better for the network in the first quarter compared to the prior year’s Wednesday average in the same time slot. It also reached a younger audience.

Matt Jackson believes there are a few reasons for Dynamite’s success in the 18-49 demo. He sees a big plus in the ability of its roster to have matches in a variety of styles that don’t look “cookie-cutter” because a large number of AEW’s wrestlers spent time working on the independent circuit and all over the world. That’s different from merely training “in the gym,” at the WWE Performance Center, he said.

There is also the continuity in the way they tell stories that he believes fits a demo that latches on to an interesting series and is used to binge-watching episodes two, three and even four at a time. Dynamite has seen its highest increase among wrestling shows in the third quarter of 2020 versus the second quarter, according to data from Warner Media. It went over a million viewers in the P2+ (Persons aged 2 or more) for the first time this year with the Sept. 9 episode, showing that it is maintaining its audience and slowly growing it.

“With AEW, we try to make it if you watch week to week to week, you feel like you did it for a good reason,” Matt Jackson said. “You go, ‘Thank God I watched four weeks ago because they just tied up that loose end.’”

That continuity was threatened when COVID-19 hit in March, forcing a company that had only been putting on television shows for a little more than four months to figure out a way to do so without fans and as lockdown orders were being rolled out across the country. Nick Jackson said president Tony Khan was up all night after the NBA shut down on March 11 and was able to put a structure in place to film at the Daily’s Place amphitheater in Jacksonville, Fla.

But in late March, Florida issued a shelter in place order forcing AEW to move with a limited roster and shoot at wrestler QT Marshall’s gym in Norcross, Ga. A mad dash ensued to ensure AEW had enough television taped to get them to the Double or Nothing pay-per-view on May 23 during a critical time for the company.

“It felt like the whole country might shut down,” Matt Jackson said. “It was freaky and I remember we only had a few people and they were all in Atlanta and they had to band together and shoot a month’s worth of television in two days. That was the lowest of lows for everybody because it was a scary time.”

The company has since returned to the 5,500-seat Daily’s Place, Dynamite is back live and fans have returned at 10-15 percent capacity. AEW, which has been testing its talent and crew for COVID-19 since early May, did have some coronavirus cases three weeks ago with Lance Archer and enhancement talent Benjamin Carter going public with their positive tests. Nick Jackson said he can count “on both hands the amount of positives we’ve had in seven months now.”

“I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job with it all things considered,” he said.

Dynamite has had more than a million viewers four times since going on the air, a number Nick Jackson believes might be tough to hit often as it’s proving more difficult to grow the show’s audience during the pandemic. There are other challenges — beyond dealing with a pandemic — the brothers have come across while producing weekly TV for the first time. Nick Jackson said the hardest thing has been trying to keep the content fresh, not having the same styles of matches, stipulations and even similar moves in some cases to make each show feel unique. They also have to keep everyone happy. Finding television time for all the talent hasn’t been easy, leaving members of the roster to work on “AEW Dark,” the company’s YouTube show, instead.

“That’s something we talk about on a weekly basis, trying to fit more talent onto the show [Dynamite],” Nick Jackson said. “It’s almost impossible. We try and it’s something we’re still working on.”

Since AEW launched last January, it’s seen a large influx of talent from promotions such as the NWA, Impact, NXT, and WWE. Many of the former WWE talents have been quickly pushed into prominent roles. FTR (The Revival) are the company’s tag team champions and Brodie Lee (Luke Harper) won the TNT title before losing it back to Cody Rhodes last week. Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose) has been AEW’s world champion since beating Chris Jericho for the title in early March. The company recently signed Miro (Rusev). This trend has drawn some criticism, but Nick Jackson insists AEW won’t make the same mistakes others have made

AEW
AEW champion Jon Moxley dives through the ropes at Eddie Kingston.All Elite Wrestling

“I guess they’ve seen what it could do, but I feel like, the guys involved here won’t allow it to happen, which is letting former WWE wrestlers take control of the company,” he said. “That’s not gonna happen here. We have the structure already. We’re just hiring the guys who we feel weren’t used right or utilized 100 percent. We’re showing the world that, ‘hey this is how you could have booked those guys this way.’”

The year has seen AEW create some new stars, in Darby Allin, MJF, Orange Cassidy and the Jurassic Express. The Young Bucks see Allin and Jurassic Express building on their success in year two and potential breakout years for The Dark Order (particularly John Silver and Alex Reynolds), Marko Stunt, “Hangman” Adam Page and Kenny Omega.

“There are people from everywhere, all walks of life,” Matt Jackson said. “If someone from five years ago saw this roster, they’d go, ‘wait a minute, what wrestling group is that?’ It almost looks like we’ve collected the most talented wrestlers from all over the world and we’ve created this dream company.”

AEW should have more opportunities to showcase its talent. It is hopeful to add a separate hour-long television show in 2021. The Young Bucks also see that as a way to help their often-criticized women’s division. It can also allow other new talents to develop and continue much deeper storylines on TV, much like Brandi Rhodes’ tense tag team friendship with Allie and Brandon Cutler and Peter Avalon’s feud of winless wrestlers playing out on Dark.

“That second show can be the way that they can showcase all these other talents,” Matt Jackson said. “People can get behind them. They can cultivate a following.”

AEW produced a “Late Night Dynamite” on Sept. 22, a Tuesday night following an NBA playoff game on TNT. The show ended up airing at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time and drew an audience of 585,000 and a 0.26 rating in the demo. While Warner Media hasn’t officially stated anything to AEW, the Young Bucks saw it as a potential dry run for how a second show may be used – being put on after one of the media company’s sports properties.

“I had this kind of feeling that was dipping the toes in and seeing what it was,” Matt Jackson said. “I had no clue we would get those numbers at a 12:45 a.m. show. We were very happy with that.”

Just as they are with the success of Dynamite.