Opinion: What AEW could learn from ADKAR

“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.” – Brittany Forsyth

Last month, I wrote an article where I addressed the potential for toxic positivity existing in AEW. I did not quite understand the extent of it until I watched the AEW All Out post show press conference on September 4. I came to the conclusion that it’s worse than I originally thought after listening to the comments of CM Punk, and then hearing that after the press conference there was a violent outbreak. 

On September 7, Tony Khan announced that the world title and the newly-minted trios titles were vacated. It was reported by Sports Illustrated that all parties involved in the alleged melee; including CM Punk, Kenny Omega, and both the Young Bucks; were suspended. Needless to say, AEW has a few problems.

The signs were always present. When AEW became a viable alternative to WWE and an attractive destination for wrestlers, for all praises that were sung for AEW, there were people in the background, like Brian Cage and Joey Janela, who, while they didn’t outwardly bash AEW, seemed to not be creatively fulfilled.

In business psychology, one of the tools taught to organizational leaders when things start to go awry is the Prosci ADKAR Model. It’s an important model to look at when the toxicity of an organization has spilled over into the public and is no longer simply an “in-house” issue. ADKAR uses five building blocks for successful change: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. 

ADKAR methodology is usually associated with managers, but it can be used to improve overall culture. In this article, I am going to go over each step in the process to examine AEW.

Awareness – of the need for change. The first major component to the Prosci ADKAR methodology is the understanding that changes in the organization have to happen. One can hardly watch the All Out press conference and assume anything other than AEW has issues. From my vantage point, it’s got more issues than a subscription to The New York Times. Their world champion CM Punk went on an expletive-filled rant about the EVPs of the company, Colt Cabana (referred to in the press conference by his real name, Scott Colton), and Hangman Adam Page. Punk said:

“It’s 2022! I haven’t been friends with this guy [Cabana] since at least 2014/late-2013, and the fact that I have to sit up here because we have irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs, and couldn’t fucking manage a Target, and they spread lies and bullshit and put [it out in the] media that I got somebody fired when I have fuck all to do with him, want nothing to do with him, do not care where he works, where he doesn’t work, where he eats, where he sleeps. And the fact that I have to get up here and do this in 2022 is fucking embarrassing.” 

He said all this while eating breakfast pastries.

The part I find the most amusing about this rant is Punk laments needing to “have to” talk about Cabana, when no one at this particularly press event asked Punk about Cabana. Punk interrupted before the first question of the scrum could be asked and went into his tirade. Anyway, I digress. 

Whether one likes Punk or not, this complaint speaks volumes to a management problem in AEW and there is at least one wrestler who is publicly implying that he has no respect for management. Khan needs to examine this thoroughly. Punk’s rant was unprofessional and wrong, but before we go blaming him and dubbing him the cancer in this situation, Khan needs to sit down with every single person on his roster to see who or what is the problem in this company and why it has gotten so bad that it has spilled over to the public. Prosci maintains that the ADKAR Methodology is based on the understanding that organizational change can only happen when individuals change. 

The question Khan has to ask himself is, “Did CM Punk join AEW and introduce this toxic behavior to the locker room?” or “Did this toxic behavior in the AEW locker room already exist and Punk just shined a light on it?”

From there, he can determine if the goals of people in the locker room are congruent with the organizational goals of AEW as a whole. If the individuals involved in the backstage altercation do not have goals that are aligned with the companies, this means that they are not a good fit for AEW, which brings me too…

Desire – to participate in and support change. This step is important in the ADKAR process because it gets rid of all of the bad apples that do not want to be there. For a lot of people, change is scary. The fear of change is why a lot of people stay in loveless marriages or jobs that they hate. Moreover, humans are wired to fear change. For the Bucks, Page, and Omega, they have been operating one way in AEW that they have been used to and were comfortable with. For Punk, he has made clear that there are certain individuals that he does not like. If all of these individuals are to maintain their influence in AEW they will need to have a desire to change and get over whatever egos that they may have. They will have to want to change.

