Monday, May 07, 2012

Hatchet Man With An Impact

     Recently, a lot of people have started talking again about how to "fix" TNA (or Impact Wrestling, depending on what floats your boat).  The discussion mostly stems from a variety of statements recently from TNA's Dixie Carter, Eric Bischoff, and Hulk Hogan, regarding how they are introducing some new concepts to Impact that will "revolutionize" the sports entertainment industry. 

     In all honesty, most of this kind of stuff just goes in one ear and out the other with me, because in a lot of ways, TNA is what it is.  It is essentially a vanity promotion that is attempting to compete with the WWE, but in reality has no chance to do so because they have incompetent people in charge. 

     Sometimes when I am sitting around and talking to my colleagues of the squared circle, I will say "Well, if I were hired to fix TNA, I would do this..." and I would float a couple of things out there, depending on what we were talking about.  Recently, I have been having this conversation quite a bit, So I decided to actually make a format for what I would do, in general. 

     I am not saying that all of this stuff would work, and that Impact Wrestling would automatically be the top wrestling promotion in the US mere weeks after I was in charge.  In the early 1990s, WCW brought in the well respected and veteran promoter Bill Watts to turn the company around, mostly by being a hatchet man and controlling costs, while also turning out quality programming and successful live events.  In the scenario I am working with here, this is what I would do if I was brought in to be a hatchet man - someone to cut costs and make TNA a profitable wrestling promotion. 

     This is not a wrestling fan "fantasy booking" - I am going to actually take the time to break down what I would do to fix TNA from a business point of view.  I am going to talk about costs, revenue streams, and the business of professional wrestling, and apply some of my knowledge to TNA.  Again, I am not saying that I guarantee this would work, but I am saying that this is what I would do if I were "Bill Watts".  I have experience not only in the ring, but as a booker, a matchmaker, a trainer, and as someone who has promoted live events, and I am writing from that perspective. 

A Hatchet Man Cuts Costs
     The rationale for a lot of the things that I would do would be that no matter how many different things that TNA has attempted, they continue to gain a rating of around a 1.0.  Except for when Impact was moved briefly to Monday nights, TNA has rarely dipped below a 0.9, and rarely goes above a 1.2 (source).  So, if no matter how well-received or how panned Impact Wrestling is every week, they do the same rating.  So, why not do it with cheaper talent? 
The idea behind any business is to maximize revenue while minimizing costs.  The first thing that I would do is look at the roster, and determine what talent brings value to the table. 
     For example, there are a number of guys on the roster who were brought in specifically to increase ratings with their name value (Hogan, Bischoff, Angle, RVD, Hardy, Sting, Flair). but have never made a difference in the ratings.  Thus, their value to the company needs to be examined with a fine tooth comb. 
     If I am able to cut individuals loose free-and-clear, I would dump most of the guys listed above.  Hogan at one time had a name value because of nostalgia, because to many people who grew up in the 1980's, Hogan was the definition of pro wrestling.  Now, he has become a reality show pariah, and he is nothing more than a punchline.  He would be gone.  Bishoff brings even less to the table, and would be gone as well.  With Sting, I would just tell him that the company cannot afford his contract, and that he deserves the giant payday he would get from working with Vince on a retrospective DVD, and shake his hand and thank him for the dedication he showed to the company, while letting him know that the door is always open for a return.  Jeff Hardy is a convicted drug dealer with numerous substance abuse problems who showed up intoxicated for the main event of a PPV while holding the promotion's top championship - he would be gone, or at the very least brought back for significantly less money.  Flair is a living legend, but his substance abuse, health, legal, and financial problems have proven to not be worth the effort, and he would be sent home as well.  I would keep both RVD and Angle around. 
     If I am unable to outright release these gentlemen from their contracts, then I would use them as sparsely as possible, and only for the purpose of enhancing the value of other wrestlers who I intend to use to draw money.  They will be squeezed and used for every penny that they are paid. 
     I would also pare the roster down to about sixteen full-time contracted wrestlers (As far as the gentlemen go; I will discuss the ladies later).  Based on who is on TNA's roster page, I would keep the following sixteen wrestlers under contract to the company:
  1. James Storm
  2. Robert Roode
  3. Austin Aries
  4. D' Angelo Dinero
  5. Douglas Williams
  6. Brutus Magnus
  7. Kurt Angle
  8. Rob Van Dam
  9. Robbie E
  10. Samoa Joe
  11. Zema Ion
  12. D-Von
  13. Bully Ray
  14. Chris Sabin
  15. Alex Shelly
  16. Abyss
     All sixteen of these men would be expected to tour and work television.  Since Jeff Jarrett is not listed on the roster page, I am assuming he is only considered "part-time" because of his responsibilities in the office. 
     TNA is unique in how they are able to approach talent.  They have the ability to sign virtually any unsigned wrestler of any value (as they have proven with signing guys like Hogan/Flair), but in reality cannot compete financially with the WWE's overall business model.  TNA can sign virtually anyone one they want, because TNA has a bigger budget than Ring of Honor or any other indy promotion.  TNA shouldn't have to worry about losing talent to anyone else.  If the WWE were actually interested in a TNA talent, they would sign them, repackage and send them to development under a different name anyway, so why not keep a smaller roster and use non-contracted wrestlers to fill out the roster when needed?  I would let guys like Daniels and Styles, who have become stale in TNA because of their tenure there in the same role, take bookings on the indy circuit and offer them bookings when available because they simply aren't going anywhere else.  If you come up with a hot angle for them, you can always sign them again. 

