Tony Khan did an interview with Wade Keller for PWTorch.com on Friday. The interview was conducted before AEW Rampage and Khan talked about some of the changes to AEW Dynamite, the booking process, CM Punk’s impact on business, what the EVP’s do behind the scenes, and a lot more.
Here are some of the highlights:
On how quickly AEW became a full-fledged wrestling company:
“Not just a full-fledged wrestling company, Wade, but really, there’s a lot of the top sports leagues right now that we outdraw. Yeah. And people talk about these big hot sports leagues, and right now AEW out draws a lot of major sporting events on a weekly basis. So to your point, you’re absolutely right. And I give TNT a ton of credit for this, because we clearly there was a very devoted hardcore fan base. And before I got directly involved, there were you know, I think about 50,000 people that bought All In, which is really, really strong and as good as any pay per view at that point [since] Impact, which had been probably the number two company for 18 years, 17 years at that point, they had never done a number that good. And if they’d done it, I think it was probably once for the Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe cage match, I think was pretty close. But, you know, our pay-per-view numbers are all double or more of that. And our TV numbers are amazing. And I think a lot of that came when TNT did that great campaign to help build awareness for us and then AEW, we had a lot of the great wrestlers that you saw in Ring of Honor [and] in New Japan and on that particular All In show that you were at and I was at, but also tried to build a deeper roster and bring in star power from the beginning with Chris Jericho announced and then on the first show Jon Moxley showing up as the big surprise. And from then on, just continue to add star power and build. And really, I look around in the company is in some ways, really all positive ways. Honestly, if you’re the owner of the company, and if you’re a fan of the company. It’s so unrecognizable compared to the company we started with it’s pretty unthinkable, looking around seeing CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Ruby Soho, Thunder Rosa, all these awesome people that weren’t with us when we started and Malakai Black and then Andrade El Idolo, and new faces and even the people that came in last year, you know, Sting and FTR, Matt Hardy, and so many people have joined us along the way from where we started. So pretty cool.”
On people trying to discredit CM Punk’s impact on AEW’s business:
“Our numbers are so much better than they were, you know, going into the last few months and there’s been an unquestionable lift since CM Punk came in. For some reason I see people trying to discredit punk all the time that he hasn’t been a huge lift to our business. And he has been and he’s only scratching the surface. I have intentionally in working with him tried to hold back a lot of these marquee things biggest marquee matches and stories. Tonight. We are going to get into some of that Eddie Kingston is here in St. Louis and he is healthy he is ready to be here. And I want to see Punk and Eddie Kingston tonight face to face in that ring. And I am very excited going forward and maybe at Full Gear to see them lock up and I believe that is a match fans want to see and we’ve been getting Punk reintegrated building the winning streak. And I think it’s worked great. And again when you look at the rating we did for our first Wednesday back that was a really strong number last week and he was such a huge part of it kicking the show off and wrestling through the entire first segment in a great match. So he’s just lifted our business so much and I see people constantly really petty stuff trying to discredit him and it’s ridiculous because he’s done so much for us.”
Khan was asked how much credit does CM Punk get for the record buyrate for AEW All Out:
“Double Or Nothing was about as good at pay per view at that time as we could do this year. It was the first pay-per-view in wrestling in a year that in over a year that had a full or you know, outdoor stadium and thousands of fans going nuts and it was all pretty surreal to watch Double Or Nothing this year, and it was just a great show. And it did great numbers and you know that and Revolution, our first two shows of the year will way up from the year before. But they weren’t the kind of numbers we did for All Out. All Out the first time we’ve ever hit over 200,000 [buys]. And there was clearly a ton of interest in Punk’s returned to the ring. And I think, between the huge number we did for All Out, and the massive number we did for the First Dance Rampage, and the insane merchandise sales we’ve done since he came in [and] the big lift in our subscription video services. You know, we’ve we’ve seen a huge rise and subscribers to our international streaming since he came in. And I just see tons of business opportunities. I was on with TNT yesterday. They’re so excited about the direction we’re going in the future of the business. And there’s so many possibilities they see for the AEW franchise and he is one of the big stars they want to build around. The TNT executives also had a great call with Punk and talked to him and they want him to know he’s like a really valued member of the TNT Warner Media family, the TBS family. And that’s really cool. You know, I’m glad to see our network getting behind the stars.”
Khan was asked if he knows who the World Champion will be after AEW Full Gear:
“Yes, I do. But you never know things have changed. A lot of the plans I had when Jon Moxley beat Chris Jericho, we did do a lot of things I wanted to do. But a lot of the things were not possible because the pandemic hit. So I do have plans, you never know how they’re going to change. But you know, I do have a lot of plans, Kenny is on one of the great runs. And I’m not so sure we’re ready to see it end. But on the other hand, Hangman is ready. And there are a lot of fans behind him. And there are a lot of great possibilities with either person is champion, I think there are a lot of great matches ahead of both of them. And whatever the result is, it’s not the end for either man, you know, the both of them are going to come out and be in a great position. I do know, with a pretty good amount of certainty what I expect to happen. But I also am very optimistic about the futures of both of them. And I am really very excited about the championship picture. And I can’t say enough about what a great challenger Hangman is and how excited I am for him to get this opportunity. But also what a great champion Kenny is. And there are still a lot of great matches for Kenny out there as champion. So whatever the result is, I think it’ll be great for the fans.”