Knowledge – on how to change. Outside of just AEW, I often wonder who wrestling companies defer to when talent is dealing with mental health issues. From a historical standpoint, while there have been successful wrestlers who have retired and have meaningful lives once their careers are done, there are plenty who have died early, get incarcerated, and seemingly do not know what to do once they are out of the limelight. I believe a lot of these issues come from the fact that wrestling is a bottom line business. Promoters pay close attention to who is drawing, who is selling merchandise, and what wrestlers have the highest ratings when they are on screen. It would behoove all wrestling companies to hire Industrial and Organizational Psychologists or I/O Psychologists. It’s the job of I/O psychologists to understand what is going on with individuals in the companies, through interviews, questionnaires, and observations. 

As soon as the All Out press conference ended, I started seeing memes across the internet of Khan looking confused and disheveled after Punk’s rant. What I found the saddest about all of this is, I seriously doubt that he saw it coming. To fully understand the knowledge milestone in ADKAR, Khan is going to have to hire people to do necessary research and actually get to know his talent, who will maintain the anonymity but will report common complaints.

Ability – to implement desired skills and behaviors. This milestone in the process comes when people in the organization have the ability to implement change once other steps have been completed. The toxicity that AEW is experiencing did not happen overnight. It didn’t even begin when CM Punk joined AEW or when Cody Rhodes quit AEW. The potential for this chaos in AEW existed the minute Khan came up with the idea of starting the company. Since AEW is still in its infancy, these negative behaviors are not yet baked in and can change if the individuals in the company want and desire change. 

Reinforcement – to sustain the change. Finally, the ADKAR methodology understands that it’s easy for an organization to jump back into bad habits. Some of these bad habits in wrestling have been going on for decades. There are plenty of wrestlers historically who have relished and even celebrated bad behavior. I do think that is starting to change, but old habits die hard. AEW needs to make clear to talent that these public call outs and people going into business for themselves in promos will not be tolerated by anyone.

Khan actually set a precedent against this by doing things like publicly tweeting why he got rid of Big Swole. He set the stage for “call out” culture where talent goes public rather than keeping discontent in-house. 


Somewhere along the way, Khan lost control and it resulted in a culture of disrespect among top talent in the company, which will continue to spill over to other talent if it’s not addressed. I believe that blame in this situation can be easily spread. I think Khan hired the EVPs because they could interact with other talent in a relatable way. 

I don’t think anyone in this situation has to be fired, including Punk. However, if this conflict results in litigation, then all bets are off. 

I don’t think the EVPs titles should take away because this is their first true test. I believe if they survive this, they will become better EVPs, as the mettle of management is tested in bad times, not good.

Kristoffer Ealy is a political science professor and business psychologist with a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He co-hosts the Nubian Wrestling Advocates podcast on POST Wrestling.

What it’s like to attend a Tony Khan media scrum

On Saturday, I got the chance to participate in the media scrum following Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor event in Lowell, Massachusetts. I know that there has been a lot of interest in these scrums ever since AEW started doing them after their major events, so people might be interested in what the experience is like. I decided to chronicle my experience and provide some thoughts and insights to the public on what participating in the scrum is like, as well as potential ways to make the experience better for everyone involved. 

For starters, the event isn’t really a media scrum. A media scrum is typically somewhat informal and spontaneous, with one person standing and answering questions while media members jostle around to get the best position to stick their recording device close to the interview subject. The post-AEW/ROH events are much more like press conferences. They are organized, public relations staff assist in organizing the questions from the media, everyone is sitting down, etc.

How to participate is straight-forward; if you have been approved for a media credential, when you pick it up before the show, a staff member will instruct you where to meet up after the show. In the case of Death Before Dishonor, the meeting place was right behind the section where the media was sitting. A member of the PR staff led us down a hallway into a small conference room, where a podium had been set up for Tony Khan and talent to speak.

When Khan (and whatever talent arrives with him) is there, media members take turns asking questions. To get in the queue to ask questions, you must signal to one of the PR staff members who are passing around the microphone. This can be somewhat challenging, since the pace of how Khan and his wrestlers tend to go through their questions is slow, meaning that a backlog of people waiting in the queue to ask a question builds up quickly. You may find yourself bumped in the order as it can be hard to keep track exactly when it is your turn. 

The advice I’d give to people is to continue to remind the PR staff that you would like to ask a question. This is very much a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” situation, and it never hurts to be aggressive in reminding people that you would like to go next.

