Having cried wolf in the past about “huge announcements” that didn’t always live up to the hype, TNA President Dixie Carter made an announcement on Impact Wrestling that can rightly be called huge, or at least very intriguing.
TNA Wrestling is flying the coop, leaving behind the “Impact Zone” (a soundstage at Universal Studios Orlando) and permanently taking the show on the road.
“This is a very important next evolution for the company,” said Carter, “and I’m excited that the backdrop to the show will feature our great fans in larger arenas around the country and world.”
In case you missed it, here’s Carter’s official announcement:
This will undoubtedly be seen as a positive move overall, if for no other reason than that TNA’s television and pay-per-view offerings have appeared stale and repetitive in recent years because they all tend to look and feel the same. The news comes on the heels of the announcement that TNA has drastically scaled back its pay-per-view schedule — another remedy for the over-saturation of wrestling events.
The final two shows to be filmed from the Impact Zone will be on February 28 and March 7. The first show on the road will be March 14 in Chicago — a wise decision, given the long history of rabid wrestling fandom in Chicago (and it’s Ric Flair’s favorite partying city, incidentally).
Anyone who watched this week’s Impact Wrestling, filmed in front of an impressive crowd in Manchester, UK, will attest that “road shows” have a more exciting and spontaneous vibe than those broadcast from the small, brightly lit Impact Zone.
And although TNA gets slagged online for silly storylines and lackluster television — often with a measure of justification — the company is known for putting on entertaining and interactive (if sometimes poorly attended) house shows.
TNA is much more fan-friendly than WWE (or even Ring of Honor, arguably) at non-televised shows, frequently giving away backstage passes and making its stars available for autograph sessions. Simply put: TNA does road shows better than it does studio-based TV shows.
The Impact Zone had its advantages, though they were often inextricably tied to its drawbacks.
There were essentially two types of fans at the Impact Zone: the TNA diehards who filled the first few rows and engaged in chant wars, and the vacationing amusement park attendees who stopped in to the Impact Zone because it’s a short stroll from the Spider Man ride. Either way, the Impact Zone was always full, and often lively.
But when the venue was pin-drop silent, as it would invariably become at some point during TV taping and pay-per-views, the feeling of boredom was palpable to viewers at home. Nothing kills the excitement of a broadcast wrestling match than seeing a live audience that can’t be bothered to cheer or boo. In many instances, this wasn’t entirely the fault of the wrestlers or the storylines, but rather the fatigue of a jaded crowd.
The Impact Zone was not without its charms. When I traveled to Orlando to write a newspaper feature about Christian (Cage) in 2006, TNA brass could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. I was given full, unrestricted backstage access (something WWE would never give to a reporter) for the Against All Odds pay-per-view, at which Christian won the TNA World Championship for the first time. The backstage area was cramped and dark, supplemented by two portable trailers on a Universal backlot as dressing rooms. But the close quarters made for a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, unlike the feeling of a large arena or stadium.
The fans in the Impact Zone often felt the same vibe, as if they were truly an important part of the action. Anyone who has attended a televised Raw or Smackdown event has felt the opposite — the feeling that the live audience is merely a prop, to be ignored and neglected during commercial breaks and backstage vignettes.
There’s no doubt that a traveling roadshow will inject new spark into TNA television — something it desperately needs. Performing in off-the-beaten-path cities that aren’t yet oversaturated with live wrestling will result in loud, enthusiastic crows. In theory, that enthusiasm will provide an extra shot of adrenaline to TNA wrestlers who may have become complacent week-after-week in the Impact Zone.
Then again, plenty of wrestlers have openly stated that one of the greatest advantages of working for TNA is the relatively easy travel schedule, as opposed to the never-ending globetrotting that WWE star endure. It’s safe to assume that some members of the TNA roster are less than thrilled about the company pulling anchor and setting sail.
What matters most, of course, is whether the change in game-plan makes for better shows and happier fans. TNA could use a boost in both departments, and taking the show on the road might be just the thing.
The trick will be keeping the production values high (Ring of Honor, same applies to you), and drawing decent crowds to the live events. There’s nothing sadder than a large arena with mostly empty seats. Success in wrestling begins with big, happy crowds.
Here’s hoping the TNA Wrestling roadshow is a worthwhile gamble.