On June 26, 2023, AEW shattered box-office records at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, marking another victorious moment for Tony Khan’s pro wrestling venture. Initially, Khan’s concept of a pay-per-view event, dubbed ‘Forbidden Door’, pitting AEW against New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) was met with skepticism. Critics believed the lack of extensive exposure of NJPW wrestlers among American fans and the absence of familiar long-term storylines might limit the show’s appeal.
Contrary to this apprehension, ‘Forbidden Door’ turned out to be a huge success right from its inception. Not only did it sell out the United Center in Chicago within a day of ticket release, but it also amassed a live gate of over a million dollars, and recorded over 140,000 pay-per-view buys, rewriting the rules of pro wrestling box-office success.
The roaring success of ‘Forbidden Door’ was indeed a game-changer in the era of YouTube and streaming services. The bout between Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay that once seemed improbable for North American viewership, now had fans in Toronto on the edge of their seats, signaling the changing tides of the wrestling industry.
The pay-per-view event in Toronto highlighted dream matchups involving four of the generation’s best pro wrestlers: Bryan Danielson, Kazuchika Okada, Omega, and Ospreay. Though the results of streaming numbers are yet to be released, early indications suggest the event will exceed the previous year’s record.
In terms of live gate revenue, ‘Forbidden Door’ event earned a whopping $1.2 million USD ($1.6 million Canadian), setting a new record for a non-WWE show in North America and becoming the third-highest gate in Canada. The event even surpassed WWE’s Elimination Chamber major show in Montreal by over $200,000.
The headline bout between Omega and Ospreay at the Tokyo Dome was touted as the 2023 match of the year, with Ospreay reclaiming the title lost to Omega. A third match in the series could be on the horizon, as both companies might want to continue the winning streak.
The main event between Okada and Danielson had an unexpected turn of events. Danielson, despite suffering a broken arm during the match, continued for another 10 minutes and emerged victorious, stunning the audience. The comeback of CM Punk, the company’s biggest drawing card, further fueled the excitement.
However, the reaction to Punk’s return was a mix of cheers and boos, and it will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming weeks. Regardless of the audience’s response, as long as Punk continues to sell tickets, his presence is beneficial for AEW.
Looking ahead, AEW’s venture into prime time television on Saturday nights will test whether this additional exposure will help grow the audiences or lead to burnout. AEW’s success now heavily relies on maintaining high ratings and the viability of cable stations. With the right execution, AEW has the potential to be the most lucrative non-WWE promotion in the history of the industry.