Tony Khan walks into the press scrum following the first broadcast of AEW Dynamite with signs he’s finally able to breathe easily with the show’s debut past him. Coat removed, his tie knot slightly loosened, the 36-year-old owner of All Elite Wrestling explains his plans for the future and proving that no owner in sports is having more fun right now than he is.
Khan has been sold from the beginning as a wrestling fan running the company, not just a billionaire. His child-like glee following the show is proof positive this isn’t just a PR move. Never quite comfortable being the focus of a room’s attention, Khan stands with his hands on his hips, or awkwardly gesturing to make a point, like a grade-schooler trying to put lessons on public speaking to good use. There’s an endearing lack of polish that makes everything feel more earnest, more human. After each question he catches himself before moving onto the next raised hand “Thank you, thank you for asking” he says to each reporter with a smile.
“Are there any benchmarks going into the show that you can say you checked off tonight?” a reporter asks, “Yeah! Like all of them!” Khan responds quickly, grinning ear-to-ear, nervous laughter punctuating his statement.
At the time nobody knew what the ratings would look like. Khan himself tempered expectations when he was informed that AEW was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter for much of the night, saying that social media doesn’t always translate into TV ratings. We now know that AEW did a 1.4 on Wednesday night, the second-highest rated cable show — losing out only to the MLB Wild Card game, and trouncing WWE’s NXT show in the first week of the “Wednesday Night Wars,” professional wrestling’s newest battle with the upstart AEW running head-to-head against NXT for the 8 p.m. time slot.
But Khan knows this isn’t about one week, a battle, or even a larger war. This is about making his company relevant and making it matter, regardless of what his competition does.
“I have all eight of our cameras, all our camera angles, and the live feed of our show, plus the network feed — and the headset and a stopwatch,” he says when asked if he kept tabs on NXT through the evening. “I have no idea what they did tonight.”
Khan will be backstage at every show as AEW Dynamite tours the country. More hands-on than most presidents of companies. He’s monitoring every aspect of the business to ensure it meets his vision as closely as possible. A self-professed stats geek, Khan is even looking into advanced stat tracking of matches, charting things like kickouts, reversals and pinfall attempts not just to portray AEW as a more sports-focused product, but eventually opening the door to fantasy sports.
“I’ve been talking about trying to do fantasy wrestling for years,” Khan says, “it’s going to be really, really exciting as we build our fan base.”
Even as he begins to tire Khan is still answering questions with gusto. He points out several times that he’s been talking for a while, yet it’s almost like he doesn’t want to leave. Offering to answer a couple more questions he launches into long explanations, even to the most mundane of queries. Above all else, it shows that he cares.
That care is critical because it’s yet another differentiator in a company trying to learn from the sins of the past inside the wrestling industry. It’s often said that Ted Turner’s disdain for professional wrestling is what killed WCW in the early-2000s, the only real competition WWE has seen in decades — but thus far AEW is a polar opposite, at least when it comes to its executives.
“He really loves this shit,” a veteran reporter says when Khan finally leaves the room. Reporters nod in agreement. It’s the difference that won’t just make AEW stand out in an industry where many have failed to make a mark, but the biggest sign that this company is here to stay.