SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Last month, it was revealed that Anthem Sports had effectively taken over TNA Wrestling, with Dixie Carter remaining with the company in a reduced role for the time being.
I say “for the time being” because, on every other planet, you don’t get to essentially sell your company and then also remain in a position of power. As the saying goes, it’s “out with the old, in with the new,” not “let the old hang around and we’ll bring in some new people.”
It could be six weeks from now, six months from now, or even one year from now, Dixie Carter’s days in the wrestling business appear to be numbered. She’s out of power, and for the future of TNA, that’s a good thing.
Carter might be a terrific person. Plenty of people rave about her character and how caring she is for people within her company. Billy Corgan would paint a different picture of Carter, telling PWInsider last week that she wasn’t forthcoming about business dealings despite his multi-million-dollar investment and title as president.
Corgan’s heart was in the right place. He had an affinity for the people within the company, and he injected the company with funding in good faith. Did he try to leverage those loans into equity? Yes, he did. But I’d hardly call someone a predatory lender after he bailed them out on two separate occasions. It certainly seems that, without Corgan’s funding, Slammiversary never would have happened in June and TNA’s assets would likely be sold off piece by piece.
Corgan held Carter over a barrel, but Carter filled it with water herself thanks to years of mismanagement and ineptitude.
Moving forward, TNA is a blank canvas for Anthem Sports and Eric Nordholm, the person Anthem has tapped to head TNA’s daily operations. TNA can call its arrangement with Anthem a “partnership,” as it did on its website, but that’s all for looks.
Nordholm, according to Anthem’s website, specializes in corporate restructuring and acquisitions. My wife once worked for a company that “partnered” with someone. A week later, her paycheck had a different name at the top of it and she was reporting to someone who worked for the “partner.” Those are in quotes because it wasn’t a partnership it all, it was an acquisition.
Reading the tea leaves, this probably Anthem’s first step toward controlling TNA outright. Some might argue they control it already.
Acquiring TNA and not making any changes to its on and off camera structure doesn’t make any sense. Clearly, changes need to be made. Here’s a list of places to start, Mr. Nordholm, with the disclaimer that some of these might feel like steps back in time:
•Purge upper management: Assuming that Anthem has the authority to do so, and they might not yet, TNA needs a full-blown purge of its executive staff. Many of these folks have been at the helm as long as Dixie Carter, and all of them have presided over the near fatal demise of the company.
Dixie Carter, Chris Sobol, Dean Broached, and even Jon Gaburick, they all need to go. There’s no freshness in the fresh start if the stink from the old rotten food is still in your refrigerator.
•Get a real creative staff: Find a former wrestler to book and write your television immediately. Reportedly, Dixie Carter held a conference call last month with the TNA roster and introduced Nordholm. It was revealed on that call that the creative direction of the company will be headed by John Gaburick, Matt Conway, and Madison Rayne. If you’re a TNA wrestler and the thought of that doesn’t have you running for the hills, I don’t know what will.
No offense to those three, but how much money have they drawn? That’s an old-fashioned sentence, I know, but sometimes what’s old is new again, and putting a wrestler with a creative mind in charge of creating wrestling content might not be a bad idea. There’s plenty of options out there. An outside-the-box suggestion would be Lance Storm, who helped Paul Heyman book the shows during his time in ECW and, if you have read or listened to his thoughts on pro wrestling over the years, he has a very established way of evaluating booking, with consistency and realism often being big points of emphasis.
Oh, and he’s Canadian! There’s a nice tie-in for the Canadian-based Anthem Sports.
There are obviously others as well.
•On the road again: This was also pointed out on the call, but TNA needs to run live events again. It needs to be strategic, however. I’m sure TNA has minute-by-minute ratings and I’m sure they can pinpoint which markets have stronger viewership. Start slow and pinpoint live events in markets where the television program is drawing the most viewers. They could pull these analytics from Youtube views as well, and even Twitter followers. Find out where your show is popular, and go to those markets.
At the same time, make the live events special events. This is something ROH has been really good at. You don’t need to offer every event on Internet PPV, but publish results to your live events on the website. Tie it into the television coverage. That makes the live event mean something to the television audience, and in theory makes those events feel more “can’t miss” than standard WWE house show, which is essentially the same show every night of the loop with no consequence. Everything that happens in the arena and especially in the ring, televised or not, needs to mean something.
That doesn’t mean you need to hotshot a title change on every house show, but mention the results on your website. Tweet photos and results from the arena. Mention that Mandrews picked up a win over Braxton Sutter at a live event last weekend in Oklahoma. Make the fans that are willing to spend money to see you feel like they saw something that meant something.
Strategically, they need to be smart with venue selection as well. TNA isn’t going to fill a 6,000-seat arena, so don’t book at 6,000-seat arena. Find NXT-level buildings, even small theaters, and start from there. If you sell that out, come back in six months and go to a large venue in that market.
