Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo talk the week’s wrestling business news, including a look at various consumer-driven metrics for AEW and WWE over time. Plus an assessment of the state of the media ecosystem as Netflix subscribers stall and CNN+ is shutdown soon after launching.
Edit: YouTube views in the table below have been corrected, which overcounted YouTube views for Q2 2021 and prior, resulting in negative comparisons for 2021 and 2022.
All Elite Wrestling made splash play after splash play over the past year. It began with CM Punk’s return to pro wrestling and debut with AEW in August. That moment was followed up by the double debuts of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson at the end of All Out in September. Since then, fan fervor for AEW has been on up the upswing as more talent continue to be brought into AEW.
It’s less likely the company that launched in 2019 will be very profitable until it gets a significant upgrade in U.S. media rights fees, which could be the result of negotiations that happen in the next year or two. But the data shows AEW’s revenues and other key metrics have grown over time.
The metrics measured above are TV ratings, pay-per-view buys, YouTube search and Google web search. It is worth noting the numbers for Friday night program Rampage are not included in the data because the show is not a year old yet.
For AEW Dynamite, the show has seen a 29% growth in overall viewership through the first quarter of 2022. In the P18-49 demo, AEW’s flagship program has experienced a 28% growth through the first quarter of 2022. These numbers coincide with Dynamite’s move from TNT to TBS and having a strong lead-in from The Big Bang Theory. AEW also benefited from full-capacity crowds compared to limited crowds in 2021.
For AEW’s main four pay-per-views, with the exception of Double or Nothing, every show saw at least 50% growth in pay-per-view buys. All Out 2021 exceeded 200,000 pay-per-views, the most for a U.S. pay-per-view since 1999. In the first quarter of 2022, Revolution did not see the same growth in 2021, but it still was up 17% from 2021.
YouTube views and Google web search are not an exact science, but they do provide a view on how often people are watching content and how often a topic is in the mind of consumers.
YouTube views have grown 8% through the first quarter of 2021, but Q2 and Q3 do not seem to be great quarters for AEW, according to 2021 numbers. While Dynamite has seemed to have found a groove on cable television, it appears there is a lot more room for improvement when it comes to the digital space in places like YouTube.
YouTube data was sourced from Social Blade, which takes a daily count of the public video view count on a channel’s page. That data was adjusted by Wrestlenomics to correct for videos removed or re-added, which influences the view count.
In April, Brandon Thurston tweeted an analysis of worldwide Google web search for “active” wrestling personalities through January and March 2022. The top three of the list featured WWE talent, with Cody Rhodes taking fourth, though Rhodes now is with WWE.
To be clear, WWE is ahead of AEW in all categories discussed here, in some cases by multiples, with the exception of pay-per-view. WWE distributes its pay-per-view equivalent events primarily on streaming services like Peacock.
However, AEW itself has seen sharp growth in Google web search. In worldwide searches, AEW has grown 50% through 2022 Q1, and in the United States, AEW has grown 57% through 2022 Q1. While these numbers are promising, like YouTube, there is room for improvement in the digital space for AEW.
With no notable social distancing restrictions as compared to 2021 and Covid vaccine requirements only depending upon the state, city or county, 2022 continued the progress made in 2021 in the regular running of pro wrestling shows across the country since a general restart on or around July 2021.
What follows is an analysis of pro wrestling shows run in the United States between January 1 and March 27, 2022. (I cut-off the date prior to March 31 to avoid WrestleMania weekend craziness and any shows that are trackable will be included in the mid-year report.)
This report excludes WWE and AEW and focuses on promotions outside this spotlight.
LOCAL PROMOTIONS STILL HAVE LEGS AND SOME SHOW BIG GAINS
In the sections that follow, we focus on some of the national or international promotions and how they drew. As evidenced below, there are legs left in local promotion when several elements align: right talent, right town, right niche. Outside of the notable Game Changer Wrestling event at the Hammerstein Ballroom (detailed later), the shows below outdrew any standalone GCW, NWA, Impact, New Japan Pro Wrestling or MLW shows in most cases by a wide margin.
