It is absolutely critical that TNA closes out the 2013 calendar year in strong fashion. AJ Styles is under a temporary contract and is now booked in a title match against Bully Ray for the strap. Mickie James is the Knockouts champion and her contract expired. If you believe previous news reports, the company is (occasionally) weeks behind in paychecks.
If there was ever a perfect representation of the chaos in TNA, last week’s television show gave you some insight. AJ Styles, after signing a short-term extension to stay with TNA, won the rushed/compacted Bound for Glory series in order to get a title shot against Bully Ray. Instead of celebrating his win or putting over the upcoming PPV match, he spent the time talking about… Dixie Carter. Dixie Carter is his target of choice. If she’s not doing backstage skits, she’s doing promos in the ring or having talking heads promote her Twitter feed on television during matches. This is the kind of classic behavior you see from a money-mark driven promotion that is out of control.
Despite all of this chaos, TNA remains The Treadmill Promotion for good reason because the ratings never wildly fluctuate. And you know who has noticed TNA’s Treadmill tendencies? Smart people in the wrestling business like Chris Jericho. Great minds think alike. Jericho said that he wouldn’t be inclined to work for a promotion that doesn’t have high aspirations or a game plan to go to the next level. It’s the same reason that WWE was so confident that Jim Ross wouldn’t work for TNA that they just let him go for “retirement.”
People who call TNA the Treadmill Promotion often get criticized but truth is an absolute defense in court and in the court of public opinion, TNA needs to take a step back to look at some important benchmarks for the upcoming 2014 run. Money and time are running out for Nashville and if they want to survive, there are ten areas they should be looking at closely for modifications in business policy.
1. Is going on the road to do live & taped television events worth the price tag?
There is no doubt that the shows look better on the road than they do from the Impact Zone. Television is a visual medium and you need a presentation that looks as busy & energetic as possible. Going on the road has helped the cause. However, TNA has chosen some smaller markets to run TV tapings at that have bombed in attendance and energy. Plus, the policy of taping half the television shows in the same arenas in front of tired fans clearly shows on the Spike broadcasts.
The main concern is cost control and how much more it costs to run the tapings on the road. If they have revenue from key drivers to cover losses on the television side, then there isn’t a problem. However, TNA isn’t getting a significant infusion of PPV cash or international revenue to cover for any domestic losses. The question that TNA needs to ask is how do they continue TV shows on the road but do so in a way that looks major league and doesn’t have major league costs?
2. Can the company keep their champions and re-sign the top stars?
The good news is that it appears that WWE isn’t interested in many of TNA’s top wrestlers. The bad news is that if WWE ever was interested, they would absolutely blitz TNA with such high offerings that there’s no way TNA could match them dollar-for-dollar.
Since WWE has been so much more aggressive with their developmental system and sending wrestlers from other promotions to Orlando to train them on “the WWE style,” it has given TNA somewhat of a reprieve from talent raids. However, we know that TNA wrestlers are making overtures to try to get into WWE directly and morale isn’t very high.
The other issue TNA faces, besides pressure from WWE in raiding talent, is whether the talent they currently have justifies the price they are paying out. If you’re going to be a Treadmill Promotion, is it really worth it to pay top dollar for a wrestler like AJ Styles? As I explained in my article about the marriage between TNA and Styles, neither
party can leave each other despite the fact that there’s not a lot of love. TNA has always had the reputation for booking great wrestlers but not putting them in positions to succeed and break the glass ceiling. TNA also has a reputation of booking a lot of good talent that simply isn’t Ace material to carry a promotion. Someone has to come into the fold and really bring a fresh perspective in terms of recruiting talent, managing talent, and deciding which wrestlers should stick around and which ones should go elsewhere for opportunities.
3. Is TNA getting a return on value for paying the Hulkster what he wants?
When TNA tapes television, it’s clear that many of the fans see Hogan as the top star. They cheer for him like it’s WCW 1996. He can barely move, let alone wrestle. He has charisma but he forgets stipulations or gimmicks that he has to put over during promos. He hogs television time and inserts himself into main storylines. And for all of this activity, TNA has to pay him a lot of money.
What does Hulk Hogan bring to the table in 2014 and what is his value? Even at his advanced age, does Hogan’s presence overshadow AJ Styles and suck fan oxygen away to a point where Styles can simply not the same kind of crowd reaction at the TV tapings?
4. Who is the #1 babyface and who should be the #1 heel?
On most TNA television shows, Hulk Hogan comes across as the biggest babyface. AJ Styles is (now) a face but often viewed as a lower-tier face than Hogan. We all know Bully Ray is the #1 heel and that the rest of the heels are below him. The question with Ray isn’t his ability to talk because he’s super at that. The question with Ray is whether he can deliver in the ring when it’s time to deliver and I have serious questions about that. He’s serviceable, but not spectacular. His two fights with Chris Sabin were disappointing and the spotfest with Ken Anderson was what it was. Of course, expecting top wrestlers to get a good in-ring performance from Ken Anderson in biker gear is going to be a hard task.
If Hogan is out of the picture, then Sting and Angle are your top babyfaces with Styles behind them in the pecking order. We’ve seen this song and dance for many years. Anderson’s now a tweener. So where is the depth and definition on the heel side? We know Bobby Roode, Chris Daniels, and Frankie Kazarian can work but are they taken seriously as A-level heels? What about Austin Aries? We damn well know he can work with the best in the world but does TNA have enough faith in him long-term to make him an Ace or near-Ace like WWE did with Rick Rude?
