Report: AEW Set for “Huge Push” at Upcoming Warner Bros. Discovery Upfronts

AEW to be featured at upfronts
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In April, Discovery completed its acquisition of WarnerMedia as the two companies merged to become Warner Bros. Discovery. With this new merger came uncertainty especially among wrestling fans, regarding the fate of AEW. The new Warner Bros. Discovery company didn’t waste time making shakeups as there have been several significant personnel changes at the top, and major cancellations of properties, most notably that of the barely launched CNN+. While AEW’s standing with WarnerMedia had seemed to be rock solid, there was always going to be some concern about what the merger would mean for the wrestling company’s future and tangibles such as a television deal that is due to be renegotiated in December 2023. Recently, on his Wrestling Observer Forum (you must have an account for access), Dave Meltzer seemed to quell some of these concerns as well as provide hope for AEW to have an even bigger presence with the new company, when he noted, “AEW will be getting a big push at the upfronts.”

The upfronts are a period of about two-three months when every major TV and streaming company showcases the best of their portfolio in an effort to pitch advertisers on why they should invest significant sums of money in the company’s programming. Normally companies use this time to showcase trailers for beloved returning shows or pilots for exciting new ventures. Much was the case the first time AEW factored into WarnerMedia’s upfronts. In 2019, the partnership between Turner and AEW was made public in the lead-up to the upfronts that year, with Tony Khan and several AEW wrestlers taking part in the event showcase shortly after the deal was official. In 2021, the upfronts took place virtually due to Covid, but once again, AEW was front and center as the premiere of Rampage was highlighted as was the impending move of Dynamite from TNT to TBS to make way for the new deal the company had signed to continue weekly broadcasts of NHL games.

In 2022, it looks like AEW will be at the forefront again. In addition to Meltzer’s report, Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer at Warner Bros. Discovery, echoed a similar sentiment as sports and sports advertising were major talking points in an interview recently conducted with Broadcasting+Cable. “We don’t think an advertiser can really effectively market on national television over those months without sports,” Steinlauf said. “We look at sports as the new primetime. It just decimated everything in its sights from an audience perspective. Even marketers aiming for women have to take a hard look now at the reach of sports for female demographics.”

While AEW may not be considered sports in the traditional sense, the wrestling company joins other Turner properties such as rights to the NBA (both regular season and playoffs), NHL (both regular season and playoffs), March Madness, MLB (Sunday games and playoffs), Bleacher Report, and more. This was one area that Discovery did not venture into, and one that truly makes this merger the best of both worlds for the two former parent companies which are now one entity. AEW, while it may not demand the same kind of advertising as some of the major sports leagues, is unique in the nature that it has no offseason. With Warner Bros. Discovery having their hand in every sport but football, AEW’s presence during the NFL season, when the company has no other sports to broadcast, could well fill in some major advertising gaps. As Meltzer also noted, Warner Bros. Discovery execs are quite impressed with AEW’s year-over-year ratings increases, whereas many other television properties have seen sharp declines. This well could serve as a major reason why AEW is expected to be featured heavily at this year’s upfronts. But to what that feature will be is anyone’s guess.
There have been several rumors floating around as to what AEW’s “big push” could entail with recent Ring of Honor trademark filings suggesting perhaps a TV deal for the now Khan-owned promotion. However, it is also worth noting that with the merger comes an additional streaming potential for AEW as in addition to Warner’s HBO Max, Warner Bros. Discovery is also home to Discovery +. And really, the only thing missing from that service that could help entice additional subscribers is the presence of Warner’s scripted sitcoms, live sports, and events. No word has been made regarding if this will be the streaming opportunity AEW (and likely the historic ROH library) will soon call home.
However, what does seem to be clear is that there is going to be more emphasis on the advertising side of things for AEW. Steinlauf is planning to expand Discovery Premiere, an advertising package first introduced in 2018-19, to include live sports and the “best of Warner,” which according to Broadcast+Cable, “The best of Warner means sports, AEW wrestling, the best of CNN’s brand-safe specials and originals documentary films.”
Increased presence in the advertising market share suggests that AEW is certainly a priority for the new execs over at Warner Bros. Discovery. So, whether the May 18th upfronts result in the news of an ROH TV show, a streaming deal for all of Khan’s content, or something else entirely, fans can breathe easy knowing that it seems AEW isn’t going off the air anytime soon.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world. As well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.  You can catch AEW Dynamite Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on TBS and AEW Dark: Elevation (Monday nights) and AEW: Dark (Tuesday nights) at 7 PM ET on YouTube. AEW Rampage airs on TNT at 10 PM EST every Friday night.