Change the World: How All Elite Wrestling Can Alter the Sports Landscape
For the first time in nearly 20 years, there is a wrestling promotion poised to rival World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) dominance over the professional wrestling/sports entertainment industry in at least North America, if not the globe: All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
While many companies have come and gone since the days of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, none have been able to truly compete with WWE. Some still exist, but they pale in comparison to the global machine of the WWE. AEW has the opportunity to change the narrative. Many believe that, although these are early days, they have the formula to compete in a way that no one has in a very long time.
It all starts with the minds behind the vision. AEW is the brainchild of three of the greatest innovators the industry has ever seen, Cody Rhodes and ‘The Young Bucks’ Nick and Matt Jackson. The three, alongside their stablemates Kenny Omega, Adam Page, and Marty Scurll from ‘The Elite’, are a former subsection of the Bullet Club, a group that gained mainstream fame in Japan and beyond. Recently, they ran their first show as promoters, ‘All In’, selling out the 11,000+ seat Sears Center in Chicago in under a half hour.
With the new promotion being bankrolled by billionaire Tony Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham F.C., Rhodes and the Bucks will have the resources to take their creativity to unprecedented heights. They have wasted no time making headlines since AEW was announced a month ago, signing industry legend and Canadian icon Chris Jericho and presenting several ground-breaking initiatives that could set a new precedent for not only professional wrestling, but the sports world as a whole.
Let’s look at a couple of these ideas:
1. Giving the women their rightful due.
One of the significant initial announcements made upon the promotion’s inception was the promise of equal pay for female and male talent of similar skill and experience levels.
The gender pay gap, as it has in the overall business world, has been a contentious issue in professional sports. Serena Williams, most notably, continues to lead the charge for equality of pay in women’s tennis. However, tennis happens to be one of the best when it comes to this issue. Professional women’s hockey, for example, provides little to no opportunity for payment. At best, a player in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) in 2016 could make $25,000 per year plus royalties on jersey sales. Not at all comparable to the millions made in the NHL and hardly enough to sustain a decent living.
The argument could be made that fully female professional sports league is unsustainable financially and that AEW can only offer equal pay because their women will be co-promoted alongside men. This could be true, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. AEW has the potential to provide a blueprint for the sports world on how to create a space where female athletes can thrive. This may start with co-promotion or partnership with men’s teams, men’s leagues, and their sponsors. The hope is that these sorts of activities would lead to more widespread exposure and acceptance for female athletes.
With Cody Rhodes’ wife Brandi set to be the Chief Brand Officer for the promotion, it is safe to assume that AEW will be consistent with this approach over time. It will be interesting to see if their commitment to the women will carry over into their use as part of the product. Can they make the ‘main event scene’ like Ronda Rousey in UFC and WWE? If AEW takes that leap, we could have something special on our hands. Time will tell.
2. Committing to Chinese talent.
Another announcement made at the promotion’s opening rally in Jacksonville in early January was their intention to have a working relationship with Chinese promotion Oriental Wrestling Entertainment (OWE). While OWE will certainly be unheard of to most, if not all, fans in North America, Matt Jackson was very impressed with the shows they put on in China, telling NuclearConvoy.com “I’m attracted to anything out of the ordinary. I think it’s vital to have something completely fresh and unseen by most eyes be one of the major highlights of our shows. We need to be different aesthetically and OWE is just that.”
While no firm details have been announced, both sides are optimistic about the far-reaching implications of the partnership. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, OWE Vice-President Michael Nee said “We are based in China, they're in the US, but working together we can be huge in the future, that's the intention. From the very beginning, we're willing to do global matches like Japan, China, Asia, US and everywhere – we think wrestling is an international sport and entertainment. It should be global. AEW also would like to globalize and work with many countries, so on this point we have something in common. OWE will do everything to support AEW to bring the best wrestling to the world."
In a time when many professional sports leagues and teams are making a push to find ways to enter the Chinese market and recruit Chinese talent, AEW quickly moves towards the front of the pack when it comes to the uniqueness of their working relationship with a promotion that has already long been on the ground in China.
Fans will definitely get a better idea of how the Chinese talent from OWE will be utilized on May 25th in Las Vegas when AEW hosts their first show, titled Double or Nothing. If Rhodes and the Bucks are smart, which they are, they will have the OWE guys make a huge splash on night one. In a world obsessed with viral moments, that would be one way to get people to take note.
3. Speaking of going viral…
The Elite leverage the idea of ‘going viral’ better than almost anyone in the sports industry. Typically, independent wrestlers have never been able to achieve the level of popularity and income that The Elite have without joining the WWE. They have made the impossible possible through their genius use of digital platforms to communicate and interact with their fans.
It all starts with their YouTube series ‘Being The Elite’, which documents the lives of the members of The Elite, both in reality and in wrestling storyline. It’s a great way for fans to be able to get behind the scenes of wrestling world. The well-balanced combination of realism, storyline, and pure comedy has wrestling fans hooked. The channel’s weekly episodes average hundreds of thousands of views.
From there, led by the Bucks, the group members created their own merchandise websites that are wildly successful financially. The popularity and notoriety gained from their digital presence vaulted them to becoming massive box office draws for any promotion they appeared in around the world before starting AEW. That success has led them to where they are now.
While there are many in the sports world that use digital and social media to the fullest to build their brand, there are a similar amount of, if not more, horror stories out there as well. Just look at the recent trend of athletes like Milwaukee Brewers’ reliever Josh Hader getting a ton of negative press for bigoted Twitter comments made years and years earlier. The online world can be a great building block for members of the sports community but also presents plenty of risk of royally screwing things up as well.
Given those facts, Rhodes and the Bucks must be considered a prototype on how athletes can use online platforms to their fullest. With even more resources at their disposal now, it will be amazing to see what they come up with next.
In the mean time, give Being The Elite a watch. It is absolute gold.