Khan was asked how the EVP roles have changed:
They’re still very involved in a lot of aspects of the business. A lot of those things have been enhanced. The amount of development of huge resources that we’ve allocated towards building a great console video game, Kenny Omega has led a team and has really spearheaded this project with our staff. And he’s been such a great leader. And so Kenny Omega has helped really lead the company in a few different ways in the past couple years. And working with the Young Bucks, Cody, they’re great leaders backstage with the wrestlers, I had been pretty open. It’s not, it’s not because of anybody except my own feel that I’ve probably gotten a little bit more hands on with the stuff I do, than when we started. But that makes perfect sense because I had never worked in a wrestling company, I’d only come in from the outside. So I was organizing a lot of things at the beginning. And I was like the head of a committee. And I think there are a lot of drawbacks of trying to book a wrestling show with a committee. And even if you’re at the forefront of it, it’s still a mind-bogglingly difficult process. And I kind of around the start of 2020, the end of 2019 moved more to me writing the show. And I think it helped and it’s the show’s been better for it not because everybody doesn’t have good ideas, because they’re still contributing all their ideas. And that part hasn’t changed. It’s the idea of everybody getting in a room together and trying to spitball ideas and then like three people get really into one idea. And then they get like 10 steps down on the road on it. And the other two people like wait, like, what is this? Oh, yeah, it’s just like – and that’s just an example. But in general, I found it to be much easier and more productive if I just tried to organize a show at home, like between shows, and have a good idea arriving for a TV what I want to do the next week, which is why generally until we get pretty close to the pay per view, we’re always announcing matches a week ahead. And then as we get closer, you know, to the pay per views, we’re building the pay per views, and I’m only announcing maybe a few things as opposed to the entire card for the next week…There’s they’re all still very involved in stories. And I talked to all four of them a ton about not just their programs, but what I’m doing with other people. Yeah, but I’ve just tried to be organized in a different way where I talk to talk to them all, and have a lot of compartmentalized conversations. I’ve compartmentalized a lot more things. And it’s helped me it’s helped me be better organized, I think, and especially to get through the pandemic, when there were no in person meetings, it ended up working out even better, because I had already kind of been going in that direction. And I remember talking to you in like the peak of the pandemic just to catch up, because really, I mean, it was just fun talk to people on the phone, because everybody was in quarantine, you know, nationwide. And I remember when we had shot all of the shows in QT’s gym that like I said, we were, you know, had all these great plans. And we were really on fire after Revolution. We have just crowned a new champion, Jon Moxley and the business had never been hotter. And we just come off this great pay per view Revolution. And we had this big tour planned, it all got canceled. And I’m there in Atlanta with 29% of my contracted wrestlers, in an era where the roster was so much thinner than it is now. Now, if I had 29% of the roster, I could still do a really great show, and really weeks of great shows, this was very different. And so I remember talking to you then, and the world was in a very different place than you know, a year and a half ago, and not just AEW [but] the entire world. And it’s really amazing to think about where the world is, and, you know, being able to go out and go to a wrestling show and go out to a movie again, but also where AEW is and being back on the road, back on tour with the fans. You know, from where I was talking to a year and a half ago. Wade, it’s pretty amazing how far things have come.
Khan was asked who he shares a taste in wrestling booking with among the EVP’s:
I think they all have great points. And I think I’ve come to share a lot of common ground with all four of them about different ideas. I probably talked to Matt and Nick as a pair more than as individuals because we have a group chat and the three of us talk all the time. And I really like all four guys. I have different relationships with all four guys. Um, although, you know, similar relationships with Matt and Nick. But even those are different relationships, so I don’t know…I think it’s all of them. And that’s what that’s what makes it work because there’s things — I have like a counterpoint in the soul of all four of them. I don’t agree with everything on all of them. And that is, I think why there’s a lot of different flavors in the show for different styles of wrestling in an AEW episode, because I like lots of different stuff. And they like lots of different stuff. We have lots of different creative influences in this one company. I like a lot of this stuff they like [and] there’s a lot of common ground, but they have a lot of different philosophies, but the overarching kind of philosophy at the end of the day is stuff I can get on board with.
Khan added, “They all have good ideas like for themselves and for other people….I generally have like, three different chats going with the the four people because I talk to Cody and Kenny and Matt and Nick, you know, every day, and they all have good ideas. And, and we all do see each other at the shows, and together, but like, especially with COVID, like the idea of everybody getting together for a meeting just isn’t as feasible as it used to be. And we just kind of got away from that. And, you know, everybody getting together in one room every week. And, you know, I think it is honestly, with technology and everybody being able to text ideas back and forth. And also having a week to kind of let things simmer and given me time to kind of organize the show over the weekend, it’s been a good process. The company’s grown in that time and I think we found a good work life balance.”
Khan was asked who handles the script of the show, who else sees it and what is the overall process like?”
“I write the format and I send my notes to get to QT. And then he and I write up actually take my notes and put it into like a printable TV format, which we’ll distribute and different people who would be in the production meetings and the production calls see them so that would be the Young Bucks, Cody, Kenny, Chris Jericho, CM Punk and a variety of other people across the show. The announcers, you know, and other people that want to look at the format, the coaches, Jerry Lynn, Dean Malenko, Serena Deeb, and a number of others. And you know, at the end of the day, I put the format together, and if somebody wants to get something on the show, they have to get it by me. So, you know, I meet with a lot of different people and having hundreds of different conversations throughout the week. But I find it to be a good process because I like working with everyone. And there’s lots of good ideas. But at the end of the day when it comes to like moving segments around and who says this thing goes here and this goes there, it’s it’s generally me.”
You can listen to part 1 and part 2 of the interview on PWTorchVIP.com.
If you use any portion of the quotes from this article please credit PWTorchVIP.com with a h/t to WrestlingNews.co for the transcription. A PWTorch VIP subscription includes exclusive news in daily audio shows (without ads), more than 10,000 retro podcasts going back to 2004, the Pro Wrestling Torch newlsetter library and more.