So TNA Wrestling still exists.
After a year of turmoil, uncertainty and an all out war over ownership of the company the dust has settled somewhat and the short term stability of the company seems secure. Anthem Sports and Entertainment have provided “a credit facility to TNA to fund operations” effectively acquiring control of the company with a view to doing so outright in the near future.
Hopefully gone are the days of the mere need to tape television, the basic fundamental operation of the company, causes the company to teeter on the brink of utter collapse. Hopefully the days of talent having to wait weeks to be paid for their work are behind us. Hopefully, just hopefully, the company will no longer stumble from crisis to crisis desperately delaying what at times seems like the inevitable. But what does it actually mean for TNA to continue to operate in 2017?
In front of the camera TNA had a much better 2016 than 2015. After the departures of Bobby Roode, Eric Young and Kurt Angle TNA’s roster turnover finally settled down. While TNA had time to plan for Angle’s departure—using his exit to put over Drew Galloway and Bobby Lashley on the way out—the departures of Roode and Young were a tad more sudden.
After three years of leaking talent left, right and center—names like Hulk Hogan, Mickie James, Magnus, Sting, Rob Van Dam, Sting, AJ Styles, Austin Aries and more jumping a clearly leaking ship —TNA finally had an opportunity to assess their resources and build toward the future.
Acts like Decay centered on the tremendous Rosemary, Moose, Mike Bennett, EC3, Drew Galloway, Bobby Lashley, Eli Drake, Allie, DJ Z, Eddie Edwards and of course “Broken” Matt Hardy emerged to give TNA a much needed core to lay foundations around. The storytelling was straightforward and logical. Programmes blended into one another and spun off in a way that felt satisfying. Characters blossomed and developed in meaningful ways. The product felt like it was building something akin to momentum at a number of stages this year.
Taking Impact From A Good Show To A Great Show
That is not to say the product was perfect though. It has three major issues that need addressing next year.
The show practically never feels must see—it is nearly always enjoyable and occasionally very good—but never essential. And that needs to change. People need to be talking about Impact every week. Not just when the latest Matt Hardy stunt rolls around. If the company is to grow and expand Impact’s audience beyond it’s usual 350,000 as week it needs to produce can’t miss, home run television on a weekly basis.
Ever since moving away from monthly PPVs, TNA has struggled to create the sense that their television program is important, to craft the sense of urgency that a wrestling product desperately needs. Wrestling fans have been conditioned over the year to expect important developments on PPVs, not television. And while important moments happen on television all the time, that expectation has been beaten into fans over the years. So in the absence of frequent PPVs (TNA currently only runs two a year: Slammiversary in June and Bound For Glory in October), TNA has to do a better job building up major television matches and making them feel special.
They can do this in two ways but both revolve around a longer lead in time for big matches. Either simply reconfigure the existing product and simply announce matches further out and promote them more heavily. Or hold monthly/bi-monthly specials which are used to give the television product a broader sense of structure. The model of announce a match one week, do it the next week and then move on needs to be left behind.
TNA also needs to answer the why question more often. Why is this match a cage match? Why is this person getting a title shot? Questions like this are essential to constructing the long term logic of a wrestling show and too often on Impact simply ignores them. If you want somebody to care about something you need to tell them why it’s happening and why it’s important. Title matches shouldn’t be thrown out willy-nilly simply as a convenient plot device. The same goes for stipulation matches.
There is then the pressing question of what to do with Broken Matt Hardy. If you read my Bound For Glory preview you’ll know I advocated then for the phasing out of the character. From a creative standpoint the character may still have legs it clearly struggles to continue to move the needle as much as did for The Final Deletion.
However after seeing the way the audience still responds to the character in person over Bound For Glory weekend I simply cannot in good faith maintain that position. He and Jeff are the most popular acts in the company. TNA made a number of smart moves to help give the character legs — moving away from an adversarial relationship between Matt and Jeff accompanied by a full babyface turn should help sustain the characters, at least in the short run. The interest garnered by Delete or Decay showed that there certainly can be too much of Broken Matt but TNA would be smart to devise a strategy to avoid strangling the closest thing they have a golden goose.
What’s In A Name?
One of the bigger burdens TNA currently bears is the company’s own history. It’s damaged goods. In general people’s perception veers toward negative, or at the very least apathetic.
How would you describe your feelings toward TNA right now?
— Garrett Kidney (@garrettkidney) December 6, 2016
People don’t care about the company. People have felt burned by the company too often to even bother committing much thought to it. This leads many to suggest that TNA should rebrand — I agree with that sentiment but not generally for the reasons people suggest. I’m of the belief that consumers aren’t stupid. TNA under a different name is still TNA. And brands are certainly not irredeemable. Nobody looks at NXT in 2016 and thinks of the reality show. When it comes down to it, actions will speak a great deal louder than words or corporate logos.
The fundamental disconnect between what TNA was and what it is now is why TNA should pursue a rebrand. When people think about TNA they think about AJ Styles, not EC3. They think about the Hogan/Bischoff regime and Jeff Jarrett. The company has undergone an astonishing transformation over the last three years. Practically every name and face associated with the company’s legacy now works elsewhere. Only Gail Kim, James Storm and Abyss really remain as longtime mainstays. That’s created a gap between what the company is perceived to be and what it is in practice. The company is not what it once was but that’s not necessarily a negative.
