Earlier this week, it was announced that Harold Meij would be stepping down as President and CEO of NJPW on October 23. This news came as a shock to many, as Meij has only been in the position since 2018. He will be replaced by the current CEO of their New Japan of America division, Takami Ohbari.
This week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter has provided further details on the situation. The newsletter states that he had become a controversial figure during his time at the helm of the company, and was not well liked by a lot of the American talent. This was in part due to the way he handled the departure of much of the foreign talent when they left to form AEW. While the likes of The Young Bucks, Cody, and Adam Page attempted to create a relationship between the two companies, at the time NJPW considered them to be dispensable. The exception to this was Kenny Omega, who they believed would remain with NJPW due to his ties to Japan, this was even as he was insisting he drop the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom that year.
The newsletter goes on to say that while business remained strong in 2019 after losing the AEW talent, NJPW’s popularity in the US had fallen greatly during that period. They then lost their US television deal with AXS as the station was purchased by Anthem Entertainment, the parent company of Impact Wrestling. They were told they would only be able to keep their TV show on AXS if they broke their business dealings with ROH to work with Impact instead, but NJPW were not willing to do that.
The Contribution of Harold Meij
Meij also made positive contributions during his short time in NJPW, with the newsletter saying he had a strong track record as far as the bottom line was concerned. Specifically, the decision to run Wrestle Kingdom as a two day event rather than the normal one day had provided enough revenue to enable them to survive through the pandemic better than they would have otherwise. He also increased the percentage of female fans attending shows, through initiatives such as ‘women only’ sections at shows to help women feel more comfortable attending events.
However, his departure was not seen as a surprise to insiders. They expected it for some time after the company chose Takami Ohbari to lead the North American expansion, rather then Meij or his assistant, Michael Craven.
The newsletter also speculated that his departure may have been partly down to money, as Meij made more than most others in NJPW.
“The timing could be that with the company not generating revenue anywhere near expectations, and with no certainty that they will get to the level they were any time soon, and office workers already taking major cuts, that Meij’s salary would be a big one to get off the books.”
A Potential AEW Partnership?
Many will now be wondering where the change in leadership leaves a potential partnership between AEW and NJPW, something fans have been clamouring for since AEW was formed. The newsletter quoted AEW President and CEO, Tony Khan as saying:
“I’m not sure yet, but my initial gut feeling is it could be good.”
They also spoke to another unnamed AEW insider, who said:
“No idea (regarding opening up the business relationship with Meij out). We want to. But he (Meij) was an idiot when it came to understanding the business. Hopefully things will change now.”