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Corporate mergers have not been historically kind to professional wrestling, a lesson that All Elite Wrestling may be about to learn.

On August 4, Warner Bros. Discovery, the merged company resulting from Discovery’s acquisition of Warner Media from AT&T in April, held their first proper quarterly earnings call. Many topics were discussed by WBD CEO David Zaslav ranging from combining the HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming services into one platform to developing a ten-year plan for a DC movie universe reboot. The overall theme of the call and reports beforehand was the company making drastic budget cuts across the board and not being tied to projects from the old Warner Media regime.

This direction may not be good news for AEW. The Tony Khan-owned promotion was a darling of the old Warner Media regime, particularly Brett Weitz. Since the Discovery merger much of that said regime have left WBD. In their place now are Discovery executives unfamiliar with AEW as a product. That was evident in this year’s Upfront presentation Warner Bros. Discovery held with advertisers on May 18 when the promotion was barely mentioned, a sharp contrast from previous years where it was a prominent presence.

Khan for his part has remained positive about the relationship with Warner Bros. Discovery. He touted executives from the new conglomerate not only being in attendance for the June 1 episode of AEW Dynamite in the historic Forum in Los Angeles, but also hosting a party for the promotion afterwards. Since then, he has expressed optimism when asked about the looming negotiations for a new television rights deal and potential streaming service partnerships.

That optimism will be put to the test following the earnings call. AEW was featured on two slides in the call, one highlighting the promotion’s success in the 18-49 key demo and another showing a ring mat promoting Discovery’s perennial powerhouse Shark Week block. However, those were the only two mentions of AEW in the call and with Warner Bros. Discovery looking to cut costs overall that ratings success may not be enough for Khan to use as leverage.

This also comes at a time where AEW is now facing a revitalized competitor in a World Wrestling Entertainment empire no longer led by Vince McMahon.

When the WWE ex-patriarch announced his retirement from both corporate and creative roles on June 22 via Twitter it sent shockwaves in the wrestling world. While said retirement is largely due to the increased scrutiny over non-disclosure agreements involving sexual relations McMahon has had over that last two decades, it is also a welcome change. HIs style of booking, micromanaging, and preferences in what constituted a WWE ‘Superstar’ have long irritated not only talent, but fans as well. McMahon pushed enough fans away from WWE that it made another promotion like AEW a viable alternative creatively.

With McMahon out at WWE his daughter Stephanie has stepped in as chairwoman and co-CEO alongside Nick Khan. Her husband, Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque, regained his previous role as head of talent relations and has assumed the role as head of creative. Those corporate and creative changes have in short order raised morale among WWE talent and hope along among the fanbase.

It has also seen returns not though possible when the elder McMahon was at the WWE helm. Io Sharai (now IYO SKY) was thought to be on her way back to her native Japan, instead she made her main roster debut at SummerSlam held on July 30. Alongside her and a returning Bayley from injury was Dakota Kai who was released by WWE earlier in the year and was seen as destined to end up in AEW. Then on the August 5 episode of Friday Night SmackDown Karrion Kross made his return alongside his wife Scarlett Bordeaux in the main event.

Kross and Bordeaux were released by WWE in late 2021 & almost appeared in AEW in a proposed match against current TNT champion Wardlow.

Those returns alongside reports citing other released ex-WWE talent, including some already signed to AEW, that are willing to go back to the promotion with Levesque holding the creative pencil should concern Tony Khan.

A WWE that still has much deeper pockets as a company than AEW now becoming once again a desirable destination for the type of wrestlers Khan covets makes getting a much more lucrative television deal a priority to compete for top free agents. Warner Bros. Discovery may not share the same sentiment if their corporate hatchet is still swinging when negotiations with Khan begin in earnest. Even if Khan has the personal wealth through his father Shahid to keep AEW in its current financial state it would not be a desirable situation, especially should Warner Bros. Discovery choose to walk away ending both Dynamite and Rampage programs.

The situation eerily resembles the one World Championship Wrestling faced in 1999. There are key differences such as WCW being owned by then-Time Warner ensuring their programming time slots and the merger with AOL not yet finalized, but many of the same players are still involved as well as the environment in the wrestling world looking familiar. At that time the then-WWF was going full steam ahead embracing its Attitude Era pushing them ahead of WCW in the famed Monday Night War that ended with McMahon buying his competition outright for pennies on the dollar.

AEW not being part of the Warner Bros. Discovery corporate umbrella is now both a gift and a curse. Khan can move AEW to a new television provider but with no guarantee that it would come with a long-term commitment. The lack of a streaming service for AEW can prove especially damning as that would be a last resort should the promotion lose its television programming.

The more things change in the wresting world, the more they look to stay the same.


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