Independent pro wrestling owner talks pulling show due to COVID-19, how much the promotion will lose financially

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down the NBA, MLB, NHL, UFC, boxing and the Premier League.

But the one form of sports entertainment that hasn’t been moved to the sidelines yet is professional wrestling. WWE and AEW have put on events without fans in attendance and only essential personnel being allowed. That being said, not all pro wrestling events are happening as independent promotions have been forced to shut things down left and right. 

One of the companies affected by COVID-19 is All American Wrestling, also known as AAW. The promotion is based in Chicago and regarded as one of the most prominent indie outfits in the world. It has been in existence since 2004 and has featured the likes of The Young Bucks, Matt Riddle, Pentagon Jr., and Rey Fenix and MJF. AAW was scheduled to conduct its next show on Friday night from the Logan Square Auditorium in Chicago. Due to the state of Illinois postponing sporting events and the Center of Disease Control limiting the number of people allowed in any area, the company had to cancel the event.

The co-owner of AAW, Danny Daniels, took some time out to talk with Sporting News about having to cancel the event, how much money the company is losing and the talent reaction to the show not taking place.

(Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

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Sporting News: When the coronavirus was first starting to get talked about, did you ever think it would get to this point where you had to cancel your show coming up this Friday?

DD: No, we weren’t going to cancel it. We were just asking all the workers, all the fans and everything, if you have been sneezing, do not come to our show. When Illinois cut back the attendance rule to 250 people, we said. ‘Okay, we’re going to lose money on this show. We knew that going in because 250 (people), we’re going to lose money on it.’ We have a high payroll. We don’t use local guys on our shows. It’s all fly-in talent or high-end drive-in talent, not many local up-and-coming rookies. That’s not our roster.

We knew we going to lose our butt on 250 fans. When (the gathering rule) got knocked down to 100, we’re like, ‘Oh my God, we’re not gonna make it’. Then, they (state of Illinois) just banned everything (like) if you have alcohol in the building. I forgot what the cap is. Even the building said, ‘We can’t do this. We’re going to shut down.’ As of a couple days ago, we were going to run, but then we found out now, it’s like now we can’t.

SN: Instead of canceling did you think about going the WWE and AEW route and going ahead without fans and trying to stream it in some way, shape or form?

DD: With the cap of 250 (people), we would lose a couple thousand dollars. Does that hurt? Absolutely. Is that going to bankrupt us? No. But going with no fans, that would bankrupt us and I couldn’t do that. AAW is a mom and pop place. We don’t have a sponsor behind us. There’s no money in it. It’s me and my partner Mike that fund AAW. We run it not to lose one dollar. That’s it. We don’t take money from it, but we run it not to lose one dollar.

We have families to take care of. So, that’s the goal. A couple thousand dollars? It’d be like, ‘Okay, we can front that.’ To run an AAW show, it’s between $10,000-$15,000 a show. We need the fans to obviously help us out and the fans buying tickets keeps the show going. We’re not in a financial place to lose $10-$15,000 because you get no return from those ticket sales.  Even if you live-streamed it , believe me when I tell you, I know that it’s the wave of the future but you’re not making $10-$15,000 on live streaming. I don’t care if you’re doing live pay-per-view. We can’t afford to lose that kind of money.

SN: What was the talent response to having to cancel the show?

DD: I only had two people that said, ‘You know what, we’d rather just take the show off.’ I had one talent that was going to get pulled because he was in England, and he wasn’t going be able to make it. The rest of them all said, we’ll be there.

SN: Did that surprise you?

DD: No, not because it’s their livelihood. They’re all young. This virus isn’t affecting people in their 20s, 30s or even 40s. It’s no. It’s affecting the elderly mostly. These guys are doing it for their livelihood. If they don’t wrestle, they don’t get (paid). So, of course, they’re gonna go out there and do it.

SN: The talent doesn’t get paid if there are no shows. Is that correct?

DD: Correct. Nobody’s under a contract with AAW. I don’t know deals with Impact, AEW or WWE. I’m sure those guys are under guaranteed deals. So, regardless if they have shows or not, these guys are getting a bi-weekly check. They’re independent contractors when they work for me.

SN: How hard was it for you on the owner’s level to have to pull the show? What were you feeling at first? And now since you’ve had little bit of time to think about it, how do you feel right now?

DD: I mean, terrible because we’ve ran (shows for) 15 years now. We’ve never canceled the show. Never. We’ve’ve gone into shows knowing we’re gonna lose money. We’ve never canceled. We’ve never canceled because it’s going to be a bad crowd (and decided) we’re going to cancel and cut our losses. We’ve never done that. We run because we want to make wrestling better. It’s about the fans, the experience of going to an AAW show (and) about trying to make the wrestling independent scene better.

Our pride was on the line and it sucked to cancel the show and it sucked that a lot of people aren’t going to be able to make money. A lot of people depend on our monthly shows or we run twice a month. They rely on that income to pay their bills, to buy food. It sucked. But then again, when Illinois put that ban down, there was nothing we can do. There was nothing the venue can do. We got to shut down.

SN: In terms of medicals, were you guys going to do anything differently to make sure that the talent is safe? Or was it solely on the talent to get their own type of testing? How does that work for you guys?

DD: In general, the U.S. doesn’t have enough kits to test people, let alone an independent pro wrestling company. All we were going to do is we canceled the meet and greets, so the wrestlers weren’t going to get near the fans. They would have to worry about their opponent and the referee and that would be it. Again, the crowd was going to be down to 250 (people) so we were going to space them out with security. We normally put, like I said, over 500 in there. So this would be you’re not close to people. We were going to sanitize everything and wipe everything down every hour. That was our plan to do between the railings, the ring, when you walk up the stairs, the tables, the bar, everything and have a bunch of hand sanitizer ready to go for them. That’s what the process was going to be.

SN: I saw on Twitter that you guys are giving a free month on the on-demand side, so fans can watch all the shows in various ways. You don’t have to give the figure, but how much do you estimate that you will lose not having a show on Friday night?

DD: It’s never about profit. AAW doesn’t run because we’re making (money). We don’t run shows to go, ‘Oh my God we run shows that we’re each going to put a grand ($1,000) in our pocket.’ We don’t do that. Whatever we make and profit goes back into the promotion. We bought new cameras. We bought our own new streaming equipment because we want to do everything in-house.

The cap was 250 (people). This show, we knew we were going to lose anyways going in so there was no money that was going to be made on the show. This was we just didn’t want to screw over the crew and the guys depending on a payday, and we wanted to keep the show going. We knew this was going to be a money loss anyways, so we were going to take the hit.

SN: You have a show scheduled for April 17. What is the status of that show as of right now?

DD: I don’t know. I’d like to run. We’ll see how this is going. I know a couple other groups have pulled their April shows already. Some I don’t know. I feel like there are (things) changing daily.

SN: What do you say to the fans?

DD: Watch our shows. We’re giving you AAW On Demand for free. I know we don’t have a show on the 20th. But enjoy. If you haven’t seen all of our shows, go check them out for free. New fans, go check us out, see what the product is all about because I don’t think anybody in the country can match what we’re doing as far as the complete show. Do I believe another group has better pure wrestling than us? Yeah, I do and that’s PWG. I believe they have the best pure wrestling in the country. But there’s no storylines. There’s no production to it.

I think we have everything. We have the whole complete package of an indie show when I put our product up against anybody. If you haven’t checked it out, check us out for free or check us out on Highspots.     

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