With no immediate remedy to the holiday line jam that was, we talked the obvious, wrestling. I asked if he watches, who his favorites were, the typical small talk. "I used to watch it when it was fun, then I moved away from it...I started watching with my son a few years ago again, and it ain't that bad now", he stated in describing his fandom.
He further went on to explain his ties to the genre, "I grew up on Hulk Hogan, Million Dollar Man, Ultimate Warrior...those guys. Then of course, during my college years, guys like Stone Cold and The Rock were popular. Me and my college buddies were stunning each other and saying all of Rock's sayings...just crazy! Those were the days!"
"Different times now, man. My wife watches now with him - It's become much more family friendly than those crotch chopping days, you know? In some ways, it's a bit more respectable form of entertainment. We all can go. I don't feel like it's going to be too over the top for an eleven-year-old."
Naturally, I asked him about other wrestling companies, as I was curious if it's WWE-or-nothing as most casuals are, and was surprised to hear that he was aware, especially to that of TNA. Then he uttered the dreaded words in which I'm sure must trouble everyone in Nashville: "oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! It was on Thursdays, right? What happened to that company? All of sudden it was off the air."
Sometimes, I truly believe you can learn so much about the wrestling business and its state not from the hardcore fans or those that follow the ins and outs of everything, but the casuals who allow the products to be, and have a truly innocent outlook and reaction to content geared toward them.
Looking at TNA's move to POP TV, it's hard not to feel excited, and most of all relieved for TNA. From the facts presented, it makes all the sense in the world for the company, especially when considering the availability and access fans will have to the product once again.
Recently, Optimum, my cable provider, added POP TV to our offerings and naturally, I checked out the channel for a feel of it's content. I was immediately met with a commercial for TNA, which was really nice. After an all too obvious "of course" moment, the screen quickly faded into the middle of the movie 13 going on 30 (Yup, you read that right, 13 Going on 30 in a wrestling column) which my wife felt the need to pull the remote out of my hand and watch, much to my chagrin in the moment.
As I grew increasingly embarrassed for Mark Ruffalo partaking and accepting his role in this film (hey, we all start somewhere, right?), I scanned the guide for the other content. What I found was a re-affirmation of the channel's tag line. There were soap operas, rom-coms, and everything else - POP TV has an array of content that hits many, many demographics. An asset that, of course, bodes well for the growth and potential of rekindling Impact Wrestling here in the States, while also giving it many avenues and demos to reach into.
But of course, there is some responsibility on the side of TNA with this reach. I've seen many clamor for the company to push the envelope when it comes to show-content and to use their TV-14 rating at the fullest extent possible. How far should the company go? How edgy? Do they bring back the model and direction of wrestling's most successful time, or do they look to rebuild their engagement with female fans and children?
To be honest, us hardcore fans are going to be there. No matter how much we complain, threaten boycotts, or type that dreaded line, "I'm so done with this company!", we will watch. We will. We may take a break, but we'll be back.
The male 18-49 demographic will always be the lifeblood and core of the wrestling business. For example, I'm a fan of ROH and really do enjoy their live product. They very much cater to the die hard fan. But to be honest, every live show I've been to is very much all 20-40 year old guys in attendance. Finding women and children are few and far between. In my opinion, it's one of the reasons it continually hits a ceiling on it's growth.
Having a product that attracts women and children has so many benefits than just having a well-rounded product that reaches the masses. For one, attendance now moves from just men, including dads, to families, or others bringing their kids along with their kids' friends, their neighbors and such. It's not a home run solution, but having more families engaged can increase attendance at Live shows. Plus, kids love chanting stuff - anything! - at wrestling shows. I've seen it. They may hate a wrestler, but if something is catchy and includes some participation on the event, they will dive in. Television could always - always - use that energy. Both sectors have proven to be very passionate groups.
Another is a forgotten aspect within TNA - merchandise. Again, just like my brief friend and subject for this column proved early on, kids are a perfect avenue for moving merchandise. Say or think what you want about John Cena's shirts, but there is a reason they are in the bright obnoxious colors they come in. It attracts kids. And of course, it sells. For all of the "Manik Mask" discussion in this still-fresh year, masks sell! Who doesn't love wrestling masks? Halloween help? Memorabilia? Heck, I still have a couple of Lucha Masks from my earlier wrestling fandom days. Just saying...
What about opportunities with Crazzy Steve in the past? Or possibly even Rockstar Spud? Maybe he can be a personality who kids can be attracted to? I know Gail Kim reinvented herself (And it's been great), but there is definitely something there as the wife to celebrity Robert Irvine, a mother, and of course, an incredible athlete in which women can be drawn to. Every time Gail hits the TV screen, the same phrases are uttered in my household from my wife, "So jealous, Gail has terrific hair!", which is immediately followed by, "She's so bad ass!". Of course, just pitching ideas here...maybe even some bad ones, but you get my drift.