For Death Before Dishonor, it was a smaller crowd of media members than for AEW PPV events. There were approximately ten people at the presser; Nick Hausman of WrestlingINC was the only person I know for a fact who flew in for the show. The rest of the group was made up of some national outlets that had local people on their staff (e.g., Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated, Liam Crowley of ComicBook.com) as well as some local sports media that occasionally dabble in wrestling coverage.

During the presser you are pretty much free to ask any questions that you want. There is no vetting of questions beforehand, so media members are free to fire away. I asked two questions during the presser, and while I would have liked to have gotten more questions in, I was at least satisfied with my experience. 

The first question I asked was for Claudio Castignoli, which was about if he felt like he had more in-the-ring freedom working in AEW and ROH, as opposed to WWE. After pausing for a second and making an incredulous face, Castignoli did give what I would consider a substantial answer.

The second question I had was for Khan, which asked if we would ever see The Briscoe Brothers on Dynamite or Rampage. Khan declined to give a straight answer, saying that he “doesn’t know” if they will ever appear in AEW, but said they’d be a big part of ROH. 

While Khan declined to give a definitive answer, he essentially did give us one. There has been speculation online that The Briscoes have not been able to appear on Dynamite or Rampage due to controversy surronding Jay Briscoe and a homophobic tweet he made in 2013. This speculation has been fueled by their noticeable absence in the build-up to Death Before Dishonor, since they were in the main event of the show against FTR. By declining to give a clear answer and saying that he “doesn’t know”, Khan, who we are led to believe controls every aspect of what appears on AEW television, is giving the indication that The Briscoes will not be on AEW TV going forward. 

The response was about what I expected. I did not expect Khan to give a definitive answer, since if our suspicions are correct, he isn’t going to acknowledge that Jay Briscoe may be problematic. Public figures are not obligated to give great, clear answers when the media asks them a question; it is up to the media and the public to decipher what something means based on the evidence that we have.

On social media there is a lot of frustration with the kinds of questions that are being asked during the pressers. I fully understand that frustration; and at times during the presser I was annoyed by some of the questions, particularly the ones that are kayfabe-based, or ones that are compliments of the show disguised as questions.

What I think is helpful to keep in mind is that media members have different interests in the kinds of questions they are asking. Some outlets are looking for comments on kayfabe storylines or angles, searching for news headlines like, “Claudio Castignoli says he is going to defend the ROH World Championship again at  ____” . Others might be writing feature stories and looking for quotes on certain subjects to round out their articles.

As a representative of Wrestlenomics, I knew my questions had to be fact-based and oriented on the more serious side. Personally, I think the pressers would be a lot more interesting if the kayfabe questions were dumped entirely; the pressers are too good of an opportunity with one of the most powerful individuals in wrestling, as well as numerous top performers being available for questions, to be wasted by asking kayfabe-based questions, or complimenting the people on their performances. However, I understand that there is a market for kayfabe-based comments and “soft news” and those questions will always be a part of the pressers.

I do think there should be more people at the pressers pushing for real information. The conduct of some members of the media is questionable. Before the presser started, I heard one media member loudly talking about how people on social media complain about the media not asking “tough questions”, and stated that you simply cannot do that. The individual then said that if Vince McMahon was in front of them at a presser, they would obviously not ask McMahon about the recent NDA scandals.

That shows the difference in mentality between the various members of the wrestling media. To me, not asking Vince McMahon about the scandals if presented with an opportunity to do so would be a complete dereliction of your duty as a member of the press. To other people, it’s a toxic idea, something to steer clear of at all costs for fear of ruining a relationship with sources. My response to that would be how valuable of a relationship do you have with a source if you are not allowed to ask them the most important questions?

There is also a tendency for some people to include their own opinions before asking a question, things such as, “I think that was a great match. What do you think (wrestler X)?” 

Not only are these questions boring, they also pose an ethical dilemma. By asserting your own (favorable) opinion into the question, you are admitting a clear bias towards a particular response, something that reporters should steer clear from.

Why do people choose to insert their own views into the presser? One explanation is that they are afraid of having a negative relationship with the person they are interviewing, such as a wrestler they like. By prefacing a question with a compliment, they are indicating that they are a fan of the wrestler, and that the wrestler should appreciate them for saying they had a great match or whatever. 

