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Tony Khan is taking AEW on the road: 'Fans make for a better product'

AEW CEO, general manager and head of creative Tony Khan is taking All Elite Wrestling back on tour across the United States. Photo courtesy of AEW
AEW CEO, general manager and head of creative Tony Khan is taking All Elite Wrestling back on tour across the United States. Photo courtesy of AEW

June 18 (UPI) -- All Elite Wrestling is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, ready to go on tour across the United States, packing in excited fans who are eager to see professional wrestling live again. One of the most anticipated shows, Dynamite: Grand Slam, will be held Sept. 22 at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, N.Y.

"For wrestling, it's such a special city, and it's the best way possible we can make our debut in New York. Hopefully, it's one of our biggest crowds of all time," AEW's CEO, general manager and head of creative, Tony Khan, told UPI.

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Arthur Ashe Stadium is a part of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open will be held from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12. The wrestling ring for Grand Slam will be placed at center court, and Khan said he's open to holding a Grand Slam show every year after the U.S. Open.

AEW was the first major wrestling promotion to start allowing fans in during the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020. The company went on to host 30 live ticketed events at Daily's Place in Jacksonville, Fla. The run turned AEW into a wrestling territory of sorts, a throwback to a bygone era when numerous wrestling promotions existed and only held shows within certain cities and states.

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The pandemic era shows started with only 10% capacity and seated fans, who were required to wear masks, in groups far away from each other throughout the stadium. Fellow wrestlers were seated at ringside.

The capacity steadily increased over time and brought back one of professional wrestling's most important components -- the fans. Without fans, the heroes and villains of wrestling competed inside empty arenas, taking away the music festival-like atmosphere from the shows.

"Early in the pandemic, I was like let's create the experience of a drive-in movie," Khan said. "The fans make for a better product. We're finally selling ringside seats again, and we'll be doing that every week going forward."

Khan was adamant about having fans live at Daily's Place as opposed to using video screens of fans watching from home -- a strategy deployed by other television shows and fellow wrestling promotion WWE with its ThunderDome concept.

"I didn't want to have a video wall, and I pushed back when I got pushed to do a video wall," Khan said. "It was a fine idea and WWE did it, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. I respect it, it's good and it's economical, but I wanted to continue to find a way to do the shows for the fans every week.

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"And the fans at Daily's Place supported us. We built like a wrestling territory having a weekly audience. I'm really proud of that."

AEW's first show out of Daily's Place will be Road Rager, set for July 7 at the James L. Knight Center in Miami.

The company then will present Fyter Fest Night 1 on July 14 at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas; Fyter Fest Night 2 on July 21 at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas; and Fight for the Fallen on July 28 at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C.

Shows in Houston, Milwaukee, Boston, and Newark, N.J., will be held throughout August and September.

Road Rager marks AEW's return to Miami after its Bash at the Beach event right before the pandemic in January 2020. After the show, stars Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Brandon Cutler and Michael Nakazawa came to the ring to speak to fans and throw T-shirts into the crowd as the audience surrounded the ringside area.

Khan says that moments like that will not be happening on the new tour at first, but he doesn't rule it out for the future.

"We'll ease back into that, and I expect to be able to return to normalcy, hopefully soon. We want to crawl before we walk and walk before we run," Khan said about wrestlers more directly interacting with fans on the new tour.

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The company will, however, host a Fan Fest event before its Sept. 5 pay-per-view show All Out in Chicago. A Fan Fest also occurred before Double or Nothing, allowing fans to meet wrestlers and take part in other interactive activities.

Double or Nothing was a special moment for AEW, as it featured a fully packed and energized crowd inside Daily's Place. The marquee event had the loudest, most passionate fans surrounding a wrestling ring in over a year.

It added more to the marquee matches, turning them into epic confrontations with immediate feedback from the audience. Double or Nothing finally felt like professional wrestling was back at full force.

"I thought it was one of our finest moments as a company, and I was really glad to come back and do the first big 100% totally safe wrestling show. The thing I take most pride in doing these live events is having zero transmissions," Khan said. "We've been doing shows since August with fans and have had zero transmissions."

Standout moments from Double or Nothing included AEW World Tag Team Champions The Young Bucks defending their titles against Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston; Jungle Boy winning the Casino Battle Royale to earn a future AEW World Championship match; Dr. Britt Baker becoming the new AEW Women's World Champion; and AEW World Champion Kenny Omega defending his title against Orange Cassidy and Pac.

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Cassidy, a nonchalant man of few words, who moves like a sloth and seemingly tries to use the least amount of energy as possible, also enjoyed the packed live crowd.

"It was great," Cassidy told UPI.

Looking ahead, AEW will premier an hourlong show titled Rampage on Aug. 13 on TNT. The one-hour Rampage will air Fridays at 10 p.m. EDT. Rampage and Dynamite will then move to TBS starting in 2022, while TNT will air four wrestling specials throughout the year.

Rampage will switch between being presented live to being taped after an installment of Dynamite, but it always will be in front of a live crowd.

"Every week with Rampage, I intend to have a huge scale and have it be an 'A' show. It can be as big a property as anything," Khan said.

"It's going to be a very different show, but it's still a wrestling show. It's still wrestling matches. It will have a different feel in some ways but will still be an AEW presentation that is very authentic to AEW and what I believe in," he said.

Tickets for Grand Slam go on sale July 16 at 10 a.m. EDT.

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