TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. grappling start-up All Elite Wrestling (AEW) may need its Japanese partner to help fill London's 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium for a show in August, its billionaire founder said, looking to wrest market share from its newly beefed-up rival.
The Wembley show is on pace to be one of the biggest wrestling shows ever and the largest not staged by the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which recently agreed to merge with the operator of mixed martial arts franchise UFC into a $21 billion entertainment giant.
AEW founder Tony Khan said 65,000 tickets have already been sold for the Wembley show, and "it would be a huge benefit to AEW if there is participation from New Japan Pro Wrestling and some of their top stars in the event."
"In a world where the proposed merger happens, as it is suggested on paper, then I would believe the AEW, New Japan Pro Wrestling partnership is more imperative than ever before," Khan told Reuters in a video interview from Jacksonville, Florida.
The scripted and often ridiculous spectacle of pro wrestling is a serious player in the entertainment sector. WWE pulls in about $1.3 billion in annual sales, while its TV programs and those of AEW score near the top in weekly cable ratings, according to Brandon Thurston, principle of industry watcher Wrestlenomics.
The AEW and New Japan co-branding will be put to the test later this month at a joint production in Toronto known as Forbidden Door.
For New Japan, founded by grappler turned politician Antonio Inoki in 1972, the partnership is a chance to restart a global push cut short by the pandemic.
The company set up a U.S. subsidiary in 2019 and sold out a show in New York's Madison Square Garden until the coronavirus caused borders to slam shut and made live events impossible.
To stay afloat, New Japan focused on its streaming service and boosted output of trading cards and games with its corporate parent Bushiroad.
New Japan said its ratio of overseas revenue doubled to 14% over the course of the pandemic, and it expects that to double again in the next three years as it ramps up live shows and merchandising in the U.S., Britain and other foreign markets.
New Japan President Takami Ohbari said teaming with AEW would give the companies more of a fighting chance against a merged WWE and UFC operator Endeavor Group.
"It's really mutually beneficial in terms of the global expansion for New Japan and also for AEW," Ohbari said.
New Japan would consider sending talent for the Wembley show if they get an offer, he said.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Sonali Paul)