Another explanation is that the line between analysts and reporters in wrestling media (and in all media) has been blurred. For many people in the presser, if they were not attending the presser they would either be writing reviews online of the show or hosting a podcast reviewing the pay-per-view. I suppose that can translate to people assuming it’s common to add a little of their opinion into their questions. Either way, I think it would be an improvement if the media attempted to have a more publicly unbiased disposition when asking questions to the talent (and please, hold your applause).

On the AEW side of things, there was one major negative. At one point during the presser, while Wheeler Yuta was fielding questions, Daniel Garcia came in and shot an angle, interrupting Yuta and complaining about how he lost his match. He was ushered out by security and that was the end of it. The whole thing lasted under one minute. 

I understand why AEW/ROH does things like that; it makes the show feel more “real” and Garcia was very good in the angle. However, I’m here to do a serious job based on real issues, and I don’t like being used as a prop for a wrestling angle. My time is more valuable than that, and I’m not interested in being part of the show. It also creates an awkward transition where Yuta and Castignoli had to react in kayfabe for a minute before going back to answer real questions.

In my experience, AEW/ROH does a pretty honest job with the press conferences. They are much more media-friendly in this environment than WWE ever is. You are allowed to fire away with any question you can come up with, and even if Khan or the wrestlers decline to say anything substantial, you at least are able to get those answers publicly on the record, something that is almost non-existent in wrestling coverage.

The pressers can be improved the most by the wrestling media taking itself more seriously. If more media members were committed to asking real, honest questions and gathering relevant information, as well as being willing to be a little tough sometimes and not shy away from the hard questions, the experience would be improved across the board. 

We would get way more relevant information out of the subjects, and it would also create an environment where the media supports each other more, since people can ask follow-up questions if they feel like a previous question was not answered in a satisfactory manner. It is difficult to do that when we are bouncing between honest questions and kayfabe commentary.

Lastly, I’d add that if you ever have the chance to attend an AEW event as a member of the media, I strongly suggest you go. The coolest thing about it is getting to meet other media members in-person, and network a bit. Wrestling media is a very isolated job. Most people work out of their homes and only communicate digitally with their colleagues. Major events with media coverage allow people to meet up with one another, share thoughts and ideas, and promote a healthier media environment.

Jesse Collings is a writer and reporter who has written for WrestlingINC, Voices of Wrestling, and other outlets. He is currently a reporter for Gannett/USA Today.

Is AEW’s business growing? At this point, the answer is “yes”

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.

Click to enlarge image

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.

AEW has been running on the model of quarterly pay-per-views throughout its existence. They have added some slight wrinkles with the introduction of TNT specials, and a special pay-per-view co-promoted by AEW and NJPW was announced on April 20.

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.

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is patreon-horizontal-1-1024x452.png
Become a Patron!

Race demographics in TV wrestling viewership: AEW is still behind WWE with Black viewers

All Elite Wrestling’s portion of viewers who are people of color is still well behind any of the three major WWE programs or Impact Wrestling, even as AEW Dynamite has increased viewership with Black and Hispanic viewers year-over-year.

“Cable primetime PUT” refers to people using cable television from 8 to 11 pm.
Smackdown airs on broadcast network Fox and is not a cable program. The other programs referenced above are cable programs.

The disparity for AEW programs is largely due to a lower percentage of Black viewers.

“I have noticed that,” AEW president Tony Khan said on the media call earlier this month ahead of AEW Revolution. “I study the patterns very closely, and it’s something I’m cognizant of, and it’s an audience that we really do want to grow and it’s very important to us,”

In December, Khan took to Twitter to respond to former AEW wrestler Big Swole’s comments about diversity in AEW and Black representation. At the time, Wrestlenomics looked at the viewership demographics of all the major TV wrestling shows and at the diversity of AEW’s roster.

We have limited data of viewership by race demographics over time, mainly consisting of averages for year-quarters, rather than data for each episode. That said, we have an update on that data for the current quarter.

Viewers 18 to 49

For Dynamite, 15% of the aged 18 to 49 audience consists of Black viewers in the current year-quarter to date, up from 11% last year in the first quarter. Hispanic viewers are 13% of Dynamite’s key ad demographic, up from 11% last year.

