September 24, 2006
With TNAís pending big announcement this weekend I thought I would take an in depth look at TNA, and share with you some of my thoughts.
I think the one thing we can all agree on is that TNA is an important part of this industry. The North American wrestling scene really does need a non-WWE option. By having a second option there are more places for the boys to work and more leverage in getting a fair deal. The same can be said for fans. By having a second option fans can pick and choose the product that they like and send a message to promoters. Promoters have to give fans more bang for their buck if there are other places to shop. Lets face it, a large portion of the current audience are die-hard wrestling fans who arenít going to just tune out and stop watching. If a wrestling junkie needs a fix and there is only one dealer in town, that dealer doesnít have to push their product very hard or ensure itís offering quality. Competition is always good for the consumer. I think TNAís existence also benefits WWE. Vince has always been at his best when he has an opponent. Vince is a warrior and a competitor, without an adversary a warrior canít stay sharp. WWE hit itís all time best when WCW was kicking its butt. Iíd love to see Vince get backed into a corner again, just to see the way he comes out swinging.
This raises the all-important question; can TNA grow enough to compete with WWE? To be honest I doubt it, and I donít think competing should be their goal, at least not for a long time. The industry can support 2 companies so their goal should be to succeed on the own first and if they can do that they will become competition by default. This may seem a small point but succeeding is going to be a tough enough battle without challenging Vince head on from the start.
The reason I think succeeding is so tough is that Vince has done such an amazing job of brand recognition. He has almost completely destroyed the ďpro-wrestlingĒ industry. WWE is such a strongly identifiable name that it has surpassed the term pro-wrestling. I think a lot of fans are to the point where they see themselves as WWE fans not wrestling fans. If asked they would likely say they watch RAW or SmackDown each week, not that they watch wrestling. Again this is a small point but little things like this add up and itís harder for TNA, or any group for that matter, to gain an identity. They have to establish themselves as a worth while wrestling product and then convince WWE fans that they are in fact ďwrestlingĒ fans and TNA is something they would enjoy.
I think the name TNA is a hindrance as well. When TNA began I thought it was going to be the NWA and that TNA was going to be the name of the show, much like WWE is the company and RAW or SmackDown are the shows. When trying to introduce new fans to TNA (an absolute must) it always takes extra explaining. There are two problems with the name in my opinion. The first problem I have with the name is that the name makes no sense from a company stand point. If I worked for TNA I would feel silly telling someone I work for Total Non-Stop Action, if they asked me what TNA stood for. The company name is an acronym that doesnít make any sense as a company name. I could be a part of World Wrestling Entertainment, or World Championship Wrestling, or The National Wrestling Alliance, but being a part of Total Non-Stop Action requires further explanation. The company name is more a play on words for T & A, and when trying to establish a national brand name basing it on childish sexual innuendo is likely not the best route. I also find it confusing that there is no TNA champion; there is an NWA champion. If you are a TNA wrestler why arenít you the TNA champ. Little things like this water down name and brand recognition and bring more confusion to new fans, and NEW fans are the key to TNAís success. There is a reason Vince shoved WWF and then WWE down our throats. He established a brand name bigger than the industry itself. Itís like Kleenex or Jell-O, people donít go out to buy facial tissue or flavoured gelatin, they buy Kleenex and Jell-O. Fans today arenít watching pro-wrestling anymore they are watching WWE. TNA has to establish their brand name in order to succeed and are clouding the issue with using both TNA and NWA and for the matter The Impact Zone. This isnít just about booking wrestling anymore this is about marketing and brand recognition!!
I guess I should start looking at the actual product before this commentary turns into a short novel. The product itself is usually quite good, or at least has the potential to be. The X-Division was a great creation and something I think should be focuses on more. Naming it the X-Division rather than a smaller weight division was brilliant. The X-Games are huge and they are pushing a more exciting more X-Treme style of wrestling, without drawing attention to the fact that these guys are smaller. I would hazard to guess even Vince McMahon wishes heíd come up with that name rather than Cruiser Weight Division. The talent roster in TNA is deep enough in both name value and talent to produce a great product, in my opinion, itís just finding the best way to book and present in on TV in order to sell PPVs.
