Since the announcement that AEW will roll out a third show, Collision, to give the returning CM Punk a place to wrestle after the disastrous All Out incident that more or less divided the locker room between Punk’s camp and The Elite, many questions have surrounded the launch of the show that probably can’t and won’t be answered until the company has several weeks of programming under its belt.
The most basic question: what will the format and roster of the first episode of Collision look like?
Punk will almost certainly open the show with his specialty, a promo. Beyond that, we know that Punk is slated to appear in the main event alongside FTR in a trios match and will face off against Jay White, Juice Robinson and Samoa Joe. And Miro, who has seemingly been forsaken by his god for a number of months, although he did make a brief appearance on an edition of Dynamite last month, is also expected to be on the show.
Beyond that, a Collision promotional poster indicates that the House of Black, Thunder Rosa, Powerhouse Hobbs, MJF, Orange Cassidy and Andrade El Idolo could also be featured. More names are likely to round out the roster as AEW gets its footing.
Will AEW have a hard or soft brand split? New TBS Women’s Champion Kris Statlander said she thinks the company will institute a soft split, according to a report from Fightful.
“I do think that it’s a good opportunity to get more people television time,” she said. “But I think that if people are willing to show up and — It’s also exciting knowing, like, you never know. Knowing that you’re only going to see some people on some days, that’s great, but also seeing someone show up on a Saturday, and then they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe they’re here. I wonder who they’re gonna work with and stuff.’”
People showing up on one brand or another will, of course, depend on how individual wrestlers view the All Out media scrum when Punk hurled scathing criticisms against the company’s executive vice presidents, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, as well as Punk’s former friend Colt Cabana. The press conference was followed by a scuffle in Punk’s locker room involving the EVPs, Punk’s friend and trainer Ace Steel and others.
The third and, perhaps, most important question surrounding AEW’s new show: how will television ratings fare in the weeks and months after the debut. As we know from AEW Rampage, which normally airs at 10 p.m. Friday nights on TNT when it isn’t preempted by sports, the show received a huge rating for its second episode, “The Last Dance,” featuring the return of Punk on Aug. 20, 2021, after 7 ½ years away from the ring.
Rampage mounted a 1.129 rating that night but plummeted to 700,000 viewers the next week. By October of its first year, the show was drawing in the range of 500,000. Since then, with some exceptions, the show has hovered in the high 200,000s up to the 500,000s.
Will Collision suffer the same fate? One could argue that Collision is in an even worse timeslot than Rampage. At least Rampage follows Smackdown!, the highest rated wrestling show on television. Collision, slated to air at 8 p.m. Saturdays on TNT, with the premiere set for June 17, appears to be in a death slot.
Decades ago pre-social media and pre-streaming, Saturday night wrestling was a tradition in households across the country. But today, AEW owner Tony Khan is going to have a real challenge on his hands drawing viewers and creating compelling television on Collision after the novelty wears off, and if Dynamite is any gauge, the outlook doesn’t look promising.
With his flagship product, Khan has failed to entice new viewers to watch Dynamite, and on many weeks, the show loses a significant portion of its audience during its two-hour runtime. Dynamite peaked with its first episode on Oct. 2, 2019, at 1.4 million viewers. Since its debut, the show has 34 episodes, out of more than 190, that have drawn over 1 million views. That amounts to 17 percent of all episodes eclipsing that mark.
The show lost about 400,000 people between week one and week two in its first year, and then after week three, it leveled off into the following pattern: a smattering of ratings in the 600,000s during its four-year history, but mostly, viewership has stayed in the 700,000-900,000 range.
Critics of this approach will argue that television ratings can’t be the main gauge of successful programs in 2023 because of streaming, YouTube and other outlets. But it must be factored in as an important gauge, maybe the most important gauge, or else, networks would no longer use the Nielsen ratings to judge the viability of their own programs. Traditional TV ratings also indicate, unlike streaming, the number of people who like a show enough to take time out of their day to either watch it live or set up a DVR recording.
In any case, Collision is facing an uphill battle, and the timeslot isn’t going to do Khan and Co. any favors as they try to gin up interest in a third program.
Related to and dovetailing with Collision’s planned airing on Saturdays, a conspiracy theory that has been bandied about in wrestling circles needs to be shot down.
The theory suggests that AEW Collision was set up to fail by Khan and the EVPs and, because of the EVPs’ contempt for Punk, if and when the new show does not draw ratings comparable to Dynamite featuring The Bucks, Omega and their cohorts, then Punk will be seen as a failure. Meanwhile, the reputation of The Elite as the main players in the company will be established.
The first thing to say is that while The Elite might secretly wish for this to happen — we’ll never know, and they’ll never tell — Khan would have to be the worst businessman ever to run a wrestling show that he actively hopes will fail. Second, the timeslot issue only compounds the work that AEW creative has to do to get Collision some traction. A dissertation could be composed listing all the ways AEW could improve its product and draw new viewers, but these are not going away, no matter what night the new show airs.
The fact is that AEW has severe issues on all of its shows. To name a few, the company has:
- too many people getting lost in the shuffle
- too many indie wrestlers and not enough legit stars that draw viewers beyond the core audience
- too many stars who have gotten over but lost momentum because of bad booking
- too many storylines that don’t make sense or go nowhere
- too many matches that don’t tell a story and have limited or no psychology
- too much in-ring chaos and confusion that leads to audience burnout and makes matches unmemorable
- too much in-ring choreography and cooperation, making it difficult to suspend disbelief that wrestlers dislike each other and are engaged in what are supposed to look like real fights
Notwithstanding all of that, without a new booker or some kind of major overhaul creatively, the best case scenario is that Collision is going to go the way of Dynamite and perhaps draw comparable weekly numbers after plateauing a few months into the show’s run.
The more troubling future for Khan and AEW fans is that, especially if Punk gets hurt or has another fallout with the company, Collision could become just another Rampage — skippable and extraneous.