What is actually wrong in AEW?
Once upon a time I felt like All Elite Wrestling fans didn’t criticize the product enough. There wasn’t enough non biased (WWE minded) critics of the product and that created a situation where only an echo chamber of people saying, “Wow that’s great!” was being provided. It was during this time I felt comfortable writing articles about my issues with the product, which I’ve done since 2019.
And then something changed.
I don’t really know what it exactly was, but it really feels like a biproduct of the second CM Punk run this year. The fanbase really fractured between those who thought this was a battle of ideologies between the product CM Punk wanted and the product The Elite wanted. In reality, it’s just Tony Khan’s AEW. It’s possible that CM Punk was booking Collision, and there’s a lot of reports saying he had a hand in everything we saw on television. That’s what led to “The Colliders”, AEW fans who only championed the Saturday night show. And with that came a heavy optimism and bias towards the Saturday night show being the way AEW should be.
With CM Punk fired, that dream of CM Punk’s ideology taking over AEW and surpassing the vision of The Elite died. And what’s left is a lot of bitter critics who have been amping up their complaints with the product. Their key complaint comes in Maxwell Jacob Friedman, AEW World Heavyweight Champion, who has at times been playing up his popularity with the audience to do everything from sing a long chants to a kangaroo kick. For some this is a disgrace to what All Elite Wrestling is all about, and the WWE-ification of the product. It’s really not. It’s BTE. The YouTube show that basically led the way to AEW. Skits, comedy in wrestling, giving a move a funny name and treating it as serious? All textbook Being The Elite. But calling it WWE stings for AEW fans. It’s hard to get people to agree with your point unless you give them something distasteful to compare it to.
Every day, every week, in wrestling has now been suffocating commentaries on how AEW can’t do anything right. Every big match they do wasn’t promoted enough. Every angle has a problem. Guys get too much TV time. Guys get not enough TV time. Too many people getting hurt. Too many people on television. Too many old people. Not enough young people over. The belts don’t matter. The belt matters too much to be one person too long. Bring back the contenders. And on and on.
Are these complaints all silly? Of course not. A lot of it is legitimate criticism. But what voices of wrestling sometimes miss is that if the voices are always negative then they will eventually become static on the radio dial. You can’t believe everything is bad all the time or else there’s no point watching. People will immediately mistrust someone who can’t tell you what’s going good along with the bad.
This relentless attempt to say everything is always wrong every day with All Elite Wrestling will just cause fans to be an even bigger echo chamber than they used to be. You’re basically creating “Stand Up For AEW” fans who will completely avoid all criticism because they just hear too much of it from the regular sources. They keep hearing things that are so ticky tacky and whiny that they will dismiss whatever legitimate criticism you might provide. This happens all the time in sports and other media. If the team is last place and can’t win a game then people understand it. But AEW isn’t in last place. The level of negative discourse doesn’t match the product quality.
All Elite Wrestling in many ways had a great year in 2023. They launched a new two hour TV show which they get paid for, and this is a professional wrestling company that operates on the revenue they get from their television deal. They increased their pay per view count without a significant drop in their pay per view buys. All In is now the most attended pro wrestling show based on ticket sales for one event of all time. The in-ring product is still exceptional, and there have been several good stories told this year from Hangman Page versus Jon Moxley to The Elite versus Blackpool Combat Club to Christian Cage versus Darby Allin to Orange Cassidy as International Champion to MJF versus Bryan Danielson and the MJF/Adam Cole story.
Even if you don’t like MJF vs. Adam Cole, you can’t deny their success on television quarters and successfully main eventing All In. The AEW World Championship is on the right guy because his segments are usually the highest rated every week, no matter Dynamite or Collision. I’ve heard people try to say MJF is a 2005 John Cena situation but nobody in the audience is booing MJF, even when he was just a heel a few months ago. He has almost unanimous support as champion everywhere except a couple podcasts and loud Twitter accounts.
So the title of this posed a question. What is actually wrong with AEW? I’ll give you five things.
1. Social Media and Marketing
Of course I would name this number one. After all, the people running the official AEW account blocked me one day due to my constant criticism of the job they do. I know I’m not the only one, and that’s why Tony Khan has to make most of the official announcements on his own Twitter account because the company account is unreliable. Unreliable to spell names correctly, get dates correctly, have links that go to the right place, you name it. The AEW on TV account does a better job being an “official” AEW Twitter account. AEW could do so much more with their social media. They should be using it to post interviews from talent all the time. Every day. Go look at an NHL account sometime and compare it to AEW, a company full of people who can actually talk. And then marketing. I have a friend in Montreal, Quebec who is friends with a major WWE wrestler. They had no idea AEW is running in December there. This isn’t someone outside of the wrestling bubble. Why doesn’t AEW spend more money on local marketing? I probably wouldn’t know about the Detroit shows if I wasn’t connected.
