Global Economy

WWE has a new rival — and it's about to make its pay-per-view debut

Chris Jericho puts Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka into the ‘walls of Jericho’ during their match at ‘WrestleMania 25’ at the Reliant Stadium on April 5, 2009 in Houston, Texas.

Bob Levey | WireImage | Getty Images

WWE has had the sports-entertainment market in a chokehold for much of the 21st century, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, since the acquisition of several rival organizations in the early 2000s.

However, a new adversary is about to enter the ring this weekend, when All Elite Wrestling (AEW) makes its own pay-per-view bow.

Owned by Tony Khan, son of Shahid Khan, the billionaire owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and also London-based English soccer team Fulham, AEW has been attempting to build momentum over several months. On Saturday night, it will hold its first official “Double or Nothing” show in Las Vegas.

AEW has already built a roster of wrestlers including former WWE Champion Chris Jericho and enlisted another former WWE superstar Cody Rhodes as executive vice-president to be one of the faces of the brand.

There’s speculation on whether other WWE superstars could switch to AEW, with John Moxley Jonathan David Good? , known by his in-ring persona Dean Ambrose thought to be among them. Due to AEW being a privately-owned company, it is not obligated to disclose the wages of its wrestlers, as opposed to WWE, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

However, WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, has moved to initiate conditions in several WWE contracts to prevent this from happening and the company losing its male and female stars to a rival.

Last week, Warner Media announced it was partnering with AEW in order to broadcast events on its TNT network in the U.S. and give fans “a new wrestling experience for the first time in 20 years.”

As well as on TNT in prime time, AEW plans to stream through WarnerMedia’s B/R Live platforms and on pay-per-view. While in the U.K., which is currently WWE’s second-biggest pay-per-view market, wrestling fans will watch events through commercial channel ITV’s Box Office service, with other content also available free-to-air.

This would also mean a shift away from mainstay wrestling broadcaster Sky Sports for British fans who are looking for an alternative to WWE.

“Wrestling fans have wanted — and needed — something different, authentic and better for far too long,” said Tony Khan, president and CEO of AEW in a statement last week.

“AEW is answering the call. AEW is about more than wrestling. It’s about a movement fueled by wrestling fans who have been underserved and perhaps even disappointed by what the industry has produced in recent years.”

AEW’s differences extend to having more of an emphasis on a wrestler’s win and loss record, as well as competing for championship belts. There have also been suggestions it plans to introduce a league-based scoring system for matches.

From October 2019, WWE’s weekly “Smackdown” show will be switching TV networks in the U.S. from its current home of USA Network to Fox, as part of a new five-year-deal worth a reported $1 billion. It will also be moving broadcast days, from Tuesday’s to Friday’s, and will be shown every week of the year.

Reports in the U.S. suggest AEW’s deal with TNT could mean it’s ready to fill the Tuesday night wrestling void with its more regular offerings later in the year.

WWE shares have fallen by around 20% since it reported first-quarter earnings in late April.

Disclosure: Comcast, which owns CNBC parent NBCUniversal, is the owner of Sky.


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