Big Time Wrestling drew 3,000+ in Chillicothe, Ohio on March 12.
NEW (Northeast Wrestling) showed it can still draw for its biggest events even after all these years with 1,622 on hand in Poughkeepsie, New York on January 22 and 2,234 in Waterbury, Connecticut on March 27 for the Hardys.
Mucha Lucha Atlanta quietly drew another big house of 1,300 on March 6.
Big Time Wrestling drew 1,200 in the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium in Spartanburg, South Carolina on January 22, with some reports listing 1,000 and even up to 2,000.
Prestige Wrestling in Portland, Oregon drew a reported 1,000 on February 20 for a sellout in Portland’s Roseland Theater, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
GCW: BIG MILESTONE AND SOME MARKET SATURATION?
Game Changer Wrestling ran 12 shows in the first quarter of 2022 in advance of “The Collective” series of events in Dallas, Texas at the end of March and early April.
GCW’s most visible event was, of course, the show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on January 23, drawing a sellout 2,025. The total attendance was higher than previous wrestling sellouts in the venue due to the seating arrangement.
As the promotion moves to run larger venues, other notable events included drawing 800 in attendance at Harpos in Detroit on January 14 and about 600 at Center Stage in Atlanta on March 12 (about a 75% full house).
The promotion ran its first double shot in Los Angeles on February 25 and 26. The event on the 25th was its usual sellout at The UCC, with 800 fans. However the event on the 26th was the first time the promotion did not sell-out at the venue, with 50 short of a sellout.
A show planned at The Roxy in West Hollywood, California on March 24 immediately sold out its initial allotment of 175 seats and sold out the remaining 50 general admission seats by the afternoon of the show for a total of 225 in attendance.
The show in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on January 15 sold out rows 1-5 with Standing Room Only available.
Not everything was rosy for the promotion. Quick returns to Houston on February 4 (with 250 in attendance in a 300 seat setup) and Dallas on February 5 (in a new venue and down 75 tickets sold from the last show in that city) yielded lower attendances.
A show on January 1 (the later half of a New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day double-shot) and another double-shot in February on the 19th and 20th in Atlantic City reflected slower advance sales. The Atlantic City event’s performance may be attributable to fewer marquee matchups than in the past rather than just overexposure. In correspondence with GCW promoter Brett Lauderdale, he attributed the February shows’ attendances to a potential “hangover” following the Hammerstein excitement. Lauderdale chalked up the winter shows drawing lower attendances overall to the limited appeal in the beach town during that season.
IMPACT: AN EXPANDED TAPING SCHEDULE AND A MODEST DRAW
On January 8 and 9 Impact ran a double shot at The Factory in Dallas, Texas. In my hand count of the map, the “Hard to Kill” pay-per-view event on the 8th sold-out with 455 tickets distributed. The television taping on the 9th had 400 in attendance, or 88% of setup capacity.
Impact ran a double-shot in Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s Charles Dodge Center. The venue can seat up to 3,200 generally and was set up for 275 reserved seats. My hand count revealed 214 and 223 tickets distributed in a two night stand on January 21 and 22.
On February 19 and 20, the company ran the Alario Center in Westwego, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. The Observer listed 500 and 200 in attendance, respectively, for the events. I had a hand count of 392 reserved seats initially available with 158 and 56 distributed, respectively, each night.
Impact ran Paristown Hall in Louisville, Kentucky on March 5 and 6. The venue can seat up to 2,000 and I had a hand count of 251 of the 268 reserved seats made available the first night.
The company returned to the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia on the evenings of March 18 and 19. On the morning of the 18th, I hand counted the ticket map as having 265 and 358 tickets distributed, respectively, for each night.
NEW JAPAN: A QUIET 1ST QUARTER WITH A BIG SHOW AHEAD
With a big show to close out pro wrestling at the Odeum falling in the second quarter of 2022 on April 16, the first quarter was relatively quiet for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
A collaboration with DEFY in Washington Hall in Seattle yielded a sellout of 600 fans on January 15.
