Tony Khan was the most recent guest on Dan LeBatard’s South Beach Sessions podcast and the long-time sports journalist from The Miami Herald asked the AEW President about when his father Shad (who is the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars) realized that this new wrestling company was going to be a mainstream success.
“That didn’t really happen until we launched cause it was a leap of faith on his part because the projections I was giving him, there was no evidence that this was actually going to happen. I had to tell him, ‘I expect people are going to buy these PPVs, I expect we’re going to get this television deal, right now is the perfect time to start a wrestling company because of the abundance of talent that’s available.’
“As I explained to him at the time, if you were trying to go and start an NFL team, well, (A) there’s huge barrier entry, nobody’s going to let you into the NFL. Okay, well you could go start another football league, but to get fans, people are going to want to see the name players that they’re familiar with and the best level of football and the top quarterbacks, for example, that put together a great passing game are all in the NFL. We are really in a unique position in the world of wrestling where a lot of the best talent and most capable wrestlers who are going to be out of contract at the beginning of 2019 and there was a chance to put together a roster of wrestlers that would make us one of the top leagues in the world.”
Tony talked about how those first conversations with his father went but the introduction of Warner Media executive, Kevin Reilly really changed the game for his pop.
“The initial conversations were like, ‘this is kind of interesting.’ He wasn’t really going to commit to anything and then I had brought in my good friend Kevin Reilly, who also had shown some interest in the project. Kevin is the president of Warner Media and is the president of TNT and TBS Networks and Kevin is the first person I really approached about this idea when the TV rights for wrestling had gotten very valuable and his network was going to look at getting involved. They didn’t end up bidding on the WWE TV contracts to the point where they were going to be seriously considered air RAW or SmackDown, but they had taken a look at that and done their diligence and I think he realized that there’s a big audience for wrestling and for live TV viewership.
“With Kevin coming in, my dad was of course interested because here’s the president of WarnerMedia, the president of these huge cable channels, TNT and TBS, so he’s showing some interest in this, so my dad’s I think thinking, ‘Okay well I probably should show up and show some interest in this,’ but he knew when that happened, ‘Okay, well if the networks are taking a look at this, then this must be a serious deal.’
Khan did mention how satisfied his dad has been with taking the jump into wrestling.
“He’s done interviews since where he’s said he’s really glad he took that leap of faith cause it worked out so well, the company’s grown, but he’s been the first to admit, he was really skeptical and honestly didn’t believe it was going to work.”
LeBatard asked Tony if he was bluffing with his dad at all to which Khan responded with a flat-out “no,” but did say he was a little worried as the TV deal process continued to flesh itself out.
“I was worried, but I believed I could get them because I knew that there was interest . I heard from other TV channels that they had had serious interest in it if this hadn’t happened. I believed in the wrestling community, I believed in the wrestling fans and I believed that this was something that everybody had been wanting for so long for somebody that had the resources and the love of wrestling to step up and put together a roster, start a new league and do something with the production values that are really going to make people sit up and take notice…”
(Transcription credit should go to @DominicDeAngelo of WrestleZone)
You can listen to the entire conversation with LeBatard by going here.