Black viewers in P18-49 by percentage for WWE programs NXT, Raw, and Smackdown have also grown year-over-year. More than 25% of each show’s viewers are Black. NXT’s demo in the current quarter is 30% Black viewers (up from 22% last year). Raw is 27% (up from 21%). And Smackdown is 29% (up from 24%). Rampage, which is not yet a year old, has 17% of its P18-49 from Black viewers.

Raw has the greatest portion of Hispanic viewers in the current year-quarter, with 21%, up from 14% a year ago. NXT and Smackdown are comparable. Of NXT’s P18-49 audience, 20% are Hispanic viewers (up from 12% last year), meaning 50% of NXT’s 18 to 49 audience are either Black or Hispanic. Smackdown’s demo is 19% Hispanic viewers (up from 13%). Rampage’s audience is 17% Hispanic viewers.

We didn’t get data by race in P18-49 for Impact, only in total viewership.

Total viewers (age 2+)

The makeup of total viewership (aged 2 or older), has lower percentages for Black and Hispanic viewers, but the differences between WWE and AEW programs is consistent in either age group.

WWE and Impact have an edge over AEW in terms of attracting Black viewers to their shows at a disproportionate rate relative to the general population. Black viewers make up about 14% of the cable audience. AEW’s shows line up close to that but Black viewers make up over 20% of WWE and Impact’s audience. The data also shows similar rates in Hispanic viewers for WWE where they had a slightly higher number of Hispanic viewers than the average rate of cable.

In more recent trends, comparing Q3 2021 (July 1 to September 12) to the current year-quarter, since the move to TBS, AEW Dynamite viewership has fallen 7% overall, the same decrease Raw has seen over that time period. However, Black viewership for Dynamite has fallen 22% along with a 14% dip in viewership from other race demographics. Dynamite saw a 4% rise in Hispanic viewers and a 5% dip in white viewers.

Rampage, on the other hand, removed from its stronger early months in August and September, has had a large decline in their viewers with an overall decrease of 32%, a 60% loss in viewers from other race demographics, a 39% loss in Hispanic viewers, a 31% loss in white viewers and an 8% loss in Black viewers, as illustrated in the table below.

So while Rampage has retained Black viewers better than viewers in other race demographics in recent months, the opposite is the case for Dynamite.

Source: Nielsen
Chart & analysis: Brandon Thurston / Wrestlenomics

For other wrestling TV shows, Impact Wrestling has seen the most growth overall and with Black viewers, with a 25% rise. But Impact did see a dip in Hispanic viewers at 26%. Remember, Nielsen viewership measurements are based on a sample. Given Impact’s relatively small audience, the smaller samples determining these measurements could be resulting in a greater appearance of volatility than the actual viewership that’s taking place.

NXT has revamped itself as NXT 2.0 and has seen losses in all demographics except for Black viewers where they saw a 1% rise, contrasting against the show’s 11% overall decline in viewership between Q3 of last year and the current Q1.

Wreddit Census

U.S. respondents to "Wreddit Census 2021", by race. User survey of reddit.com/r/SquaredCircle.

Black: 4%; Hispanic: 9%; Other races: 5%; White: 81%.

Valid U.S. responses: 5,518. Surveyed July 29 to August 16, 2021.
Chart: Brandon Thurston / Wrestlenomics

Some online wrestling fan communities don’t reflect wrestling’s high TV viewership with people of color — quite the opposite.

The Squared Circle subreddit is one of the most popular online wrestling fan communities, with more than 615,000 users. Among those surveyed from the United States last summer, 81% were white, while 4% of respondents were Black, 9% Hispanic, and 5% identified as another race. The 2021 survey results for white respondents are actually an increase from 78% for the survey from the prior year.

Whether wrestling fans from more diverse backgrounds are gathering in other online communities instead or whether there’s something about online wrestling fan communities like Squared Circle that don’t attract people of color, isn’t clear.

The subreddit user base generally prefers AEW above WWE. 87% of U.S. responses said they “strongly like” or “somewhat like” AEW. Only 29% of responses said the same about WWE. Respondents were generally favorable toward AEW and less favorable toward WWE across race, but Black responses were slightly less favorable toward AEW and more favorable toward WWE than people of other races.

