After weeks of teases and speculation, MLW has announced a television deal with Vice TV.
No official date has been announced, though MLW is expected to debut in the spring. Vice TV previously found success with pro wrestling content as it aired the critically acclaimed Dark Side of the Ring. The grim documentary series—which will soon debut a Season 3—garnered the biggest viewership in the network’s history.
MLW CEO Court Bauer had previously teased that a deal was imminent during our interview in February. Bauer noted offers were coming in from multiple streaming and linear services and noted a second show was possible for the growing promotion.
Bauer drove further speculation of an imminent deal with a cryptic April 8 tweet that simply read “signed. [TV emoji]”
In an April 13 tweet, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter tweeted about a “new pro wrestling TV deal [to be] announced very soon.”
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The success of MLW comes at a time where WWE’s once unquestioned monopoly on the wrestling world is waning. WWE NXT’s move to Tuesday nights on April 13 marked a harsh reality that competition from outside promotions is here to stay.
“I think you have two decades of atrophy within an empire that had a grip on the market, and that atrophy has allowed all this other life to flourish,” said Bauer in an exclusive interview.
“[WWE] is still very successful in spite of their atrophy. But now they’ve locked in their deals, they’re not going to pivot in a creative direction to grow their audience. They’re not growing their audience, so for somebody like me there’s great opportunity. There are all kinds of interesting opportunities that I can look at and things that WWE may or may not do–I might be willing to do, or do differently.”
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As MLW continues its growth, it will naturally become a candidate to enter AEW’s forbidden door. The upstart national promotion has already worked with a host of outside promotions such as AAA, NWA and IMPACT Wrestling. While Bauer admits he has had conversations with both the leading national companies, he is hesitant to thrust MLW into an interpromotional “tentpole” event. Without naming any names, part of Bauer’s hesitation is the manner in which he feels certain promotions conduct business.
“Outreach by each company has been very different. One has done it the right way, and the other has done it in a pretty dysfunctional manner,” said Bauer.
“I’m big on vision and building out our booking 22, 24 months out. I’m not big on impulsive moves. Look at how DC ran to do a crossover event for Phase 1 of the rollout of their films. It didn’t work well, whereas Marvel had a multi-phased, nuanced, layered strategy. The end result was very rewarding for their fans, and for the characters and everyone involved.”
Bauer’s big-picture outlook on MLW also makes him more grounded in terms of jumping into a potential crossover partnership with an outside promotion. In addition to considering the entertainment value of a potential crossover, with the country slowly but surely opening up, much of this mentality is financially driven as well.
“If one does crossover events when you can’t maximize the revenue, you’re doing a disservice to your company, your fans, your athletes and your storytelling,” said Bauer.
“Dream matches shouldn’t have an empty arena as it’s backdrop. Something on this scale demands the table be set properly. Crossovers as a concept to be a stop gap during a complicated moment in the world when you can’t do a traditional presentation is lazy booking and irresponsible.”
“From a content strategy perspective it’s also a matter of timing. With my new deals, the timing makes it complicated. It’s potentially confusing to my new audience and content partners, who I am introducing the MLW product to, to now have that blended with a crossover event. It muddies the waters. First, I must distinguish my brand of combat sport and what makes it authentically different. In time? Maybe.”