I laid out the landscape of professional wrestling and where all the major American promotions sit. This week, I go more in depth to what kind of company TNA is and the areas they need to address to create stability and later on growth inside the business.
IMPACT Wrestling can best be defined as a "rope opera" a soap opera for wrestling fans. There is a blend of action and drama seen through matches, promos, pre-tapes and vignettes. IMPACT Wrestling has a nice mix of wrestling and storytelling. The main presentation difference to WWE is that they do a lot of their backstage segments through Reality TV style camera angles. With that said, we have recently seen a few "soap opera" style pre-tapes which include background music. (ex. Feast or Fired segment, EC3 promo).
The product is broken down into four divisions: Heavyweight Division, Tag Team Division, Knockouts Division and X Division. The Heavyweight Division is TNA's bread and butter. The main prize is the coveted World Heavyweight Championship which has been held by a who's who of the top names in the industry. Names like Matt and Jeff Hardy, Lashley, EC3, Mike Bennett, Drew Galloway and others are currently in the mix for the Heavyweight Title scene. The division also features the King of the Mountain Championship, which is a midcard title with a chaotic history.
The Tag Team Division features Beer Money, The Wolves, Decay, Bram and Eric Young and other teams. TNA's Tag Team scene is known for its makeshift teams that end up incredibly successful. Since arriving on Pop, TNA has shown an increased interest in boosting up its tag team division.
The Knockouts Division is TNA's Women's Division. The current active roster includes Gail Kim, The Dollhouse and The Beautiful People. TNA recently lost a few top Knockouts and are in a rebuilding stage. The high-point for the division came in its early years and since has fallen down the card. The KO Division is known for recurring names and has a problem of allowing new names to break through.
The X Division is a modern-day cruiserweight division focused on smaller athletes or daredevils. In its early years, the X Division was the key attraction of TNA but that hasn't been the case in many years. Currently, it is a special attraction that provides sizzle to the product. With TNA's move to a slower, more grounded style, this has also effected the X Division style as well. Names like Trevor Lee, Tigre Uno and Mandrews among other fight in the X Division.
TNA's biggest three events of the year are Bound For Glory, Slammiversary (PPVs) and Lockdown (TV special). During the off-months, they hold themed One Night Only shows that are loosely-tied to the main product. Their weekly TV show, IMPACT Wrestling is the base of the product while ONO's and Xplosion tend not to have any consequences and are often outdated.
The most unique things about the IMPACT Wrestling brand are its unique concepts. Matches takes place inside a Six Sided Ring. Along with traditional gimmick matches, TNA has a few of their own including Ultimate X, King of the Mountain, Hardcore War and others.
As for their business model, TNA is a TV-only company. Their focus is their TV properties (IMPACT, Xplosion, ONO and PPVs). They are rumored not to have any Live Events in 2016. They get a good chunk of their money from their Television partners. Along with this, they also keep costs down by running taping marathons at one location. Recently, they were able to free up some money by cutting certain costs. This includes a new TV partner, freeing up some contracts and downsizing at their headquarters in Nashville.
The first major element with an identity is the name of the company. Ever since TNA rebranded their TV show "IMPACT Wrestling" in 2011, fans have questions whether the company should be called TNA or IMPACT Wrestling. Dixie Carter has addressed this in interviews however, the way the company is promoted still creates a convoluted identity. For example, in some Lockdown graphics you will see it being called "TNA Lockdown" while in others its called "IMPACT Wrestling Lockdown."
You could go to TNA's website but that is as messy and unfinished as the aforementioned problem. It constantly switches between IMPACTWrestling.com and TNAWrestling.com. The website is TNA's main avenue to reach out to their fans BUT it currently is a big mess.
From a personal standpoint, I think it would be easier to just run with the IMPACT Wrestling brand. The company has spent a few good years ignoring the TNA brand and emphasizing IMPACT Wrestling. With the company evolution to what they are now, it may now be time to abandon some elements of the past. This is just a small issue preventing TNA from having a streamlined vision for the company.
A bigger issue is that many of TNA's fans, some of their partners and many in the company can't differentiate the TNA of now from that of the past. Two years ago, TNA was an entirely different company. They had about 1.3 million weekly viewers on Spike TV. They just lost names like AJ Styles, Sting, Bad Influence and others. They hadn't gone through everything they had. Let's recap the major events of the past few years that put TNA in its current position.
In 2013, TNA attempted to take their shows on the road. This was a major money-loser that resulted in TNA taking major cost-cutting moves including cutting ties with names like Hulk Hogan, AJ Styles, Sting, Bad Influence, Chris Sabin and later on names like Austin Aries and James Storm. In 2014, their relationship with longtime TV partner, Spike TV ended leaving them without a home.
They moved to the much smaller Destination America in 2015. This network switched their nights on two occasions and put them right next to Ring of Honor on the same network. During the middle of last year, rumors of TNA's departure from that network hit which cast a dark shadow over the company. More names departed and general morale amongst the fanbase sank. TNA did leave Destination America and did sign with Pop TV, a move that has been a good move so far.
The point is, these are two very different TNA's. Two years ago, the audience was 1.3 million on a major-league TV network with top stars like Sting, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy and the TNA originals being AJ Styles, Bad Influence, Samoa Joe and others. Currently, their audience is in the 250,000-350,000 range. Their top names are The Hardys and Lashley. Their top TNA originals are gone and have been replaced with EC3, Drew Galloway, Mike Bennett and a few others. They are with a supportive network who is fresh to the game.
The past few years for the company have been hell and instability. Numerous network changes, timeslot changes, departures, backstage issues etc have all contributed to this. In a way its bittersweet as TNA has finally had to streamline their business to make it work for them.
As of now, to me the TNA product is back on track. They haven't resorted to authority figures or invasions and are somewhat fixing some weak points from the past. The three key strengths recently have been: the focus on character and story development, the improvement to the tag team division and the accentuation of characters through non-wrestling personnel.
The Knockouts Division needs new blood. You either move Rosemary, Maria, Reby, Raquel to that division or you hire a few new names. The X Division needs to be featured better. TNA constantly pays lip service to the division yet it never gets enough time and the division is often a lower-card group of guys. Having feuds and characters that matter will be a great start to making the division mean something again. Either do that or stop hyping the division as a cornerstone of the company.
Figure out your branding strategy. Are you TNA or IMPACT Wrestling? When that has been decided, fix the damn website. The current one is ugly. I understand you are keeping costs low but there are many out there (myself included) who would be happy to design your website at little to no cost.
Figure out your PPV strategy. It sounds like Dixie Carter is looking at something different from what we currently have. The biggest issue is making PPVs something that people want to pay for. TNA needs to build up their biggest shows well in advance. They should feel like the biggest shows of the year. As for One Night Only; make their results have consequences to the main product. It should all be one consistent product instead of two unconnected products.
Focus on the long-term. The next few years should be about building your stars. No more temporary fixes. Build up guys like EC3, Drew Galloway, Eli Drake, The Wolves, Mike Bennett and more to carry you into the future.
Be consistent with your product. TNA is a mix of wrestling and drama. Fans who watch the show know and expect that. You will constantly get critics who want you to change but change comes through evolution not a fresh start. People want the characters, the reality tv pre-tapes and the soap opera elements. As learned in my past column, if they don't like that there are plenty of other wrestling companies out there.
While I realize that I have been pretty general in my suggestions, this column is going into "Nevermore" territory. The point is coming up with a long-term gameplan and sticking to it.