Do you know who Hulk Hogan is? ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin? John Cena?
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson?
You don’t need to know a lick about professional wrestling to recognize these household mega-names of so many childhoods.
They were all brought to you by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which has been the biggest pro wrestling company in the world and remains so. Valued at $9.3 billion, the publicly traded WWE claims to be seen by billions in 180 countries and in 35 different languages.
In rasslin’, it doesn’t get any bigger.
Until it just did.
Only four years old, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) just nearly packed out Wembley Stadium in London for their upcoming All-In PPV this Sunday, August 27th, with the latest reported number of tickets sold or distributed being 80,846.
The self-identifying “challenger brand” has now surpassed the audience attendance record previously set by WWE in 2016 for WrestleMania 32 in Arlington (Dallas area), Texas with 80,709.
How does this happen? How does a company as big, successful and longstanding as the WWE get outdone, if for only one event, by a company that didn’t even exist before 2019?
That’s easy: Market demand.
For nearly 20 years, the only major company in the industry was the WWE. There have always been smaller pro wrestling promotions that continue to prosper but none of them could ever compete on a large scale.
Because how do you compete with billionaire Vince McMahon, the creator and longtime head of today’s WWE?
You find another billionaire.
Tony Khan is the son of Pakistan-American immigrant billionaire Shad Khan who owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and English soccer team Fulham FC, among other things. Tony Khan believed that there was room for another national wrestling company that could be competitive with WWE and has done just that in a short time, with television ratings solid enough that reportedly the company could be valued at $1 billion as it approaches a potential new TV deal.
There had long been a consumer demand for more major league pro wrestling—trust me, as a lifelong fan, the appetite had always been there—but until relatively recently, no one had the resources plus business knowledge to provide it.
Make no mistake: AEW is still no. 2 to WWE’s no. 1 overall. But as with any product, consumers want choices. When companies compete in the market it improves overall quality. Since the inception of AEW, WWE has since upped its game and ratings—for a variety of reasons, but finally having some kind of competition is also undoubtedly a factor.
This results in a better product not only for the fans, but also for the wrestlers. It’s no longer WWE or bust. Wrestlers can now go elsewhere and make comparable livings.
Some wrestlers thought to be WWE-bound have chosen AEW instead for more money, and can achieve even more fame depending on how they’re booked. One AEW co-founder Cody Rhodes, son of the late wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, even left AEW to become one of WWE’s top stars right now. It was his experience in AEW that gave him more value to the WWE.
Fans and performers alike have options for the first time in a long time.
That’s how markets work.
AEW has never held an event in Europe, which is part of the enthusiasm abroad for this show. Still, this Sunday, the most wrestling fans ever will be part of the biggest pro wrestling event in history—and it’s all due to competition.
There is one exception regarding the record. The actual biggest pro wrestling event in the world was held in 1995 in North Korea that reportedly reached 190,000 in attendance because the communist government forced people to go. No one bought a ticket. The crowd was mostly quiet because most didn’t even know what they were watching.
You can’t really brag about a crowd record when the “fans” are forced to go under threat by their government. Think of China and its bizarre Beijing Olympics in 2022.
Definitely no free market in North Korea! Or freedom period.
But here today in the free world, this weekend capitalism will have achieved what no one in the professional wrestling industry—especially the WWE—ever thought was possible.