Ring of Honor sought to book a blockbuster show at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night of WrestleMania weekend next year, WWE successfully got the show that would’ve run opposite its NXT show kiboshed, and now there are the beginning of ominous (if unlikely) threats that ROH’s owner Sinclair Broadcasting could preempt Smackdown on its 40+ FOX affiliates when the WWE show heads to Murdochland in Fall of 2019.
Ring of Honor and New Japan, who do talent sharing and run some co-branded shows in the United States, are obviously a longggg way from being in the same stratosphere as WWE from a business perspective. But, it cannot be denied that they are chipping at the outer edges, capitalizing on die hard pro wrestling fans, and doing a hell of a job flooding the marketplace with their merchandising.
It’s not totally clear whether this is more attributable to the promotions themselves or the members of the Bullet Club — Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and others — but at least for the time being they’re all aligned. WWE probably thought they had nipped the Bullet Club in the bud, signing away AJ Styles, Finn Balor, and the Gallows & Anderson tag-team, but it only regenerated stronger with Omega and Cody (a WWE cast-off). Now, Ring of Honor and New Japan are probably a bigger threat to WWE’s hegemony than TNA ever was at its peak.
At WWE shows, you see more merchandise for the Bullet Club than any of WWE’s individual talents.
Cody and the Young Bucks, booking the All-In show outside Chicago that will include Omega and Rey Mysterio Jr., sold out a 10,000-person venue in under an hour. (It’s not totally clear whether / to what extent Ring of Honor was involved with this; it’s not under their branding and it is being billed as an independent show by the performers, but ROH’s COO Joe Koff has said they’re working with them.)
Anyways, riding the wave of momentum, Ring of Honor wanted to book Madison Square Garden. This was for eons the stomping ground of WWE, but now WWE just runs un-televised house shows there, opting to air Raw, Smackdown, and for the last couple years SummerSlam at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. None of its WrestleMania weekend shows next April are planned for MSG.
Nevertheless, by running several house shows there a year WWE is still a more lucrative partner than ROH for MSG in the short term, and MSG pulled out of what was an unsigned agreement.
Legendary wrestling reporter Dave Meltzer spells out what the nuclear option for ROH would be (subscription required but recommended):
Another interesting aspect of this is that Sinclair itself currently owns 43 different FOX affiliates in the U.S., and Smackdown is scheduled on FOX starting in October of 2019. Local affiliates do have the right to air local programming and preempt network shows, but in a war, that would be the most drastic step that would escalate this to a shocking degree and is certainly unlikely. Still, it is not like that step was not in discussion last week.
This move by Sinclair would in some ways be cutting off its nose to spite its face; there is probably nothing they could air in that time slot on Friday evenings that would get bigger viewership than Smackdown. That being said, this is still a nuclear option that represents a very profound threat to FOX and WWE.
As far as what this means for wrestlers and wrestling fans, put me in the camp of Wrestling Inc writer Brandon Thurston, who tweeted, “[I] firmly believe competition and even bad blood between capitalists is on the whole good for workers and consumers. I hope they go at it. U.S. pro wrestling at every level is overdue and promotions have long benefited from cheap labor due to few options and many workers and dreams.”
Specifically, this competition is going to be VERY good for Cody, Omega, and the Young Bucks when their deals come up. Whatever they decide to do — and all four may not make the same decision — they are going to get paid out the wazoo, and they’ll deserve it.