Make The Live Events Profitable
     While Impact Wrestling is often panned by pundits and viewers, TNA live events are often praised, although it is often noted that they are poorly attended.  Recently TNA has even tried running events in larger venues, with sparse crowds in the buildings.  I would increase the effort of the promotion to increase live attendance by making the live events the focal point of the promotion. 
     As shown above, Impact Wrestling consistently pulls the same ratings numbers, so I would focus the content of the program on promoting live events.  In order to do this, I would make Impact more of a traditional "Territory Studio Wrestling" show, but with a major overhaul for the 2010's.  Impact currently is a show that is half-heartedly promoting PPV events, but at the same time built around being episodic television.  This often leads to the inability to distinguish between an episode of Impact, and a PPV event.  Then, fans will often not pay to attend live events, because the stars and matches constantly hyped on Impact do not take place on live events. 
     Rather than booking TNA with a focus on episodic television, or building to a PPV, I would focus Impact 100% on promoting events that fans would actually pay for, be it tickets to live events or PPV.  TNA has the ability to run in smaller towns that the WWE will ignore on a consistent basis, while also running smaller venues in bigger cities.  TNA should focus on selling out shows in 1000-2000 seat venues in smaller markets, and 2000-4000 seats in larger cities. 

Overhaul of  Impact Wrestling
     I would look to Boxing, UFC, and ESPN for inspiration on ideas for Impact.  WWE has established the regular routine of Matches/In Ring Promo/Backstage segments on their broadcasts.  I would move nearly 180 degrees away from that, by bringing back the format of having squash or showcase matches on every show, mixed with a few competitive matches, and a quality "PPV caliber" television main event match.  Impact would exclusively push and showcase the sixteen wrestlers under contract on the roster. 
I would make sure that there was quality video of house shows, so that clips of angles and highlights from the events could be broadcast in Impact - but not shown in full. 
     I would format Impact with around five matches.  I would have two "showcase" matches, where a guy on the roster would square off in a competitive match with a talent not on the roster.  I would have a couple of squash matches, where a wrestler on the roster completely dominates another wrestler that is not on the roster (but not necessarily a short match).  Before and after these types of matches, I would have in-ring or ringside interviews with a broadcaster (such as Taz), where the opportunity is taken to hype a feud or an upcoming match on a live event.  For example, Maybe James Storm dominates an upcoming prospect in a five minute match, and then afterwards he speaks to Taz at ringside about his title shot against Bobby Roode at the big house show  in Nashville this Saturday night, and how he is going to bring home the gold in his hometown. 
     Then, perhaps in the next segment you show a sit-down interview with Bobby Roode and Mike Tenay - something that is like an ESPN "Sunday Conversation", or the types of interviews they show with the fighters on the UFC hype-shows.  I would also use more of the great video packages that they do as part of the "Before the Bell" or "Spin Cycle", and I would do a lot more "behind the scenes" type video packages like you would see on UFC or HBO's 24/7 shows.  TNA has done a great job in the past doing these types of things with Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, and Consequences Creed.  I would make them a big part of Impact, because those things help sell tickets! 
     Finally, my "Television Main Event" would be a PPV quality match that I would give plenty of time to, and which I would treat it as a big deal.  I would have in-ring intros, a tale-of-the-tape, etc.  I would treat it how UFC treats an "Ultimate Fight Night", where you have one match with name value to headline the card - maybe a mid-card championship or a ladies championship match. 
      I would also do a lot more of the video vignettes - things like "Double-J Double-M A", ODB & Eric Young on a honeymoon, or Jay Lethal & Val on a date.  These types of things get a guy over and establish a gimmick and character, while avoiding doing everything "backstage" or in front of a live audience. 
     Again, the impetus for this is that the Impact rating does not move much from 1.0, so why not use the 1.0 to hype other revenue streams, rather than dumping more money into the idea that it will build to a higher number next week?  It might sound counter-productive, but for decades this was how professional wrestling worked, and this is the formula that UFC has aped for their cable programming.  UFC was able to create stars and sell millions of PPV buys with this type of television - which had similar ratings to Impact.  So, why would that not work for TNA if done correctly?  