•Find a new setting: The Impact Zone is in dire need of a makeover. From a cost standpoint, it might not make sense to leave Orlando, but if at all possible, that also needs to be considered. Perhaps there is a studio lot somewhere near Toronto that Anthem has a relationship with? I don’t know, but the existing look and feel of the Impact Zone is that of a morgue more than an arena.
The company was in a different place in 2010, but look at some of the Hulk Hogan-era Impacts that were in Orlando, and how the building was lit and how bright it was, and then watch Impact today with everything blacked out and poorly lit. Realizing some of the lighting is due to poor attendance (for a free show), maybe moving out of Orlando and into another home, even another permanent home, is necessary.
If Toronto doesn’t work for financial or logistic purposes, look for places where wrestling crowds are generally the best for television. Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston. Avoid New York, because it’s too costly, but something in the Northeast could inject some life into the show, assuming the metrics available to the company also show that the program is being viewed favorably in those markets.
•Change the show’s voice: If you want to separate yourself from the pack and provide a true alternative to WWE, you can’t do that with Josh Mathews as your play-by-play voice.
Mathews sounds too WWE. He was trained as a commentator there and his delivery is far too similar to a squeaky Michael Cole. Not to mention the little jabs he still takes at WWE, like mentioning something is “trending worldwide on Twitter!” makes him look petty and childish.
In hindsight, Mike Tenay should have never been pulled from the lead announcer spot. If they could ever convince Jim Ross to come aboard, that would be the ultimate. Sure, he’s a WWE voice, but he’s also arguably the best wrestling announcer of all time.
Assuming Ross is a longshot, for the time being going back to Mike Tenay, and pairing him with a young play-by-play man, who hasn’t been exposed yet, that you can groom as his replacement and a true “voice of TNA” is the best way to go.
•Find better distribution: This might be where Anthem can come in and make the biggest impact. Aside from injecting money into the program, Anthem presumably has connections within the television industry that could land TNA better distribution than it current has on Pop TV.
It will be interesting to see what happens with The Fight Network moving forward, and if it can begin to get more traction in the U.S. In 2014, it launched on Cablevision and it’s also available in the U.S. on some smaller providers, but the network hasn’t hit most U.S. homes yet.
Maybe one day in the future, The Fight Network is big enough to carry Impact on its own, but for now, finding a more-established U.S. home is vital.
•The brand needs an overhaul: The first thing TNA needs to do is drop the TNA. This has long been suggested, and TNA has moved in this direction in the past, but it never went all the way in dropping the TNA letters.
This was one of the things Hulk Hogan really wanted to accomplish when he was in control, and for whatever reason — I’m assuming Dixie Carter — he was never allowed to go all the way with it.
The website is ImpactWrestling.com, they refer to the company as “Impact” most of the time, and even the new Grand Championship has been referred to as the “Impact Grand Championship” on television, with an Impact Wrestling logo and not a TNA logo.
Still, I can’t get over Carter’s explanation of the differences between the branding of TNA and Impact when she was a guest on the PWTorch Livecast a few years ago. The explanation made no sense then and it’s even more confusing now, looking at how the brand has been sold for the last two years.
Either go with Impact Wrestling and change all company branding to reflect that, or come up with a new name altogether and relaunch the company. There has been so much damage done to the TNA brand, it’s not worth saving. Not to mention the letters from the very beginning were a bad idea.
Get rid of it, cleanse yourself from it, and hopefully you can cleanse yourself from some of the bad PR that has come along with it for so many years.
•Good things come in fours: One thing Hogan was able to accomplish was the move to a four-sided ring. Most wrestlers are on record that it’s an easier ring to work in and also a lot softer to bump on.
•Go back to quarterly pay-per-views: In order to fulfill contracts with pay-per-view providers, TNA has been peddling One Night Only specials for the last few years. I can’t imagine anyone is actually buying these shows. We discussed earlier how everything needs to have consequence in regards to the narrative on television. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of a wrestler consumer’s dollar than paying for a pay-per-view that has no bearing, whatsoever, on the television product. You’re essentially paying for a house show, often with outdated matches.
TNA tapes at least four times per year. Every set of tapings should come on a Sunday, and every set of tapings should begin with a live pay-per-view. That gives you four live shows to build your television towards, and even if they don’t draw many buys, I can almost promise you that they will draw more buys than a One Night Only. TNA is paying to produce the shows no matter what, so why not attempt to make the most out of them?
In all honestly, there is a lot of backwards thinking here. Go back to four pay-per-views, go back to a four-sided ring, go back to Mike Tenay. But TNA is so far off course, that multiple steps back are needed before they can take any steps forward. TNA needs to get back to being a pro wrestling company again, and they’re so far off that path right now, they can’t just take one big step over. They need to backtrack, get back on course, and then adjust for the future.
(PWTorch contributor Mike McMahon covers TNA Impact Wrestling every Thursday night live on PWTorch.)