Until there is depth and definition clearly established, the roster will remain jumbled and glass ceilings will not be smashed.
5. Has the reduction in the amount of PPVs helped the bottom line?
It’s saved TNA money by cutting back on PPVs but there’s a difference between saving money and earning power. TNA right now has trouble with both categories.
They need to bump up the PPV schedule a little bit in 2014 simply to give the bookers more focus with their television shows. With less PPVs to promote, the television product for TNA has resulted in everything getting thrown against the creative wall. It can be overwhelming at times to watch. One look at the turmoil regarding the way Bound for Glory was booked should tell you how important structure & rigidity would be for TNA moving forward.
6. Is the house show circuit profitable enough for survival?
It’s important to cultivate markets and the way to do that is by running tours. The problem is that the shows are often skeleton crews in small markets, so unless there is a master marketing plan to build a monster direct mail or social media campaign based on contacts gained from the live events, then the road circuit is largely a waste of time.
House shows mean everything to WWE in terms of cash. It’s how you pay and afford the best talent in the world. TNA right now is basically running on fumes with their allotted television money. A complete restructure in how TNA runs their house show business must be established. Even if it means bringing in third-party promoters to do sold shows/site fees, something needs to change.
7. What can TNA do better than WWE that will help them grow their audience?
We know TNA can book occasional women’s matches that blow away what we see on WWE TV. The problem is that there’s no continuity to the booking and it’s often relegated to second-tier or third-tier status. The fact that Mickie James has been able to rise through the ranks like she has is a real testament to her ability to take control of an arena and be the dominant voice. There are other girls on the TNA roster who can do the same thing but are not put in a top position to make a run of it.
TNA teased us in a big way by giving us two fun Taryn Terrell/Gail Kim matches. Since that point, it’s back to square one. TNA needs to come across as different than WWE. One way to pull that off is to give the ladies some main events and put them in the kind of scenarios where they can shine like Austin Aries vs. Chris Sabin.
The X-Division was supposed to TNA’s big difference maker and right now it’s largely a punchline for the Suicide, Manik, whatever gimmick TJ Perkins is using.
I would suggest tournaments but as we saw with Bound for Glory, TNA can’t manage a singles tournament and get all the wrestlers to actually wrestle each other. Point management isn’t their thing. So there has to be something that TNA can bring into the fold besides the ladies that can differentiate their product from WWE’s presentation.
8. What is the game plan for international expansion?
The quickest way to jump start TNA is to bring in real stars from overseas to work some hot programs. TNA had a great partner in New Japan, the number two wrestling promotion in the world, and blew it off. That was a mistake. They had a very short-lived relationship with NOAH, another company that has some very good Jr. Heavyweight talent that could take over in the TNA ring. TNA managed to end that arrangement in short order.
Even with bad endings to the New Japan & NOAH relationships, TNA has a chance to do business with Keiji Mutoh’s Wrestle-1 promotion. He’s got some young talent like Seiya Sanada & KAI who could do some real damage in the heavyweight division. Mutoh still has the charisma and Kaz Hayashi, his right hand man, is still a great worker. Shuji Kondo is a mini King Kong with great explosiveness and there are plenty of veteran hands like Minoru Tanaka and Koji Kanemoto who could work well with the Jr. Heavyweight wrestlers in TNA. Jeff Jarrett and Keiji Mutoh now have a loose alliance and it would be wise for TNA to jump on the opportunity to make a splash with some of Mutoh’s boys. It would benefit both operations greatly and give TNA a different feature to market.
And by the way, why aren’t we seeing TNA capitalize on their relationship with AAA? It’s not like Konnan won’t take your offers if you have paper to deal in return. Make it happen.
9. Is the current broadcasting crew good enough to remain the television faces of TNA?
Mike Tenay has always been a good color guy but as a lead announcer? He’s only slightly better than Michael Cole… slightly. Bradshaw Layfield and even The King are better than Taz at this point. Jeremy Borash is serviceable but I don’t think he captivates the imagination like Jim Ross. If JR appeared on TNA television tomorrow, he would wipe the floor with any of TNA’s current television personalities.
I think they need to freshen up their approach in regards to who is the face of TNA on television. Is there any way to get Joey Styles? Is there someone like a Mauro Ranallo they could recruit? Bring energy, bring excitement, and bring some life to the product.
10. Where does Jeff Jarrett fit into the picture?
The ultimate wild card, Jeff Jarrett is largely taking independent bookings and hobnobbing with old friends. With TNA dismantling their farm system, where does Jarrett fit into the picture? His booking left plenty to be desired in the past but it was a lot better than what we currently are witnessing. I suspect AJ Styles would do anything humanly possible to get Jarrett back in control of the book.
Jeff Jarrett, amazingly, has a different booking approach from his father & Jerry Lawler. He learned a lot of bad habits but he also learned some good habits. And he brings a wealth of experience to the table. He’s infinitely better than Eric Bischoff. It would be preferable if TNA brought in new bookers who aren’t tied to the company’s past, but Jarrett returning would be a plus and I think it would increase roster morale.