Where does AEW need improvement?

If you’re a longtime follower of WrestleView – and/or of myself – you know I’ve been a supporter of AEW since its inception and I thoroughly enjoy its product.

I think there are many things that AEW does well and, for the most part, every week the promotion puts on excellent television. There are a lot of criticisms out there about AEW and many of them are accurate, in my opinion, but there are even more that are completely bad faith and without any intent of constructive criticism. What I’m doing here is pointing out the areas in which I believe AEW needs improvement.

Managing its huge roster

I’m of the opinion that having a big, talented roster is in no way a negative, no matter what trolls may say, but it also requires great handling and managing of that roster. At one point WCW had one of the most talented rosters in the business and did a fantastic job of utilizing it, but there were also times where it was the complete opposite. You could argue that the WWE had one of the greatest rosters in wrestling history for more than a decade but the booking and use of that roster was atrocious for much of that time. On the other hand, ECW’s roster was always small and utilized to its maximum potential more times than not.

Too many times AEW will feature certain talent for weeks on end and then suddenly stop featuring them on TV at all. I’m not someone that looks at “Dark” as being purgatory and AEW uses it to build up challengers that they eventually bring back on TV – see Jay Lethal – but the truth is most fans simply don’t watch it.

Dante Martin used his brother’s injury as a chance to get over big with the AEW audience and AEW did a fantastic job of continuing to use him despite him being a lifelong tag team wrestler. When his brother finally returned, they got a massive ovation in their first appearance back and then they were gone for more than a month before Dante popped up in a trios match this week on Dynamite. He’s young and they clearly have plans for him but doing next to nothing for weeks could potentially hurt him.

The women’s division is another example of the inconsistent handling of the roster. Thunder Rosa was pushed brilliantly as a challenger for the title and her crowning moment was a moment that most AEW fans will always remember, but her usage has been inconsistent at best since winning the belt. A number of talented women sit on the sidelines while much more inexperienced – and green – wrestlers have received TV time. I understand the importance of getting young wrestlers on TV but when you have a roster full of athletes like Kris Statlander, Serena Deeb, Toni Storm, Hikaru Shida, Britt Baker, Jamie Hayter, Mercedes Martinez and Riho, those are the women that should get the lion’s share of the TV time, while the younger wrestlers learn and grow on Dark and Dark: Elevation.

TV/PPV presentation

For the most part, AEW’s production standards are excellent but too often all of the shows look exactly the same. Whether it’s Dynamite, Rampage, Battle for the Belts or a PPV, almost all of AEW’s events have the same look and feel, which certainly hurts the atmosphere.

There are some exceptions to this rule, Full Gear’s set design and look sets it apart from everything else AEW does. The “Bash at the Beach” episode of Dynamite back in 2019 had a completely differently look than any other episode of the show. AEW does a lot of “themed” edition of Dynamites and while stacking those cards like a mini PPV is great, the presentation rarely changes.

AEW doesn’t need to have gigantic sets that look like a movie set for PPVs or special events but adding touches to each set can make it standout and make the product feel fresh in ways that can’t really be described.

If you go back and look at WCW’s PPV from 1996 through 1999 – and I’m only talking about the look, not the quality of the show itself – and then watch the shows from 2000, the look of the shows is stark in contrast. Whereas each PPV felt unique and different in the 90s, late WCW felt like it was the same show every single week whether TV or PPV. WWE has that same problem now. Every show looks like Raw, other than huge PPVs like WrestleMania.

Even doing something simple like scaling the set down for smaller arenas – which then also allows you to have more fans in the arena – can stand out amongst the mediocrity of everything looking samey.

Battle of the Belts

I’ve complained about this ever since the first edition of “Battle of the Belts” and I will continue to do so until AEW stops treating these TNT specials like afterthoughts. I understand that it’s only a one-hour special but it’s in primetime on TNT on the weekend. AEW has a chance to make these specials mean something and be their version of “Clash of the Champions.”

However, AEW has treated both editions as afterthoughts. Neither show has even begun a build to it until two weeks out and matches are just thrown together with very little thought. The matches themselves have ended up great but you have to give fans a reason to care, so that they tune in.

I don’t know what it would take to get AEW to treat these shows like a big deal – possibly an extra hour – but if they don’t the ratings for these specials will continue to drop until TNT sees no use in them, and that is never a good thing. A show full of title matches should be easy enough to hype up but AEW barely even tries. The fact that they are taped also doesn’t help matters.

I understand the consideration of putting together an extra live show during “Battle of the Belts” weeks but AEW could just as easily hype those shows up in their local market as being a live TV special along with bonus matches just for the live crowd, so that they aren’t just taping for an hour and moving on.

These are obviously not the only issues that AEW is facing or will face in the future, but they’re things that are easily fixed. AEW is never going to change the perception of a wide section of “wrestling” fans. It’s just the way it is. One form of criticism that I have never agreed with is the argument that AEW does “too much fan service” (mind boggling statement there) or that they cater to the “hardcore fans” too much. The elusive “casual fan” argument that so many point to when throwing criticism AEW’s way. While you can argue that WWE attempts to cater the “mainstream” to grow their brand even bigger, AEW attempting to go after that same share of fans is always going to fail. WWE has been there and done that for decades and will always be viewed as the “bigger” promotion, no matter what.

Meanwhile, there are literally millions of fans out there that would rather listen to a podcast or watch a docu series about the history and past of wrestling than watch current modern wrestling, the ever growing “lapsed fan.” Those are the fans – along with modern hardcore wrestling fans – that AEW is after and it’s who they should continue to go after.