Our analysis of the 2021 Wreddit Census, originally published for subscribers on Patreon, is now publicly-viewable.

Chart: Brandon Thurston / Wrestlenomics

Growing the audience

Considering AEW programs lag behind with Black viewers compared to WWE and Impact, it stands to reason Dynamite and Rampage could improve their ratings by better appealing to Black wrestling fans.

“Not just growing that audience, I think diversity is very important to the company for a number of reasons, but absolutely, expanding our viewership, we think that is something that will help us,” Khan said in the same media call earlier this month.

“I think that AEW should do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis of their Black viewership,” says Dr. Kris Ealy, a professor of political science and co-host of the Nubian Wrestling Advocates podcast.

It’s possible that The Big Bang Theory lead-in could be contributing to an increase in the portion of white viewers watching Dynamite, although we don’t have data on that 7:30 pm airing by race to say whether that’s a factor.

“While the lead-ins to AEW programming might be out of [Khan’s] hands,” Ealy said, “I think it would behoove AEW to find the Black viewers who actually watch AEW and lean into those viewers.”

On the pre-Revolution call, Khan noted the diversity among AEW’s champions and in free agent signings. “When you look at who’s been coming into the company, and the profile of free agents we continue to sign, and the huge push that Jade Cargill is getting and a lot of the stars who have been getting pushed up the card and getting put in big spots, I think that is consistent with trying to grow that audience.”

In addition to Cargill’s TBS title reign, AEW has made prominent moves with Black wrestlers recently. Scorpio Sky won the TNT title this month. AEW debuted stars like Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland this year.

AEW has yet to have a Black wrestler consistently in its main event picture, however. The vast majority of matches for AEW’s men’s world title have been between two white wrestlers. Meanwhile WWE recently had its top men’s titles on the likes of Bobby Lashley, Big E, and Roman Reigns. Impact’s world champion is currently Moose and the title last year was held by Rich Swann.

Beyond representation in key roles, Ealy suggests AEW should appeal to different age and gender groups within the Black audience.

“Does TK even know the amount of Black men versus Black women or the ages of the Black viewers that watch his shows?”

Ealy likens appealing to Black wrestling audiences like how one would appeal to different Black audiences that have different musical tastes.

“My mom’s playlist is going to consist of the Temptations; Earth Wind, and Fire; Roberta Flack,” Ealy says. “My playlist is like Jay-Z, Nas, and Lauren Hill, and my nephew is gonna be into maybe Migos and groups like that. Our music sensibilities are very different and I assume it is similar with Black viewing audiences.”

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is patreon-horizontal-1-1024x452.png
Become a Patron!

Wrestlenomics Radio 2022 predictions

On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo gave their pro wrestling predictions for 2022. Thurston and Gullo gave their predictions to 11 questions that they listed. These questions range from who will be the top men’s champion in WWE and AEW to average viewership numbers.

1. Will NXT be on the USA Network at the end of 2022?

Brandon Thurston: “I’m going to guess they made a two-year deal, which would run from September 2021 through September 2023. Given that the relationship between WWE and NBCUniversal is so deep, it’d be very easy to move NXT to Peacock and then spin it as a lateral or upward movement because, ‘Wow, it’s such a big deal to be on Peacock, and it’s so important to be on Peacock. That’s where the future is, and we’re targeting a younger audience, even though we’re not capturing them.'”

Chris Gullo: “I’m gonna agree with you, but I think moving to Peacock is definitely something that’s going to happen in the future. I don’t think it happens next year.”

2. Will Ring of Honor run an event in 2022?

Gullo: “I don’t think so, and here’s the thing, even though the social media is acting like nothing happened, the Ring of Honor social media, now that Sinclair doesn’t have to put a lot of focus on it, and they got so much more things going on, I think it’s gonna be one of those things like, ‘Oh, I know we’re gonna reboot in April, but we’re coming back in June,’ and then it’s gonna fade away in obscurity.”

Thurston: “I guess it depends on what Sinclair really wants for content. I will say yes. Does Sinclair feel like it’s worth it to have to do something very cheaply to produce some sort of weekly content? Do they want new content, because you can get it done more cheaply than they were doing it.

