AEW President & CEO Tony Khan recently spoke with Joseph Staszewski of The New York Post to promote tomorrow's Fight for the Fallen edition of AEW Dynamite on TNT. The event will raise money for Florida's First Coast Relief Fund and the Feeding Northeast Florida group, both of which have been helping with the COVID-19 response.
Khan was asked if he thinks we will see fans back at AEW events this year. The interviewer pointed to how the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, which is owned by Tony's father - AEW lead investor Shahid Khan, recently announced a plan to let fans in at 25% capacity, noting that it at least feels like Tony is planning for the return of fans.
"I think it's too early to say," Khan said. "I don't want to get out in front of ourselves. I think there's potential when you've seen what other countries have done, but we probably have a long way to go ourselves before we can do that. I think all sports are struggling with the same questions in America right now.
"The Jaguars are making a choice for their stadium, whereas, they are planning in a few months and we're kind of going week to week here (at AEW) and I think that's a general kind of plan for the Jags. We haven't for the Jags released a seating plan, what that 25 percent would look like and I think there are still a lot of questions to be answered before we get into playing football games. Fulham, on the other hand, we're playing with no fans in England and piping in crowd noise, which the broadcast people have enjoyed."
Khan continued and talked about the change in AEW TV tapings during the coronavirus pandemic.
"But for us at AEW, one thing is I really like having the wrestlers and extras and production people around the ringside area because they've all been tested," he said. "So you still have the feel of energy and lively fans around the ringside area, but then it lets you keep that energy without the risk of having people so close to the ring where the wrestlers are exposed to people yelling and screaming at them who haven't been tested for corona.
"We all kind of live and work in the bubble together. For each taping we come in, we test everybody and I think until we can test fans, it will be hard to put fans in the ringside area because the difference between Jags and wrestling is that typically the ring-side wrestling seats are more accessible to the wrestlers than any NFL seat would put you on the field. There's a big gap. If you don't want people up on the sideline, you can use the first couple rows as a buffer zone. There are a lot of options for 25-percent capacity at an NFL stadium. For seating at a wrestling show, we will have to look at what people are doing."
Fight for the Fallen will see Sonny Kiss go up against AEW TNT Champion Cody Rhodes, after answering an Open Challenge. Khan was asked how important the match is for Sonny as he hasn't had a lot of Dynamite TV time.
"It's an important match for Sonny," Khan said. "The TNT open challenge is intended for people both inside and outside the company, to be an opportunity to showcase for people who have not necessarily had that chance. We've already seen the open challenge earn somebody (Ricky Starks) a contract, which is very cool.
"Just because Sonny's already earning a paycheck doesn't mean Sonny couldn't become a bigger, more visible star. I think Sonny over the last several months has really developed."
Last week's Fyter Fest Night Two edition of Dynamite saw Chris Jericho defeat Orange Cassidy in the main event. Khan said Cassidy proved he can be a main event star when asked what he proved to Khan and the pro wrestling world with how well the match went.
"He proved a lot to the wrestling world that he can be a main event star and that he belonged with Chris," Khan said of Cassidy. "I was not surprised by it at all. It very much met my expectations. I really believe in Orange Cassidy."
We noted before at this link how Khan recently took to Twitter to discuss the WWE NXT vs. AEW ratings war as NXT has defeated AEW in viewership for the past three weeks, but not in ratings for the 18-49 demographic. Khan made the comments after NXT's Great American Bash drew more viewers than AEW's Fyter Fest. Khan told The NY Post how he has weekly ratings discussions with top TNT executives, but did admit that they want to see overall viewership.
Khan was asked what numbers he uses to ultimately gauge AEW's success on - the day after numbers or when DVR and other numbers are added in.
"Within 48 hours I speak to all the top executives at TNT every week after the show and we generally are gauging it based on the 18-49 performance and it's been like that since before we started," Khan said. "That's what we've been told is the really important thing to focus on. But there are other growth factors. Obviously you want to see overall viewership, but it's really important to build young viewers under the age of 18.
"I didn't address this in the tweets, but we had done really great growth with the 12-18 audience who are the superfans of the future that someday when we are back to big events live with selling tickets, I think those people will grow up and become big fans for us, too. But right now we have a really loyal fan base. It's not ideal that they can't be with us live every week because they are a huge part of the show. What we do have going for us is this great audience in the demo."
He continued, "Three out of the last four weeks we've been one of the top eight shows on cable in the 18-49 overnight (on Wednesdays) and those are generally what I'm judged on. When we talk about performance week to week, that's it. So when I see people saying that the overall rating, who won and lost, I'm not sure they understand how the game is actually scored, which is what I was explaining, how if nothing else how we internally gauge success and it's not me that picked these numbers. Although I can imagine people do think that I'm conveniently picking numbers, but this is what I've been told is the important thing along.
"I had never brought it up before because we have always done very well in it. So when I see people trying to paint Fyter Fest as if it wasn't successful. I'm like, this is very successful. Back-to-back weeks we were one of the top seven shows on cable (in the demo), putting out numbers the network and I were very happy with and would love to maintain."