Of course, my wife, my ultimate sample pool for the casual fan hasn't watched Impact programming since we sat in the Manhattan Center for the debut on Destination America. Maybe that's telling as well.
She got sucked in this past Tuesday. "Matt Hardy is so gross. Never liked him! His nasty hair and stupid and ridiculous looking pants! Him as champ pisses me off! You DVR'ing this next week?"
Which leads me to the final benefit, and I believe this is the biggest reasoning behind targeting such an audience - the overall engagement, development, and connection of the fanbase to the product.
There are a few of us who continue to have soft spots for the "TNA Originals" and that's because of time and our growth with these wrestlers. What about new TNA fans? Or potential fans? There needs to be a few guys, girls, factions, moments, whatever, that connects with kids, women, new fans, older fans etc... to keep them coming back. If that takes a cheesy character that hardcore fans may not like, tough! If it takes a Grado, or whomever on television, that, is not a "darling of the internet", then I'm all for it. Sometimes the hardcore wrestling fan's poison might be the cup of tea the casuals are looking for.
Of course, there is the dreaded question some of you may jump to from this column - is he suggesting TNA move to a PG rating?
The answer is no. Somehow, IWC culture has us believe that being PG is directly tied to bad programming. It's not the case. Nor do I feel being PG or any family rating deters a wrestling product from putting on an entertaining show. I really, truly believe TV interest really hasn't changed, people still want compelling and interesting television. That's all. That's it. Toy Story can be just as entertaining as Straight Outta Compton. However, going all Wolf of Wall Street may cost you more than it's worth.
I will stand my ground and say that in today's world, pro wrestling doesn't need to be so in your face and edgy with language and content. Some times less is more. Sometimes saving that "word" or that "moment" means more for a storyline or a program than when it is used every show. Who remembers Dixie Carter saying to Eric Bischoff, "you little smugsh*t!". Still an awesome moment.
Also, quite frankly, I often think the "Attitude Era" gets lost in myth and tall tales. There is a lot of content during that specific period that was pretty campy and sophomoric and would not only repulse viewers today, but probably enrage hardcore fans alike.
There is a way to attract families, specifically women and children while still using the TV-14 rating to your advantage. And that's a fine line the creative of TNA will have to earn their money to find and stay on.
As competitive as it has become, television today seems to be more inviting in forms of attracting various demographics than ever before. Programs, unless intended not to, have been looking to reach various groups through their programming. For TNA, and their new chapter on POP TV, I truly believe that focus includes children and women.
"Well, yeah, the company sort of disappeared for a while. It's back on POP TV in a few weeks", is what I told the father as he placed the replica WWE championship belt among other items on the register belt.
He looked up in quick interest and stated, "Really? Thanks! I actually took him to a TNA show they had a few years ago in Coney Island. He loved it! I will look into it and let him know. I actually had to buy him a Derrick [sic] Young shirt a couple of years ago. I remember he was crazy about that particular wrestler."
"Eric Young, really?, I said to make sure he got the wrestler's name correct. I continued, "Well, he'll be excited, he's still there!"
Like everything TNA, it's still there. Now it's time to reconnect.
How exciting has TNA been thus far in 2016?
With that said, I've realized this from attending IMPACT tapings in the past, but how inaccurate and misleading can spoilers and reports of spoilers be?
Wasn't Angle's line of "I don't know if I can beat you again" a great one that added to the Lashley v. Angle encounter?
And didn't Lashley's last line simply make the whole thing amazing?
Is it me or maybe it's something missing from his gimmick - but doesn't Jesse Godderz get lost during mic time next to Eli Dra....err E-Li Drake?
Do you imaginary point in the air when reading "E-li Drake"?
Am I crazy to think there is a marketing/gimmick spark with the whole "2006" aspect and Bram?
Anyone else already way more interested in Craazy Steve than they have been...like ever?
Speaking of interest, what does it say when Matt Hardy's son, Max, has received more air time, possibly has gotten more over, than a few others since the start of the year?
And doesn't Max deserve the "Big Money" moniker more so than his dad, you know, if we were to compare careers thus far?
Heck, I'm just a fan, he's barely a year and has been a part of a big angle and major heel turn already - what have we contributed to wrestling?
Seriously though, wasn't that whole Hardy/EC3 ordeal the best thing in a long, long, long time in TNA - maybe ever?
Doesn't TNA do a great job of allowing older wrestlers to reinvent themselves?
How epic will EC3's return in London be?
Isn't there an interesting Hardy v Hardy match up down the line?
It won't happen, but doesn't Josh Matthews deserve plenty of credit on his work in telling and selling the story of that which unfolded before us?
As always, feedback is always appreciated below and over in Twitterland at @DomePondering.