In the '90s, WWE became the underdog favorite for a wrestling fan's quick fix, but only after a**-beating that was 83 weeks long from a company on a Turner network, WCW. 30 years later down the road, WWE finds itself in a similar situation, and once again, by a company that broadcasts on a Turner network, and this time it's the "young and hip" AEW.
AEW is owned by Tony Khan, a lifelong wrestling fan, and son of the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars football team. Needless to say, the family prints money. The Jaguars are in the process of signing Urban Meyer to be their new coach, hold the coveted first pick in next year's draft, and yet we aren't talking football, we are talking pro wrestling. AEW was conceived in January of 2019, and within their first 9 months, secured their upstart company a primetime spot on TNT. The issue? They were going up against WWE's own fan-favorite brand, NXT, which was seen live on Wednesday nights for years not on television, but on WWE's streaming network.
Many fans would say that NXT was one of the few reasons to pay for the streaming service. After AEW secured their television deal, WWE went to regular network partner Universal and struck a deal to get NXT broadcasting on The USA Network, opposite of AEW. In the 15 months passing period, both programs have put on a quality product more often than not, and both have really taken the idea of competition to the next level, bringing in big-name celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal, Snoop Dogg, Kevin Smith, Pat McAfee, as well as wrestlers both old and new such as Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, and Sting, and others. All the while, the networks have pulled in anywhere from half a million to a million viewers each. WWE, who in 1998 would do anything to draw viewers while WCW would dastardly give away the outcomes of WWE's then taped broadcasts, nothing was off-limits to gain the viewers, has been behind almost the entire time. What has changed? Why are they not "worried" about the upstart and more hip product? WWE still runs their network, with over 1,000,000 paid subscribers, and they get to see the network views of NXT, something they haven't released the numbers on. There is now talk of WWE putting another NXT show on the network, as a way to build new talent, while using the established stars on the USA show. They also already run a program on the network only from their overseas brand, NXT UK, and there's even talk of extending to Mexico, Japan, or India. Congratulations to AEW for having talent that bet on themselves and 'got over,' a wrestling term for becoming popular, and then took underutilized or just plan upset with the way things were talented, and a bunch of "indie kids" becoming the stars of Wednesday. There's no sign of scaring WWE away from the Wednesday window just yet. Just this week, AEW beat NXT with 772,000 to 571,000 live viewers. It's an exciting time to watch Wednesday night wrestling, but let's remember that overnight ratings aren't everything, there are streaming numbers and what they call the +7's, the numbers plus what is watched over the next seven days due to streaming and DVR). A lot of people want to claim that AEW can be watched on the TNT app, as well, which is true, but WWE programs are all available on Hulu, as well, adding more avenues and revenues. WWE offers two ways of watching the show without commercials, so it just isn't the same ballgame anymore, and WWE's recent profit reporting shows they don't have to be worried about the competition today, but that doesn't mean they won't tomorrow.