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TNA Wrestling: The Path to Profitability

The news that TNA is up for sale has rocked the wrestling world. Matthew Roberts suggests ways potential new owners could make TNA profitable

One of the most damaging things to come out of TNA’s Bound For Glory show recently was the photograph of the vast numbers of empty seats in the arena whilst the show was in full swing. Whether you love TNA, hate them or are indifferent either way, it wasn’t so much an embarrassing moment as it was a sad moment.

This was the (admittedly self-proclaimed) “biggest show of the year” from North America’s number two promotion and it simply couldn’t put bums in seats. Sadly this was no surprise. If the slightly anemic line-up wasn’t bad enough (with months to prepare for their version of WrestleMania there was little beyond the AJ/Bully Ray main event had any sort of real build up) the cruel fact of the matter is that TNA simply do not draw on the road. This is one of the reasons why TNA are looking to take their Impact tapings back to Universal Studio’s because now the novelty of TNA being on the road has died down they simply can’t pull in crowds anywhere near large enough to cover the extra costs. A once a year trip to 10,000 people at Wembley doesn’t pay the bills.

It is genuinely now a question of IF the company will survive, rather than how they may prosper in the future. But whilst there will have to be a good few months of soul searching and cost cutting to come, with the probability that things are going to get worse before they get better , all Is not lost. Things can turn around.

Any idea that getting rid of Dixie Carter is the magic answer is incorrect as it’s her families money that has kept TNA going. There are no buyer’s on the horizon and even those who would lay their hat on the fact that it was the cancellation of a TV deal that “cost” Eric Bischoff the chance to purchase WCW back in 2001, is the Spike TV deal that TNA has enough of a draw to essentially purchase a company with nothing but debts?

So given the fact that the magic wand isn’t coming to your rescue, what other steps could TNA make to improve the product? If we take the immediate cost-cutting of getting off the road as stage one of the long road to recovery where can TNA make strides towards profitability? Here’s a few things I think they could do.

PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE
No “die-hard” fan of the WWE is likely to “defect” to TNA and TNA shouldn’t really be competing to grab the same fans; as their disastrous attempt to go head to head on Monday nights shows, if it’s a competition there is only one winner. However there are a number of viewers who used to watch WWE and even more who stopped watching wrestling after the collapse of WCW who could be invited back if promised an alternative to what they see every week on WWE programming.

The WWE don’t care about the Cruiserweight style…so rebuild the X-Division with the high flying antics and moves that grab the casual viewers attention when flicking channels. Although it’s perhaps a moot point now that Triple H is attempting to engineer a renaissance of tag team wrestling, call the WWE’s bluff and get back to the days when TNA could lay legitimate claim to having the best collection of tag teams. Take the opportunity whilst the WWE are more obsessed with Total Diva’s rather than women who can wrestle to continue to portray the knockouts as the girls who can go. The WWE has no interest in talent trading with foreign companies so strike deals with Japanese companies to showcase the best of their talent. Don’t attempt to butt heads with the WWE over what they can do; pick the things they don’t want to do and excel at them.
And whilst we’re on this subject…

ACCENTUATE TV-14
I’ve lost track of the number of fans who moan that the WWE isn’t what it was because it’s now a PG operation. Well now is the time for TNA to put that theory to the test. ECW thrived (and was less financially successful than TNA yet is far more fondly remembered) because it found a niche and exploited the fact that it did things it’s “competition” could not. There needn’t be anything as drastic as the Pillman/Austin gun angle that the WWF used to highlight their new prime time slot in 1996 (although that might seem rather tame now) but right from the start of each programme, TNA should be at pains to push home the point that their shows have a higher age rating and should showcase that in any way they can. Push the envelope.

CULTIVATE NEW STARS
Now of course every wrestling promotion looking to be successful should be looking to cultivate new stars but TNA needs to get serious about it. Things are at rock bottom anyway so there is nothing to lose by going all out to get a new group of talent over. Magnus defeating Sting at BFG was a good start but the company should identify three or four guys, make sure they are on reasonably long contracts and start pushing them with an eye on becoming future main eventers. The identities of the four aren’t actually important, or whether they are already with the company or young “free agents”. Naturally it helps if they are good talents, of course, but pick them and stick with them. Let them work their way up the card. Don’t panic if things don’t go well; believe in them, Make them look and feel important to the viewers. Allow fans to invest in their characters knowing that they are around for the long-term and won’t be jobbed out next week for the sake of it. It will take time, it will take patience…but it can be done. And make sure that the stars you already have are on board and willing to work with for the good of the company’s future. If they’re not, get the most out of them and see them on their way.

MAKE EACH PPV COUNT
Having four PPV shows a year should make TNA’s life much easier. There’s an argument that the lack of a “pay-off” for feuds each month hurts the TV product and causes a lack of focus but that needn’t be the case. By all means build up to monthly specials on Impact; perhaps, much like the One Night Only shows still taped, build shows around a certain theme once in a while, but never lose focus that for the company to appear successful, it’s imperative that PPV’s appear special and worthwhile.

If there are eight matches on a PPV, make sure that each and every one of them has a purpose. There doesn’t have to be mad angles behind every bout; the X-Division, for instance, could be built around a league system or ranking where every match that a member of that division has means something. Ideally every win and loss in any promotion should mean something, but that’s another rant for another time. The Bound For Glory Series was a mess, with different wrestlers having differing number of matches and the whole “league” system being rendered pointless in the last week of it by AJ Styles winning bonus points in a gauntlet. With a little bit of planning that could have been a genuinely exciting series that built to a crescendo.

Don’t stack PPV cards with bouts we’ve seen a hundred times before; make them stand out from a random episode of Impact. Save certain gimmick matches for the PPV’s alone. To compare to the WWE, why would fans shell out for Money In The Bank or Hell In A Cell if those matches were available on TV once a month anyway? There’s plenty of gimmick shortcuts that can be utilised on TV without hurting the money makers.

These might seem absurdly simple idea, and in many respects they are. But they’re more realistic than “fire Dixie Carter” or “sign The Rock/Stone Cold for a one-off appearance”. They are all things that could be done relatively cheaply, which is a big plus at the moment, and they would help to cultivate an identity for TNA. In time they might even start to thrive merely than just looking to survive.

– By Matthew Roberts

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