The Deadly Draw Could Be Quite Deadly for AEW’s Women’s Division

When AEW announced the Women’s Tag Team Cup Tournament: The Deadly Draw on the July 22 episode of Dynamite, fans saw the tournament as a much-needed opportunity for the company to reinvest in their women’s division. However, this past Wednesday, Tony Schiavone suggested that the tournament would be broadcast Monday evenings on YouTube starting Monday, Aug. 3.

AEW only affirmed and began advertising this air date/time the morning the tournament was scheduled to begin. 

The Deadly Draw
Photo credit: AEW

Let’s not mince words, here: AEW is making a terrible mistake broadcasting The Deadly Draw on YouTube instead of their flagship television program, Dynamite—one with far-reaching implications for not only the entire women’s division but also the company as a whole. Instead of a haphazardly advertised internet-exclusive, AEW should dedicate a significant portion of Dynamite each week to tournament matches and character/storyline development, a la the AEW World Tag Team Championship Tournament last fall, to send a message to both women wrestlers and fans alike that the women’s division is a vital piece of AEW.

In case you haven’t noticed, the women of AEW have been on the receiving end of some less-than-stellar booking and character/story development (to put it mildly) since the company began weekly televised broadcasts this past October. If you’re looking for a brief summary of offenses, Elle Collins’ piece at Uproxx is a good place to start. We know from the consistent and (generally) effective booking in the men’s division that the company understands how to build compelling stories and personalities. So why can’t they do so for their women? 

Spoiler alert: it’s the same pervasive, latent sexism in professional wrestling that women and other marginalized genders have been speaking up about for years. It can only be rectified by putting women (among other marginalized talent) in positions of power, leadership, and decision-making. But that’s another article. For now, until AEW puts more women in charge of booking and developing the women’s division, the men who currently book the division need to be better allies and invest significant time and resources into their women.

Which brings me back to The Deadly Draw. This tournament presents the perfect chance to reset the women’s division and establish these competitors, going forward, as key players in the AEW landscape. As we witnessed during the AEW World Tag Team Championship Tournament, tournaments are fantastic vehicles for developing characters and laying the groundwork for future short- and long-term storylines. 

In an already small women’s division (about one-third the size of the men’s division) that’s ravaged by injuries and COVID-19 travel restrictions, an event like this provides a bonus storyline reason for bringing in outside talent to help fill these vacancies. It should be a win-win for the company, its women’s division, and currently unsigned tag teams, who can benefit from appearing on a nationally televised platform in the wake of a pandemic that decimated their opportunities for work.

However, one of the first signs this tournament may not be the reinvestment and reinvigoration the women so desperately deserve is the conceit that the tag teams are randomly formed. If you’re trying to build a future for your division, why wouldn’t you build teams (and potential bracket match-ups) based on characters’ personal histories with one another?

Additionally, in a world where incredible women’s tag teams already exist—The Bird and the Bee, The Hall Sisters, The Sea Stars— why would you design and implement a rule that precludes the possibility of bringing in these teams, which would only lend credibility to and build buzz around the women’s division? While the conceit in-and-of-itself is interesting for a well-established division with ample history upon which to draw, it’s an odd choice for this division at this moment in time. So from the rules announcement alone, it seems the company didn’t exactly set up the women to be portrayed in the best possible light.

The Deadly Draw
Photo credit AEW

Though the rules aren’t necessarily ideal, they’re not an insurmountable booking obstacle. The crux of the matter, the piece that will negatively impact an already neglected division, is the fact that the tournament will be untelevised. What does this suggest to the viewers about how important women are in comparison to the men in AEW? AEW already has two hours of weekly television time with Dynamite, plus whatever time they feel necessary for Dark. Why do they feel compelled to make the tournament yet another thing to watch instead of integrating it into the platform(s) people already make time for?

To be blunt, it’s lazy creative decision-making that will alienate fans (especially women). More importantly, doom the tournament to failure before it even starts. When people don’t watch it for whatever reason, AEW executives and decision-makers will say, “well, women aren’t a draw, you see?” Then, they will go back to the tired, old rhetorical tropes men have been using to prevent women from succeeding in wrestling for generations. In other words, they will use the “failure” of the tournament—a failure that’s built into the tournament by design, mind you—to justify their continued neglect of the women’s division going forward. 

By not airing The Deadly Draw on television, AEW is affirming the same message that viewers have been receiving for nearly a year. Their women’s division is an afterthought—something extra to appease their PR branding of “inclusivity”—and will never be considered or portrayed as an integral part of the company. They might as well say, “If you’re looking for quality women’s wrestling, look somewhere else, folks, because you’re not getting it from us. Here are some scraps, though, so we can keep up appearances. Now, let us get back to what really matters—the men.” 

If AEW no longer wants to send the above message to fans, you need to present your women like stars. We would suggest the following:

  • Put the tournament on Dynamite immediately going forward. Put together a substantial video package that recaps the action from Monday’s YouTube broadcast to air this week, and then dedicate time and space to the rest of the matches, as well as the necessary video packages and other promotional material to build characters and storylines, on your weekly television platform. 
  • In addition to time and space, give this tournament the same sense of weight and importance as the men’s tournament last fall, which averaged around two matches per episode of Dynamite (already more than the women are often afforded). Some of them were the main events.
  • Going forward, invest in the women the same way you invest in your men in terms of how they’re booked, presented, and promoted. Anything less is unacceptable and insulting.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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