A taping at The Vermont Hollywood in Los Angeles on February 17 drew a few hundred fans according to the Observer.
A show on March 20 in St. Petersburg, Florida, at The Coliseum was yielding an advance of under 250 tickets distributed a few weeks out. Seat kills made it hard to determine the final number but ticket sales were a struggle nonetheless. The Observer reported the attendance as 700.
MLW: RETURN TO DALLAS & CHARLOTTE DEBUT
Major League Wrestling returned to Dallas in a new venue, Gilley’s, on January 21. WrestleTix listed 734 of the 934 reserved tickets distributed. The Observer reported the event drew 908.
The February 26 show at The Grady Cole Center in Charlotte drew 850 according to the Observer. PWInsider listed between 900-950 in attendance.
NWA: A TRIED AND TRUE PARTNER & NASHVILLE RESIDENCY
The National Wrestling Alliance partnered with Tried-N-True, an independent pro wrestling promotion based in Tennessee, on February 12 and drew a sellout of 450 in Oak Grove, Kentucky.
The Crockett Cup was held on March 19th and 20th in the rebuilt Nashville Fairgrounds and a hand count of the map the morning of the first show revealed 366 and 312 of 522 reserved seats distributed, respectively, for each night. There were three days of studio tapings that followed at Skyway Studios from March 21st to 23rd (a venue also used by Impact on July 17th through the 19th of 2021). The first night of tapings was listed on the ticket sales page as sold out.
NO ROH SHOWS THIS QUARTER
With Ring of Honor going dark for an initial reimagining (only for an announcement that Tony Khan of AEW was buying the company), no shows were run in this quarter by the company formerly owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. The Supercard of Honor took place outside of this report on April 1st.
OTHER NOTABLE EVENTS
Maryland Championship Wrestling drew 800 on February 5 in Hollywood, Maryland.
Warrior Wrestling expanded outside of its usual venues with two shows. On January 22, it ran the Bendix Arena in South Bend Indiana with the Observer listing 550 in attendance and Cagematch listing 300. Its show in Cicero Stadium in Cicero, Illinois on February 12 drew 600.
Southern Honor Wrestling drew crowds over 500 on January 7 and February 4 in Canton, Georgia.
TERMINUS drew 275 on January 16 and 350 on February 24 in Atlanta.
PWG drew its usual sellout of 600 to the Globe Theater in Los Angeles on January 30.
Championship Wrestling presented by Carshield drew a sellout of 550. PWInsider reported that 75 to 100 were turned away.
Beyond Wrestling drew 400 to FETE Music Hall in Providence, Rhode Island on February 4.
CZW quietly ran shows once again. There were events on January 22 and February 6 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, drawing 40 and 100, respectively.
Control Your Narrative drew 150 at the Tin Roof in Icon Park in Orlando, Florida.
BY THE NUMBERS
A total of 105 shows were tracked for this report. Of the 86 shows with an attendance available, the average attendance was 399. This mirrors almost exactly the 395 average attendance found in the second-half 2021 report.
Given that there were probably 10 to 15 times more events domestically, this is just a snapshot and shouldn’t be applied to any trend overall or meant in any way as a representative sample. Additionally, Georgia Wrestling History provides several local results per week so those may skew a wider analysis of attendance lower based on the volume of small Georgia shows.
In addition to confidence in my own abilities to hand count ticket maps, credit is due to WrestleTix, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Cagematch, PWInsider, The Wrestling Estate, Georgia Wrestling History, local media coverage, correspondence with Brett Lauderdale of GCW, as well as self-reporting by other promoters.
All information provided was to the best of my knowledge. Any factual errors are unintentional and will be corrected in future editions. Please reach out at any time with a concern or correction via Laviemarg@Lioncubjobsearch.com.
Disclosure/disclaimer: I am currently a shareholder of WWE stock. I have held stock in Sinclair Broadcasting Group in the past but do not currently hold any shares.
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