If AEW is focused more on indie stars to fill out their roster, Tony Khan might be making a critical mistake while trying to grow his brand.
It's crystal clear that Tony Khan is a professional wrestling fan. In saying that, he's not just a fan of WWE or WCW -- the two mainstream products that got a lot of love from network cable companies dating all the way to the 1980s. Khan is a real student of the industry and loves independent wrestling and many of the stars that come from promotions the casual fan doesn't know very well. This certainly isn't a bad thing, but it does create a situation where Khan needs to be cautious about whom he signs and who he prioritizes as he's trying to make AEW a ratings juggernaut and profitable company. He also needs to be careful about whom he and his talent alienate along the way.THESPORTSTER VIDEO OF THE DAY
Currently, the AEW roster has a great mix of homegrown talent, former WWE stars, and indie wrestlers. That said, more and more, Khan seems to be signing independent talent and treating them as though they are big draws when they aren't. Meanwhile, he's allowing his talent to take shots at fans who support WWE and if he keeps going this route, he's either going to have to quickly prove these talents he prioritizes are stars, or he's going to have a problem on his hands.
If you follow the industry closely, you know who Jay White is. Fans who follow more than just WWE likely had a decent idea of who Brody King, Danhausen, Eddie Kingston, Jay Lethal, Swerve Strickland, and a couple of other recent AEW signings are. In the case of Strickland, his short run in WWE probably helped create awareness of the level of in-ring skill he possesses, even if he wasn't made out to be a star and barely made it past 205 Live and NXT. With that in mind, AEW needs to be aware that only a small portion of the audience they serve does more than watch two hours of Dynamite and one hour of Rampage each week. That same fan probably also watches three hours of Raw and two hours of SmackDown, plus pay-per-views. They enjoy it all.
If AEW is going to continually bring in names that the larger fan base isn't familiar with, he needs to take time to tell their stories. It's one thing to bring in a Jay White and offer some background as to where he comes from and outline an origin story. It's another to assume everyone watching is intricately familiar with his work or not bother to talk about his past because AEW fans should do their research. How many fans can actually name all the members of the Bullet Club? How many know that White and The Young Bucks or Kenny Omega go way back and have a long history? It's risky to assume the casual fan has that knowledge base from which to work.
AEW has been doing this since day one when Dark Order arrived at their first show and instead of taking the time to correct the issue, they seem to send out the vibe that it's the fan's fault if they don't know who these guys are.
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This will be a controversial statement, and it's not the case in all situations, but for the most part, there's a good reason independent wrestlers have been independent wrestlers for so long. While some have wanted the freedom to do their own thing and make their own schedule, most would relish the opportunity to work for one of the big two companies. They haven't gotten the shot because they simply didn't get noticed or haven't adapted to what the mainstream audience wants.
For every AJ Styles -- who spent 20 years everywhere else but WWE and instantly became a star when he signed -- or for guys like Eddie Kingston -- who is growing quite popular among the AEW fan base -- there are hundreds of wrestlers who haven't worked their way into WWE's crosshairs. It could be that WWE doesn't want indie guys, but it also could be that the mass audience just doesn't connect with the talent and their style doesn't appeal to the mainstream masses. A guy like Keith Lee is a great example. There's a portion of the avid wrestling fan base that can't figure out why he's not a megastar. There's another that doesn't think he's got the "it factor" and understands why WWE let him go.
As much as fans hate on WWE for their characters and gimmick-driven approach, it's hard to argue against their formula for making money and entertaining a massive audience. Vince McMahon certainly doesn't always hit it out of the park, but he understands and has nearly perfected the formula for what makes a household name or draws people in. It's big, it's flashy, it's marketable and it often has very little to do with how off the hook a wrestling match is between two guys that deserve more of a spotlight.
Look at the most popular indie guys in AEW. Orange Cassidy is right at the top of the list. He can wrestle, but that's not why fans like him.
Again, there's certainly room for AEW and there should be a place to showcase the talent that WWE might ignore. There are so many great things to like about what Tony Khan is putting together, fans should be grateful they have options. Where AEW needs to be careful is the message that big stars like CM Punk and others are sending out in recent media scrums. Punk recently noted that there are two kinds of fans: those "weird WWE fans" who only know that product and fans who know that professional wrestling exists. He talked down to the former and believes AEW serves the latter.
What Punk and AEW need to remember is that the latter is a much smaller group than the former and if AEW wants to be a powerhouse in the industry, it's time they understand their actual audience. Don't just focus on actual stars or on guys who made it big on the indie scene but haven't otherwise made a dent. What's more important is that they build their show around talents who the audience will buy a ticket to see and drop whatever they're doing to watch the main event talent on television. As silly as it sounds, AEW might be making a mistake by trying to market their product as the "best wrestling show" while trash-talking those who dare like something else.
Indie guys are only useful if you tell their story, give them a gimmick and create drama that creates emotion for the fans. Anything else is just indie wrestling and while indie wrestling is fine, a really big indie company with a television deal is not what AEW should aspire to be.ECW December To Dismember: The Show That Caused Paul Heyman To Quit WWE Read NextShareTweetShareEmail Related TopicsAbout The AuthorJim Parsons(4876 Articles Published)
Jim Parsons is a Canadian-based entrepreneur and freelance writer. His resume includes regular contributions at http://thehockeywriters.com/author/jparsons/, theoilersnetwork.com and edmontonweddingdjs.net. Jim is a devoted husband, loving father of two and fan of the Edmonton Oilers -- not necessarily in that order.