This is the tough part. With only 1-hour of TV each week how do you establish enough characters and get over sufficient angles to sell a PPV? Iím not entirely sure you can. You are left with the decision to put all your eggs in one basket and promote one top feud heavy on TV and just lightly touch on others, or rush several and not really devote sufficient time to either. Hopefully the big announcement Sunday will be a second hour of TV but if not something I would consider doing, and I have no idea if this would even work, would be to go to a post produced show, like ECW used to be.
Donít run your Impact tapings like a TV show, run them like a wrestling event and cover the event on Impact and show portions of matches. TV time limits ruin wrestling, and wrestling action is what TNA is supposed to be selling. No one can build heat or excitement in a 3-minute TV match, so matches, more often than not; end up being pointless high spot fests that burn out the crowd. In ECW we wrestled all our matches with no time limits, we went out there and worked until we had the crowd. We build our matches and always had a hot crowd come the finish. On the TV show Joey would talk about the matches and we would get to see highlight, and those highlights would be of amazing action with super hot crowds. We would see the portions of the matches that best sold the action or the important angles. We told the stories but never gave away the whole product. After watching the TV show, fans wanted to be there live to see the entire match. This led to both live attendance and an interest in buying PPVs. As a fan in order to see these amazingly hot matches in there entirety you had to pay to be there live or order them on PPV, because you only got samples on TV for free.
This also gave individual talent a better chance to get over. You were given a chance to get yourself over with a crowd and make your matches mean something. If you could get yourself over with longer matches and your work, this could lead to a better push. With 2-3 minute short TV matches most of the X-Division guys end up being interchangeable. We get very little personality, very little psychology and it ends up being a battle of who can do more shit in 3 minutes. Again this numbs a crowd and makes things meaningless.
There is another up side to booking matches this way; itís different. How many times (on either companies show) do we see a program with wrestler A and wrestler B where they have a promo/run in segment to get the angle started? The next week wrestler A has 3 minute squash match on TV where wrestler B comes out and gets involved in the finish. The next week the reverse happens and there is a pull apart. After that itís off to the PPV. Fans have seen this formula booking a thousand times and the filler squash matches do not provide enough entertainment for me to bother tuning in. With my approach wrestler A and B could actually work each other with in competitive quality matches an un-decisive, yet interest creating finish. You only air highlights and the angle explaining finish. Fans get to see a glimpse of what seemed like a hot match (the crowd should be hot itís a main event program match with time to build) and enough of the finish to ďtell the storyĒ. When the chance to see the whole match and the one with whatever stipulations is supposed to settle the feud, there should be enough interest to be willing to pay for it.
Match quality will also improve because guys will be working better and longer matches with each other building to PPVs. Wasnít one of the major TNA complaint that Monty Brown wasnít working enough extra dates to improve his work? If he worked Christian in more legit matches building to the PPV matches heíd have gotten a ton more experience right there. He learns nothing working 1-minute pounce matches and to be honest I get no entertainment value from them.
It takes more creative booking to do things this way, but without time restraints on TV matches a lot more options are available to be utilized as well. TNA would likely require an additional TV taping each month with this format, but it would at least make TNAís TV product look completely different, and might be cheaper than hiring more high priced talent, which doesnít seem to be producing the numbers they are looking for.
Iím not saying this is the solution; Iím just throwing it out there as an option to consider. It worked to a large extend for ECW. It gave it a unique feel and allowed the boys the time and freedom to get themselves over on their own terms. ECW was a hot must see product, that everyone in the industry felt was different. Longer matches are what can establish and get over unknown faces. Even WWE has a hard time getting over new faces that only get 3-minute TV matches,
This ended up more negative than I planned it to be. I want to be clear I both like and want this company to succeed and am a big fan of a lot of guys on their talent roster. Iím more pointing out limitations they face with their current 1-hour format and proposing a few things I feel could increase their chances of success. I think the future of this business depends a lot on TNAís survival; the industry and fans alike need it to be here and need it to succeed.