First, AEW was reportedly going to be a focal point during the Warner Bros. Discovery upfronts. Then they weren’t. The latter came to fruition as AEW was seldom featured during the Warner Bros. Discovery presentation to advertisers on Wednesday.
The new regime overseeing Turner Sports didn’t come anywhere close to the level of endorsement that AEW has received from WarnerMedia in years past. With so many uncertainties about AEW’s future with Warner Bros. Discovery amid a blockbuster merger, not only was there no public vote of confidence for All Elite Wrestling, they were barely on the ballot.
“I don’t take it as a kiss of death or anything like that [but] the planning went from huge to not much at all, to kind of big, to not much at all. Those decisions were made by the people in charge, and they did go from kind of big to not much at all in the last week, so there’s no way to take that as a good sign,” said Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio.
There was similar waffling about AEW’s presence leading up to the presentation. As recently as last week, AEW was reportedly set for a huge push at the Warner Bros. Discovery upfronts before these plans apparently changed.
An AEW Dynamite graphic was featured during the Warner Bros. Discovery presentation, touting the show as one of the network’s biggest broadcasts on Wednesday nights, however this feels like the bare minimum compared to AEW’s presence at previous upfronts, where they were basically the belle of the ball. Last year, AEW was front and center during the WarnerMedia upfronts as it announced the debut of AEW Rampage in addition to AEW Dynamite’s move from TNT to TBS. In 2019, AEW announced a major television deal with WarnerMedia ahead of an all-hands-on-deck upfronts which featured top stars Kenny Omega, “Hangman” Adam Page, Cody Rhodes, former Chief Branding Officer Brandi Rhodes, Britt Baker, the Young Bucks and AEW President Tony Khan.
This year? Almost nothing. After being the belle of the ball for WarnerMedia, AEW received all the fanfare of a sidepiece under this new regime, which recently ousted staunch AEW supporter Brett Weitz.
Another bad sign.
Compare this to WWE’s presence during the NBCUniversal and FOX upfronts, which featured in-person presentations from top stars Bianca Belair and Roman Reigns, respectively. The Miz and Xavier Woods also appeared at the NBCU upfronts.
It’s worth mentioning the 2022 Warner Bros. Discovery upfronts conflicted with an airing of AEW Dynamite, however it’s hard to imagine that AEW talent would not appear at the upfronts if Warner Bros. Discovery wanted them there. Scorpio Sky, one of AEW’s champions, was not featured on AEW Dynamite (though he did appear in an in-ring segment taped for Rampage), and he has the TNT logo emblazoned on his championship belt. That belt alone would have been the ideal representation for TNT and AEW at the upfronts, and the fact that the TNT champion was available but not used seems like a Warner Bros. Discovery decision, not AEW’s.
It’s obviously too quick to rush to any judgments about AEW’s future under this new regime, but the first impressions do present cause for concern. AEW Dynamite often tops the weekly cable ratings and has established a strong base of 18-49 viewers. Given AEW Dynamite’s consistency on cable compared to the competition, and the current climate of networks and streaming services itching for valuable live content, it’s difficult to imagine AEW not receiving an increase in television rights fees when their current deal is up in 2024.
AEW has been linked to HBO Max in recent months, and seems poised to continue its steady growth as a viable competitor to WWE. The most volatile variable, however—and possibly the only variable that matters—is how much Warner Bros. Discovery will support this promotion with newly installed executives who don’t seem nearly as passionate about AEW as the WarnerMedia regime.