The professional wrestling industry has been buzzing with debates and conjecture following AEW’s decision to part ways with the inimitable CM Punk. The separation, which came after an incident with Jack Perry backstage, was announced by AEW’s Tony Khan on a live broadcast of “AEW Collision” on September 2nd. The immediate aftermath was a sharp dip in television ratings, sparking a dialogue on the long-term impact of this development for AEW and its programming.
The episode of “Collision” in question drew an average viewership of 345,000, marking a concerning low for the fledgling program on TNT. Moreover, approximately 90,000 viewers reportedly switched channels soon after the announcement of Punk’s termination. Such statistics could easily lead one to make a direct correlation between Punk’s exit and the ratings decline. However, wrestling industry veteran and WWE Hall of Famer Eric Bischoff has alternative perspectives to offer.
“I think people are making too big a deal [out of it]. Before you jump to the conclusion that 89,000 people left because of CM Punk… I think that’s a giant leap into fantasy land,” Bischoff commented on his “Strictly Business” podcast. He posited alternative contributing factors such as strong competition from WWE’s Payback event and key college football games that aired simultaneously, which could have syphoned off viewers. “What was the lead-in for that show? That’s the first thing I would want to know,” Bischoff added.
CM Punk, dubbed “The Second City Saint,” had been a cornerstone in AEW’s financial strategy, contributing to ticket sales, merchandise revenue, and pay-per-view buys. Nevertheless, Bischoff questions the overarching significance of Punk’s role in “AEW Collision.” “It opened up with 800,000 [viewers] and before Punk got let go, it was bouncing around 400,000 or 500,000 viewers,” he said, indicating that even with Punk, the show wasn’t experiencing stratospheric success. “It wasn’t like it was setting the world on fire to begin with, and we all knew that when college football became a thing, it was gonna take another big hit.”
Since Punk’s departure, AEW has been spotlighting other talent like Jon Moxley and The Young Bucks, individuals who previously had some backstage friction with Punk. Whether this will be a new direction for “Collision” or just a stop-gap remains to be seen.
Simultaneously, the industry is rife with rumours about CM Punk’s potential return to WWE, though there has been no confirmation that Triple H or Vince McMahon is prepared to mend fences following a contentious split back in 2014.
Away from the drama surrounding CM Punk, Bischoff had some hard critiques for AEW’s Tony Khan, particularly his abilities as a booker. “Tony is not the booker that Dave Meltzer promotes him to be. When it comes to creative, Tony’s—I think he’s missing the mark and doesn’t understand the broader television product or the television audience,” Bischoff asserted on his podcast. He emphasised that mere fandom does not equate to booking or promoting competency. “Being a wrestling fan, all your life does not necessarily mean you automatically understand how to build a wrestling project, or brand, or company. It just doesn’t.”
Bischoff also weighed in on the expanding role of Bryan Danielson in AEW’s creative team. “If there’s any possibility that Bryan Danielson is going to get an opportunity to run Collision, or at least have a serious voice on the creative side of that show, I think it has much potential,” he noted.
The dynamics within AEW are multifaceted, and the decline in ratings for “AEW Collision” cannot be simplistically attributed to CM Punk’s exit. Bischoff’s insights invite us to consider a more nuanced landscape, where multiple elements like competitive programming, creative directions, and talent management all play pivotal roles. As the dust settles on these significant changes, it will be intriguing to see how AEW navigates these complex waters in its quest for wrestling supremacy.