Work With Other Promotions
     Unlike the WWE, TNA does not have the ability to compete internationally with other promotions.  TNA has at times worked with CMLL & AAA in Mexico, and with NJPW, AJPW, and IGF in Japan.  In addition, TNA has had many successful tours of Europe, as well as establishing a well received off-shoot promotion in India, Ring Ka King. 
     With a smaller roster, it would be easier to highlight wrestlers from other international promotions on the events.  TNA could easily show a highlight package of a guy like LA Park from AAA on a few episodes of Impact, and then bring him in for a set of Impact tapings, followed by a weekend tour and a PPV.  Or, some of the native Indian talent from Ring Ka King could work Impact tapings as enhancement talent in order to get more seasoning in the ring.  There is no reason why a guy like Romeo Rapta couldn't work a short competitive match with a guy like Brother D-Von, or why you couldn't build to a nice television main event with Mahabali Veera and Abyss. 
     TNA already has an obvious relationship with AAA in Mexico, with Jeff Jarrett being the AAA Heavyweight Champion.  AAA seems to have a bit of a relationship with AJPW.  I would try to work on strengthening those ties, or alternative ones.  See if you can get a team like Ozz & Cuervo to come in for a run against the MCMG, or a guy like Taiyo Kea to come in and work a program with Samoa Joe.  Plus, you could do things like have Jeff Jarrett run down a respected British legend like Johnny Saint - calling him an old bastard who couldn't wrestle on the mat like him, and then when you run the UK next, headline the cards with Austin Aries/Jeff Jarrett vs. Saint & Doug Williams - or some other kind of match of that order. 

Take The Ladies Seriously
     I am not the biggest fan of ladies' wrestling, just because of how awful it usually is.  However, at one point in time TNA was known for the quality of the Women's Division, and it was a big draw.   What I would do is keep a handful of ladies under part-time contracts, and keep mixing up the division.  I would structure things so that the ladies were tied to TNA contractually, but were able to accept independent and foreign bookings to supplement their income. 
     I would not hesitate to run "Atomicos Pena" matches on either Impact or house shows - where maybe you have a Heavyweight, a tag team and a lady vs a heavyweight, a tag team and a lady.  I would use the ladies matches as opening matches on house shows to get the crowd into the show with the T&A aspect, and I wouldn't hesitate to use the Knockouts Championship Match as a "Television Main Event". 
     I do not think women's wrestling is much of a draw on its own, but I do think it is an aspect to a show that helps with the total package.  In this day and age, playing a female division as a turn-on is pointless, because you can find scantily clad females very easily on the internet or other television programing.  The draw is good-looking women that can actually wrestle.  The highest rated segment ever on a TNA broadcast was Kong vs Gail Kim (source).

Final Thoughts

     In the end, TNA will just continue to do what it does, because it does not think outside of the box.  Really, no one in wrestling does.  Wrestling is the biggest copycat business of all.  So many promoters and wrestlers see something that works for someone else, and they just rip it off without giving any thought to why it worked. 
     Rather than put some effort into finding the next great mind in wrestling, TNA has continuously recycled people whose time has passed.  Russo.  Hogan.  Bischoff.  If TNA wants to have a different product, then they need to have different ideas.  If they want to try to outdo the WWE at their own game they will continue to fail fail fail. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog entry.

    You're right about wrestling being a monkey-see monkey-do business.

    The house shows have been taking place in big venues for a number of reasons. Main reason is that the venues buy the show from TNA or partner with them splitting the gate.

    Now that attendance is way down, fewer venues are getting in on the action.

    People bash TNA for not promoting the house shows. That's a lie. I've been to about 20 TNA house shows in the last 4 years. They buy a ton of local cable ads on RAW, South Park, and rotators on other stations. Most of their shows have several radio sponsors. Posters. Newspaper ads and write-ups too.

    They have no business being in a 10,000 seat venue in Ontario, Ca.