2. Live Event Locations and Pricing
Speaking of the Montreal show, it’s a great example of many of my issues with AEW live events. Running the Bell Centre in Montreal for your first AEW show in the province of Quebec is great. Running back to back shows at inflated ticket prices? Not so much. $110 for the cheapest ticket near Christmas when there’s Montreal Canadiens games to attend and a WWE live event earlier in the month in the same province is asking for two half empty buildings. AEW should have run Quebec City for Collision and Montreal for Dynamite/Rampage. I get the cost savings. You know what’s better than cost savings? Making as much money as possible by having as many people in the arena as possible.
One of the things people have been freaking out is the lower attended AEW shows this year. The reason was obvious: AEW kept rising the price of tickets and got to the point where the market couldn’t afford it. Boss Babies with podcasts would remark that if the product was hot people would pay whatever price. Cool. That doesn’t change the fact if you lower the ticket price, more will come. And that’s exactly what happened. AEW has been having huge ticket surges the week prior to a show due to Buy One Get One (BOGO) and cutting ticket prices down to $20 from the $40, $60, and in Canada $100 they were prior (and in Montreal, still is.) In 2024, AEW just needs to price these tickets appropriately from the beginning. Around the ring? Pay up the nose. All seats after the lower bowl? Make those $20. The more people in the building the better the product. The better chance for return customers, and a better chance for people to buy merchandise. Speaking of merchandise…
3. Arena Merchandise
Every person who goes to see AEW live says the same thing about the merchandise tables. It’s probably the worst they’ve ever seen for a major pro wrestling company. My friend Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports always brings up how the ROH booth at Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto a decade ago was triple the size of the AEW merchandise booths. People who work for Pro Wrestling Tees and work for AEW to run the merchandise have scoffed at these criticisms and said if you can’t find a shirt at the show just buy it online. Buying merchandise at a show is an impulse purchase. Everyone knows the shirt is overpriced but it’s about seeing your favourite wrestler and wanting to support them by wearing them on you. It’s for the new fan going to the show the first time and seeing someone they never saw before and immediately wanting to support them. Bands have understood this for decades. The legendary Don West understood this in TNA and that’s why TNA live events always sold a lot of merchandise. All Elite Wrestling is entering year five and still doesn’t get this.
4. AEW Jobbers To The Stars
I hate using the word jobber, but it’s what AEW does. They will basically “assign” someone to show up on TV every week to lose to their stars. We’ve seen Bobby Fish do this, we’ve seen Tony Nese do this, we’ve seen Matt Sydal do this, and we’re currently seeing AR Fox do this. It’s a wrestler that’s good in the ring (usually) who they are comfortable having lose to anyone. Maybe they will get some wins on Dark/ROH or the occasional Rampage, but usually when on Dynamite or Collision or pay per view this wrestler is flat on their back at some point in the night. AEW does this so they can protect people from eating losses weekly. But doing it so much means when a wrestler loses to someone currently being pushed harder than they are, people scream the guy is getting buried or shouldn’t be losing. Best recent example is Swerve Strickland losing to Bryan Danielson and Hangman Page losing to Jay White. Swerve and Hangman are feuding with each other and so taking a loss keeps them out of the title picture. They also lost to top tier talent. But AEW fans are now trained when watching television to treat losses as always a big deal and if Danielson or Jay need a victory they can get it from the Komander’s and AR Fox’s of the roster instead of top guys. AEW needs to remind people that even the best championship teams of all time didn’t have perfect records. Any on any given day can get pinned for three seconds. It just happens rarer for the best.
5. DQs and Countouts
Don’t lecture me about All Japan Pro Wrestling and DQ/countout losses in the 1980s. This isn’t Japan, this isn’t AJPW, and it certainly isn’t the 1980s. You can have the occasional DQ or countout. AEW has made it so rare you forget they even exist (did you know Dustin Rhodes beat Swerve Strickland this year by DQ?) when it should be absolutely common with so many heel factions and wrestlers who take shortcuts or selfishly escape the ring. What’s the point of even having a 10 count outside the ring if it never leads to a countout loss? What’s the point of referees if they never call a disqualification? That’s why you got guys with no issue going right in the ring all of the time, and guys going back to the ring after being tossed out. AEW is so insistent on no DQ finishes it leads to the referees looking extremely stupid every week that they allowed the heel to get away with a sneak attack just so AEW can end matches with a finish. We don’t need to have every single match end in a DQ or countout. Stop your slippery slope crap. I just want to see referees have the power to actually enforce the rules and not look like imbeciles every week. Sometimes every match. Oh, and also? More draws please.
There you go. Five things I feel are actually wrong in AEW that doesn’t involve the same echo chamber that’s been going on with people trying to act like a kangaroo kick is causing ticket sale drops or that having too many older wrestlers is going to turn people away when the number one company on the planet literally relies on the olds to draw on their biggest shows.
I’ve said it on Twitter but I will say it again here. I don’t think AEW is hot. I don’t think AEW is cold. I think AEW just is. A good product drawing good numbers and selling well on pay per view. It shouldn’t be leading to this much hysterics, on the side of defiance to all criticism, or the side of constant criticism. All Elite Wrestling can always be better. So can the discourse around it.