HEYDORN’S TAKE: AEW gambling on tonight’s “gateway” match to boost audience

BY ZACK HEYDORN, PWTORCH COLUMNIST (@zheydorntorch)


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Winter is coming to AEW, but Dynamite feels pretty darn hot to me.

Tonight, live on TNT, Tony Khan and company will present their biggest television show to date, and they’ve lathered the broadcast with premiere material like I’ve lathered my hands with sanitizer for the last eight months.

The story of tonight begins and ends with Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega for the AEW World Championship. It’s a PPV level, main event match that commands attention and focus. So, why is it on free television? With AEW still firmly rooted in the PPV business, why give this away and leave potential revenue on the table? It’s a smart, logical question to be sure, but here’s the answer.

Ever heard of a gateway drug? If not, the Webster definition is “a drug whose use is thought to lead to the use of and dependence on a harder drug.” So, think of tonight’s enormous main event between AEW’s two biggest stars as the company’s gateway match. Revenue be damned at the moment. Moxley vs. Omega is being given out for free to be the drug that leads to future AEW dependence.

With Omega where he’s at right now and the run Moxley has been on for the last year, this match is the biggest match AEW can book – especially with the championship on the line. I’m guessing here, but more eyeballs will be on tonight’s product since the debut episode of Dynamite over a year ago. Khan is counting on that. Omega vs. Moxley alone may deliver well enough to give casual AEW viewers their fix of the brand and entice them to keep coming back like the rest of the AEW addicts. That’s certainly part of the goal. To make sure AEW earns those new addicts though, the up-and-coming talent needs to shine and show how fresh and relevant the AEW brand is.

Orange Cassidy has been a bright spot for AEW in its first year of existence and one of its homegrown stars. He needs to be prominently featured in the Diamond Battle Royal. Fans who have never seen him will get their first look, and it should be a look that forces investment and keeps them coming back. This means a smart balance between his comedy shtick and competitive wrestling and that same balance by the commentary team so as to deliver a narrative that engages the new eyes to want to see more.

The same goes for Darby Allin, Ricky Starks, and Powerhouse Hobbs. The bright lights will be on them and Cody Rhodes in a tag team match where they get to introduce themselves to the bigger wrestling world. Allin has an innate presence about him that needs the spotlight. Starks and Hobbs both have unique traits that should be highlighted well enough to hook the audience into coming back. For Starks, it’s his ring work and obnoxious heel tendencies. For Hobbs, it’s natural charisma, comfort, and athletic prowess in the ring.

For the veterans like Jericho and Cody, they need to just be them. Jericho can soak up the moment with the limited audience belting out his entrance music, and Cody can act like the star he is for a large audience that may still view him as a silly mid-card, Goldust wannabe.

Britt Baker needs to deliver tonight as well. The AEW women’s division has been running on fumes for the better part of six months, and Baker is the sole act to define herself in a way that got over. Her heel mannerisms and dismissive attitude can be a hit if finessed right, and tonight she’ll have an opportunity to showcase that in a way that can refocus her division while highlighting her as a star and challenger for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship.

Tony Khan is gambling tonight. He’s sampling his best stuff in Moxley vs. Omega in an effort to grow his loyal fan base. The needle is in the veins. We’ll see how strong the drug really is.


NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: Don’t hold me to this – WWE Survivor Series 2020

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