On September 19th, I wrote an article on Wrestlenewz detailing 10 important benchmarks for TNA heading into 2014. A summary of those benchmarks:
1. Was it worth it going on the road to tape TV? (We found out it wasn’t)
2. Can the company keep champions and re-sign top guys? (They’ve lost Mickie James & have a decision to make on AJ Styles)
3. Was there a Return of Investment for paying the Hulkster? (Dixie Carter is negotiating with him for a return)
4. Who is the #1 babyface and #1 heel? (It appears to be AJ Styles & Dixie Carter, which is a nightmare)
5. Has the reduced PPV schedule helped the bottom line? (It hasn’t).
6. Is the house show circuit profitable? (The jury is still out but trending towards a no.)
7. What can TNA do better than WWE?
8. What’s the game plan for international? (No changes since we last talked)
9. Are the current TV broadcasters good enough?
10. Where’s Jeff Jarrett? (Inching his way back into the fold)
Heading into the 2014 campaign, it doesn’t appear that TNA has a concrete game plan to grow the company’s business. There needs to be real change in order to help the product gain traction and get out of treadmill status.
Time to discuss some suggested changes that could help TNA become a serious alternative to WWE and compete with New Japan Pro-Wrestling for the status of being the number two promotion in the world.
1. Move away from Thursday nights and head to Tuesday nights.
Thursday is quickly becoming a tough sports night for television. The NFL is planning on ramping up their Thursday night game packages. There’s also the NBA season on TNT. College football on ESPN is another challenge. Thursday night is becoming over-saturated with lots of choices & competition on television. Tuesday nights would give TNA more of a chance to attract non-DVR viewers who want to watch the show when it actually airs. Live sporting events draw good advertising revenue because they are “DVR-proof.”
2. Define the sharpest contrast possible to the image of the WWE.
In other words: be everything they are not. If you’re in TNA management, stop watching RAW & WWE PPVs. Tape them and watch them once-a-month in a binge-viewing fest if you must. But under no circumstances should you emulate what WWE is doing.
TNA needs to look & feel totally different. It needs to be the action group like Nitro tried to be with the Cruiserweights. Let WWE do what they do best and find your own niche. The product needs to be something to someone. An obvious direction would be to go with a Lucha-style product to appeal to a Hispanic audience or a traditional Japanese-style product to appeal to the growing Asian population in the States. Be something to somebody. Right now, TNA is a watered down American wrestling product that gets caught up in the sports entertainment mode. They need to do something that shakes the wrestling fans at home and screams, “We’re the alternative.” Better, stiffer in-ring wrestling. Consistent booking of solid ladies matches. A product that appeals to a certain culture. Something that establishes an emotional connection with the audience. If TNA dies, it’s just another wrestling company. What TNA needs is to establish an identity that sparks a fire that provides a call to action that motivates the fan base.
3. Find an event or contribution that will permanently solidify TNA’s place in wrestling history.
Vince McMahon built modern day wrestling on PPV and turned Wrestlemania into the vehicle to achieve that goal. New Japan brought the world a style of wrestling that was hard-hitting & did so in a global fashion based around major events at the Tokyo Dome. Jushin Liger gave us the Super J-Cup and Best of the Super Jr. tournaments. All Japan Pro-Wrestling gave us some of the best wrestling matches in the history of the business with their annual Champion Carnival singles tournament. FMW gave us the exploding barbed wire death match format. ECW redefined the tastes of American wrestling fans looking for a hardcore fight. The NWA gave us legendary champions & Jim Crockett gave us Starrcade. WCW gave us Nitro and the Monday Night Wars.
What has TNA contributed to the business? The X-Division, when it’s all said and done, didn’t change the business. Bound for Glory as a tournament has failed to move the needle. If anything, BFG exposed TNA’s weakness of not being able to consistently book a tournament format. TNA thought they had something going with a six-sided ring like AAA but they reversed course and went back to a traditional 4-sided ring.
TNA needs to find something that can leave a permanent mark in the history books. Some sort of event or historical achievement. If they want to be a Southern-style wrestling product, then be a Southern-style wrestling product that has the impact that the SEC has had on college football. Be a stadium show promotion for big events. How about teaming up with a foreign promotion to run annual events in countries like Japan or Singapore? WWE runs world tours but America still defines their core business. TNA needs to find something that no one else is doing and make it a historical cornerstone of their company. It needs to be something that they are proud of that also changes the business.
There needs to be a historical identity created. Find the right path and dominate with the contribution.
4. Focus on building stars, not promotional branding.
The UFC and WWE can get away with promotional branding because many people consider those organizations to their “the sport” in the sectors they run in. TNA is not the leader of professional wrestling in anyone’s eyes.
TNA needs to take a page out of the David Stern playbook and realize that star power, not brand power, is the key to moving the company forward. The Deck of Cards strategy should be used. Figure out who you want as your Ace, King, Queen, and Jack on both the babyface and heel sides. Establish your top 8 singles wrestlers. Follow the advice of Dutch Mantell and go with a core roster of 16 and have 4-6 additional slots for wrestlers who you can rotate in-and-out from other promotions to keep things fresh.
Star power will define brand power. Dixie Carter seems to think that Hulk Hogan fits that mold but he can’t wrestle any longer. She needs to figure out how to get out of the way and let Jeff Jarrett define the roles of wrestlers on the roster. Fans are not paying to watch the TNA brand; it’s why they went back to Orlando. But fans will pay to see stars. Booking definition is so critical for jump-starting TNA. Not only do they need to establish the stars & the pecking order, they need to define match quality and focus on the importance of wins/losses.
5. Once you build the stars, the fans will come. Then translate that energy into building unity behind TNA.
There are plenty of ways to build fan unity behind the promotion and some of those methods have been described in earlier points made in this article. The formula for success requires TNA to be meticulous when it comes to details and persistent when it comes to consistency. There needs to be a concerted effort of going back to the basics, keeping the product simple, and delivering a reward to the fans who are loyal viewers. There isn’t a need to be like the Establishment. Being an alternative that makes legitimate money not only would help the wrestling business out, it would also give the fans a choice. Right now, American wrestling don’t have much of a choice when it comes to a variety of style or an appeal to different kinds of tastes & cultures.
Can TNA turn the tide in 2014 and reshape their organization to start following the fundamentals? They can. They should. Given how much money has been spent, survival isn’t acceptable at this point. Now is the time to be bold and to make a splash. That starts at the top with someone who has a plan and a vision.