This is a new generation for the company and needs to be marketed as such.
Eddie Edwards, EC3, Drew Galloway, Eli Drake, James Storm, Mike Bennett, Bobby Lashley and Moose potentially with help from Cody Rhodes form the basis of a strong heavyweight division. The Knockouts division, centered around Gail Kim, Rosemary, Jade, Allie, Laurel Van Ness, Madison Rayne and Sienna, is the freshest and most varied it’s been in six years. That set of women haven’t even began to scratch the surface of their potential.
DJ Z is about as a strong a candidate to rebuild the X-Division around; with Mark Andrews, Trevor Lee, Rockstar Spud and Andrew Everett providing ample support. The Hardys have reinvented themselves and managed even to create a teeny bit of buzz around TNA, even if it wasn’t sustained. The Wolves are a tremendous duo to carry the banner of tag team wrestling in the company. The tag and X-Division’s need bolstering but a strong core is there. Those individuals represent what TNA is now – new characters and tremendous wrestlers with stories yet to be told. That’s what the company needs to present itself as.
That would also allow the company to offer some sense of closure for the TNA brand and then market the 15 years of TNA footage, one of the company’s largest remaining assets, as such. For too long TNA’s library, which if used effectively could generate revenue while driving eyes to the current day product, has been languishing unseen.
TNA attempted to launch an On Demand service in 2009, which to their credit was ahead of the curve and probably a few years too early, but it flopped. The company’s current approach to On Demand content is to either dish it out on a piecemeal basis on YouTube or hide it on The Fight Network app where few know where to find it. Neither is a particularly great uses of resources.
While it remains to be seen whether Anthem is willing to invest in buying TNA only to turn around and rebrand it, something that may seem counter-intuitive on their part, doing so may be a necessary step in taking the company forward. At the very least they need to do something about the Impact Wrestling/TNA Wrestling brand confusion.
Get The House In Order
#LOLTNA needs to go away. TNA needs to stop being a company to be laughed at. Unforced errors need to be a thing of the past. Every facet of the company needs to be assessed, from creative to talent to office staff to announcers, and those who are detrimental to the cause need to be rooted out. Anybody not up for the painfully arduous task of taking the walking corpse that is TNA right now and turning it into a sustainable viable entity needs to be shown the door. Hire smart people aware of the mistakes of the past who are willing to learn from them and push the company forward.
Rebuild the presence in the UK market. Aggressively pursue new revenue streams. The website is an embarrassment and needs to be totally overhauled. Be earnest in intent, clear and confident in vision, communicate clearly, transparently and consistently with the audience. Reestablish trust with viewers. Ensure that the company isn’t on the verge of collapse four or five times a year.
There is likely no such thing as an advertising budget for TNA. As a result, TNA’s digital presence is fundamental to growing the product outside of its existing audience — and at the moment their record is spotty. TNA currently has three million followers across YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. That is not an insubstantial base to build off of. The strength of social media is that rather than traditional one way advertising – where a company creates a message and broadcasts it to potential consumers — it is a two way medium. It’s interactive. With enough time and dedication you can tailor your pitch to any specific consumer. With the state TNA is currently in, a smart digital strategy and clever use of PR and free media is all they have.
TNA’s YouTube approach is quite baffling considering how early an adopter they were of the outlet. Routinely they will upload Impact highlights throughout the week, sometimes as late as six days after a show has aired and long after anybody cares. That likely costs TNA eyeballs as well as a little YouTube advertising revenue. Considering TNA is taped far in advance there is little excuse for not being on the ball regarding making content easily available to consumers in a timely fashion. It’s stuff like this that will be the bread and butter when it comes rebuilding the company.
So, What’s Next?
The biggest question emerging from Anthem Sports and Entertainment assuming management control of TNA is what exactly do they want TNA to be. Are they simply content taping television in bulk four or five times a year at as low a cost as possible and churning out content for themselves and their new international partners? Or do they have grander ambitions when it comes to trying to grow TNA into a profitable enterprise? Making TNA sustainable and growing the brand, while not impossible, will be tremendously difficult. The Jarrett’s, Healthsouth, Panda Energy and Bob Carter, Dixie Carter, Billy Corgan and Aroluxe have poured money into the company in the past to no return. If those with responsibility for the company are not prepared for the challenges they will face, then 2017 is unlikely to be much different to 2016 for TNA.
I basically write something like this every year. And usually I end on a note of hope, because despite literally all reasonable odds TNA continues to operate into 2017. If any single characteristic defines TNA it’s the company’s sheer refusal to die. Hope, toxic as it may be, is a necessity when you’ve written about TNA as long and consistently as I have. On the one hand the company is under new management, on the other Dixie Carter continues to be involved in the company. While the company saw something of a creative revival in 2016, David Lagana and Billy Corgan – two members of the team who brought about that resurgence – no longer work for the company. TNA continues to exist but we know literally nothing about in what capacity or under whose guidance. For all we know it may well be the same people making the same mistakes, just on somebody else’s dime. But maybe, just maybe, this time will be different.