“I think there’s still money to be made in these occasional Fite TV or traditional operators too, these PPVS, but I think they will at least run one show. I don’t know that there’s going to be a Ring of Honor ongoing promotion, but I bet there’ll be a Ring of Honor show in 2022 that may or may not resemble anything like what Ring of Honor has looked like over the last few years.”

3. Will a wrestle currently in NXT 2.0 be in a show-closing match for a main roster PPV in 2022?

Thurston: “Towards the end of the year, yes. Who would it be though? Bron Breakker, I guess. Is he going to get called up and develop quickly enough to be in the main event of a PPV? I will say yes, if nothing else, because Vince McMahon sort of has to validate his own decision here and give it a try, at least.

Gullo: “I’m gonna say yes because I think Bron Breakker or Von Wagner, and it might be Elimination Chamber or something like that. I think both of those guys are going to be in some type of main event program, one of those guys, if not both, by the end of the year.”

4. Who, if anyone, will beat Adam Page for the AEW title?

Gullo: “I will say MJF.”

Thurston: “It’s probably not Kenny Omega. They probably don’t go backwards to Omega. They probably don’t go backwards to Jon Moxley or Chris Jericho. Bryan Danielson? Probably not. Probably Adam Page has got to get a win over Danielson now, even though Danielson would maybe make a great champion at this point. Maybe Punk and then somebody takes it off of Punk. MJF is a good guess though. I will go with CM Punk.”

5. Who, if anyone, will beat Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal title?

Thurston: “It’s Lesnar or no one. That’s the answer. Big match John Cena’s got more important things to do. I’ll say Lesnar.”

Gullo: “I think he has to lose it eventually. I guess Brock Lesnar would be the best guess. I can’t think of anybody else. If Rock wanted to at least be there for a month or two, maybe.”

Thurston: “I don’t think Rock is committing to anything more than one match, though.”

6. Will Windham Rotunda sign with AEW, Impact, WWE, or another company?

Gullo: “We’ve been having a lot of chatter these last few months about, can there be a third wrestling company that has huge financial backing, and I think this year, you’re gonna see somebody probably say, ‘Hey, we’re starting a new wrestling company. Let’s get on this TV rights train,’ and Windham Rotunda will be the guy. That’s my prediction.

Thurston: “I hope it’s Robert Rodriguez relaunching some Lucha Underground type approach. I would say WWE would be likely. Anything’s possible.”

Gullo: “They’re selling Fiend holiday merchandise.”

7. Will New Japan get a weekly TV show on a network in >30 million U.S. households?

Thurston: “No. No. No.”

Gullo: “At this point, no. I think a couple of years ago would have been to strike when the iron is hot. I don’t think it happens now.”

Thurston: “I put the the threshold at 30 million households because that’s roughly AXS. That would be about a little less than half of U.S. households. Vice is about 50 million.”

8. How many times (in the same week) will Dynamite have a larger P18-49 audience than Raw?

Gullo: “I don’t really see wrestling ratings moving a lot in 2022, but I think this will probably happen, let’s say, three times.”

Thurston: “It’s happened twice this year. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the remaining few weeks of the year. January 3, there is Monday Night Football, so it could happen then. It came close before Monday Night Football. I will say five, five times in 2022.”

9. How many times (in the same week) will Dynamite have a larger P2+ than Raw?

Thurston: “Zero.”

Gullo: “I concur, zero.”

10. Who will buy WWE’s next-day VOD rights currently held by Hulu?

Gullo: “I’m going to go with the surprising candidate Tubi TV. Been seeing a lot of advertising for Tubi, and I think Tubi TV needs programming. Tubi TV will be buying VOD rights. Fox owns Tubi TV.”

Thurston: “The Fox connection does make sense. Peacock and Amazon, I think it’s got to be one of those two. I’ll take a lower revenue deal with Amazon just just to scare the crap out of my TV partners, but does Amazon really want to play there? I don’t know if Amazon really wants to play any U.S. sports rights outside of the NFL. I will say Peacock.”

