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AEW vs. NXT: Who won the ‘Wednesday Night War’?

Let’s discuss the aftermath of wrestling’s latest large scale conflict.

Ulysses S. Grant once said, “war…war, never changes” while he was frantically switching between TNT and the USA Network to watch both AEW: Dynamite and NXT. The 18th President of the United States has spent many forth-Wednesdays keeping watch over the “Wednesday Night War”. With furrowed brows, he’d yell, “ALEXA, put on USA” whenever Dakota Kai would be near, feverishly change to AEW whenever Kenny Omega would appear, and would always, always lash out on Twitter whenever JR would say something reckless or sexist. But now, the man who led The Union Army against The Confederacy during the Civil War can rest easy. NXT is moving to Tuesdays and he can now watch Io Shirai and John Silver in peace.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Of course, we’re kidding.  Ulysses S. Grant *spoiler alert* passed away in 1885 and everyone knows he only watched NJPW. But jests aside, it seems that the “Wednesday War” has come to an end now that NXT is moving to Tuesdays. As with any war, it now falls on us to determine the ramifications of it. Join us below as Jay and Darius try to make sense of all this fall-out. 

Is NXT making the right call by moving to Tuesday nights and who stands to gain more?

Darius: I absolutely think NXT moving to Tuesday nights is a great move for both shows. If this had happened pre-pandemic, I’d say it helps NXT the most, as NXT was trying to establish itself as a third main roster brand and having them set up in Full Sail while Dynamite was on a big old TV show made them look lesser by default. But during this era where it’s Daily’s Place vs CWC every week, and the presentation nearly balances out (live outdoor crowd vs high-tech TV world), I think this swings back around to being better for AEW.

The conversation needs to stop being AEW vs NXT and become more about AEW establishing itself as an alternative to WWE as a whole. I don’t envision a future near or far where AEW ever overtakes WWE or anything like that, but by no longer having to run up against WWE’s “third show,” they automatically rise up a level.

Jay: NXT is making the right move. NXT’s mission statement is to provide a platform for their younger, emerging stars to hone their skills for the main-roster while providing the WWE fanbase a more, “hardcore,” alternative to traditional WWE. NXT has been long beloved by WWE fans for providing exactly that but they were out-gunned by AEW, and AEW, in contrast to NXT, provided already established stars that the hardcore audience was already familiar in an environment that was inherently an alternative to WWE. In short, AEW did NXT better than NXT did, and it stopped NXT from fulfilling its prime directive. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but the black and gold brand moving to Tuesday is better for their wrestlers and their brand.

Can AEW consider this a victory against WWE?

Darius: I would say so. It’s not a huge win at the level of Raw beating Nitro or anything, but it certainly ranks higher than Raw beating Impact. NXT was a Wednesday show forever, and while Dynamite initially shot for Tuesdays, and when TNT’s schedule put them on Wednesdays they were suddenly invading WWE’s spot. With NXT being the one to move, it’s certainly a win for The Elite and company.

Also, just statistically speaking, Dynamite slaughtered NXT. AEW got more viewers 63 weeks to NXT’s 10 (and they surprisingly tied twice). And if we only speak the mystical language of ratings, AEW won 74 to 1. I’d say this is a win.

Jay: No, AEW barely beat WWE JV’s team. AEW is a young promotion that came into being by gathering just about every single reputable professional wrestler not locked into a long-term contract and, serendipitously, were fortunate enough to sign Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. They then, rather impressively and inspiringly, went on to produce a wonderful, can’t miss, weekly program and to date have yet to produce a stinker in 1.5 years. Using that momentum, they went on to sign Christian Cage, Matt Hardy, the late Brodie Lee, and even one the last stalwart icons from The Monday Night Wars era, Sting; and seemingly entered into a cooperation with Impact and NJPW.

On the other side of the field? Finn Balor, Adam Cole, and a Johnny Gargano who spent the better part of the conflict finding his footing as a heel. Dynamite should have slaughtered NXT and while, yes, they did beat them the vast majority of the weeks, the ratings never reflected the disparity in their talent rosters (even with help from two other promotions). The headline doesn’t read “AEW beats WWE” but “Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, and Sting can’t put down Cameron Grimes.”

Will ratings increase for both shows or will they simply equalize?

Darius: My gut says that NXT and Dynamite will simply both raise like 200,000 viewers on average. One of those special 900,000-viewer weeks for AEW might become 1.1 million viewer weeks, and NXT specials might hit 1 million again like their USA debut did. On an average week, though, I see it being maybe 900,000 viewers for AEW and 800,000 for NXT. I’d love to be wrong about both, though, because two more wrestling shows scratching a million each week would be great.

As for ratings, I think both will see a spike coming up and we’ll need to take these next few weeks with a grain of salt. AEW’s next show is a huge special, but it’s also up against the finale for MTV’s “The Challenge,” so that’s a wildcard ratings-wise. NXT’s coming off their annual WrestleMania weekend TakeOver as well, so their ratings should go up, but I think we won’t see the new normal ratings until maybe a month from now.

Jay: They’re going to equalize. I’m of the mind that the majority of the wrestling audience is comprised of the aged “old-guard” from The Attitude Era and the young adult crowd that WWE purposefully caters to via their often cartoonish characters. Raw and SmackDown likely gets the full breadth of said audience, explaining their consistently higher ratings than both Dynamite and NXT, while AEW and NXT make no effort to market to that audience, thusly explaining the converse. I truly believe that AEW and NXT gathers the same audience every week and that any discrepancy in the ratings is due to one show having a title match or some other attraction that convinces some people to stop switching between the two. And since neither show is going to inherently change, the audience is going to simply park on the USA Network on Tuesdays and TNT on Wednesdays.

Was there even a war at all?

Darius: There was absolutely a war, if only in the minds of fans. Look at any post about AEW or NXT on Twitter and the replies will be full of the other show’s fans dunking on it. And because the two shows were on the same night at the same time and had a very similar fanbase, they definitely fought over the ratings.

But on a company level, I think Jericho being on Broken Skull Sessions is the clearest example of why there wasn’t a war: WWE wasn’t worried, and AEW is willing to play ball. Sure, AEW takes random pot shots every once in a while, but it always feels like a wink and a nod to their fanbase, less of an actual attack on WWE. And WWE…pretended AEW didn’t exist aside from a press release, a Sami Zayn promo, and a few light attempts at counter-programming. These two companies may “go to war” in the future as more contracts come up (all eyes on Thunder Rosa), but for now, it’s just two companies who can coexist but “fight” just due to the nature of TV.

Jay: I mean, I guess there was a war? On the surface, yes, there was a war. Prior to AEW’s inception, NXT was a WWE Network exclusive show that oh-so-coincidentally decided to move to the USA Network after Dynamite was announced to air on Wednesdays. That, probably, does qualify as an act of war but, aren’t wars fought for a reason? WWE did have incentive to try and counter AEW from laying down roots in their quasi-monopolized niche market but, assuming my theory about the wrestling audience is correct, doesn’t WWE know they’ve cultivated all the fans they are ever going to have? And if that is true, why fight when there’s nothing to win? Triple H, the guy who is in charge of NXT, has stated multiple times that the move to USA was always in the cards and dismissed allegations of it being an attempt to circumvent AEW. Yea, that smells like BS but just because it is lathered in corporate malarkey doesn’t mean there might be some truth to it. Maybe, “Wednesday Night Skirmish” is more apt.

 

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