11. Predict their average viewership (P2+ and P18-49) for 2022:


WWE Smackdown: 1.977 million, 0.52

WWE Raw: 1.587 million, 0.45

AEW Dynamite: 893,000, 0.34

AEW Rampage: 485,000, 0.18

WWE NXT: 525,000, 0.13

Impact Wrestling: 80,000, 0.02


WWE Smackdown: 2 million, 0.48

WWE Raw: 1.6 million, 0.42

AEW Dynamite: 900,000, 0.35

AEW Rampage: 450,000, 0.17

WWE NXT: 550,000, 0.13

Impact Wrestling: 97,000, 0.02

Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is patreon-horizontal-1-1024x452.png
Become a Patron!

Will AEW’s media right’s values affect WWE?

On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston sat down with former Wrestlenomics host and AEW SVP “Mookie” Chris Harrington to talk about the wrestling business today.

As noted in many past editions of Wrestlenomics Radio and on this website, wider TV viewership has been down over the past several years. However, TV and media rights values continue to increase, with WWE and AEW signing big deals with top networks. AEW’s growing popularity suggests they may sign a stronger deal when their current agreement is renegotiated. But would this have any bearing on WWE’s TV rights deals? Harrington gave his insight.

“Definitely being able to say, ‘Hey, AEW would not have gotten into this business if we didn’t see the rights that WWE was commanding’ and be able to say, ‘Oh, there’s some investment going on here, and there’s still probably an opportunity for more players in this marketplace, and there’s money that can be spent, and we will be an economical and we believe creatively viable choice, alternative, investment, whatever, to also join this,’ so that was important to us,” Harrington explained. “When you’re talking about ‘what what should I worry about,’ just like what we were talking about earlier, NFT’s wasn’t a thing three years ago, but they’re a thing now.

“So you’ve got to be thinking a lot about revenue streams. Maybe it’s media rights but media rights is a very particular bucket because you could also say it’s TV advertising, and that’s different than media rights. It could be about OTT money, it could be about SVOD, or AVOD, or getting involved in FAST.

“And not just media revenue but just the idea that, ‘Yes, right now, it’s networks paying a lot of money for the rights for a dealer, or Peacock or someone paying the rights for a library, along with special events. We’re still in the pay-per-view business. I work very hard on the pay-per-view side, and that’s the four events we’re doing a year.

“We just had our most successful event ever (All Out), that’s no secret. I’m monetizing this content in a very discrete way, at a very discrete time and maybe that’s what the future is like but maybe there’s some other way that you have that financial transaction so that you can still get value from that event, but it’s in some other way.”

The re-negotiation period for WWE and AEW is expected to be around 2023. Thurston asked Harrington why would a TV network executive pay a certain amount for WWE Raw and SmackDown compared to AEW Dynamite and Rampage’s performance.

“I have no idea. I never worked for a TV network,” Harrington noted.

“You talk to them,” Thurston pointed out.

“I do, but I talk to them from my side,” Harrington said. “I don’t know how they think about it on their side. I don’t know how they position their choices. Do they really say, ‘Oh, I’m deciding whether or not to buy this wrestling show or that wrestling show?’ I would say more they’re deciding ‘what do I program? What does that audience that program bring? How much does it cost for us to be involved with this?

“Next year, AEW Dynamite will move to TBS and AEW Rampage will stay on TNT, that’s because when you think of your slate of times, when you plant a flag to say, this show’s gonna be on at this time, 52 weeks a year, that’s a big investment from a programming standpoint, and I don’t think that anyone says, ‘Oh, I’m choosing my wrestling program to put on here.’ They’re just choosing what are they going to program in a steady slot for these periods of time, and so for instance, WarnerMedia made an investment in hockey rights.

“They’d made the choice to bring in hockey rights as part of what they think they want to put on their programming, but that means they have to be very careful then about what they’re thinking is their portfolio. A lot of times it’s not so much, ‘Hey, I want wrestling. I don’t want wrestling,’ as much as what does this [wrestling program] look like compared to everything else that I’m doing, and what’s [the network’s] vision?

“When MTV plays Ridiculousness, for 23 hours a day, there’s a vision there. There’s a reason they’re doing that, but also, the one hour that they’re not playing that, you don’t expect them to put on Oprah. It’s got to be in line with what the rest of the network is doing and what they carve that to be.”

Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.

Photo by All Elite Wrestling.

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is patreon-horizontal-1-1024x452.png
Become a Patron!