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TNA: On the Eve of Impact
June 4, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


By the time the majority of you read this column, the debut of NWA TNA's new show Impact will be history. Those of us who watched will have our first impressions, and those of us who didn't will want the details.

We've heard for YEARS how any American wrestling promotion that wishes to make a blip on the radar "needs television." So when the Jarrett family and their business partners launched TNA a couple years ago, they GOT television - but not the kind everyone meant. They went straight to pay-per-view. People predicted failure.

So the wrestling pundits modified their definition: now, any wrestling company hoping to grow beyond the indy level needed free television (certainly free for the viewers, if not necessarily for the company). TNA was highly visible to anyone with pay-per-view access and the inclination to drop $10 a week for a two-hour program. That was a pretty radical idea, and the case can be made either way regarding its success. On one hand, with all those stars on the roster (relative to those not under WWE contract, TNA's roster is very strong), TNA has somehow managed to pay them for their weekly efforts for two years and avoid going bankrupt. The proportion of wrestling viewers that actually fork over ten bones for TNA's weekly PPV is small, but it's apparently enough to allow them to tread water.

But then again, Paul Heyman kept ECW afloat for years despite never being financially stable. It can be done; with crafty financing, consolidation, and business associations, even the least financially sound institution can feign success for a while before the bills catch up to them. Who's to say TNA has EVER been financially sound? Who's to say that when the business deals go sour, and when the financing dries up, TNA will still be able to make its paydays?

So TNA has gone and secured a time slot on Fox Sports Net, and has named their new show Impact. Like ECW before them, they have a weekly program on basic cable - that one, magic ingredient that every wrestling company supposedly needs. Like ECW, TNA is now on free TV. ECW's show stood out from the rest of the stuff on TV, giving it an extra boost in viewership. TNA will try to follow suit with a six-sided ring, its successful X Division and some very formidable talent working the shows.

Impact now airs every Friday on Fox Sports Net stations at 3 p.m. (for most locales anyway). TNA's got the talent, the innovation, and the television. So did ECW. TNA's new challenge? Avoid ECW's fate.

If solid action, innovation, and TV were all it took, we'd still be watching ECW in 2004. There is certainly more to it than that. I've never run a wrestling company before, but it stand to reason that TNA needs to do a few other things in order to grow.

Firstly, They need to manage their finances well, so that if current business deals go belly-up, they can tread water until a new one presents itself. And TNA has to be patient. If Impact fails to deliver a solid audience after three or six months, they cannot get desperate and start blowing money trying to solve the problem fast. It may take a while for people to catch the show, and once they do, it might take months for them to work Impact into their regular viewing routine.

The six-sided ring is a gimmick, nothing more. There is talent in TNA - specifically in the X Division - that could turn the gimmick into a series of great matches, but the ring itself is a sideshow attraction, sort of like the bearded lady. Once the initial curiosity wears off, the ring had better be put to good use by the performers. If people tune in to Impact for the novelty of the ring, they're eventually going to come back because of the quality of the matches. No matter what brings viewers in the outset, everything always comes back to the performance of the wrestlers.

TNA is not short on talent, but sometimes you have to question their priorities. TNA at times seems like a revolving door of one-shot appearances. Roddy Piper, Sting, Hulk Hogan, Brian Urlacher, Lex Luger, country singer Toby Keith and other big names have passed through TNA, but they've never been the glue that held the show together. They were added attractions. And yet, when Jeff Jarrett or another TNA representative gets mainstream press, what clips do they show? Urlacher, Keith, Sting, and Hogan. Definitely names people will recognize and care about. But it's not the heart of TNA. TNA must stop selling itself based on celebrity guest shots, and start promoting guys like AJ Styles, Chris Harris, Christopher Daniels and other talent that has been the lifeblood of the TNA product.

Viewers might come for Toby Keith and be disappointed when all they find is AJ Styles. But if TNA promotes AJ Styles and viewers come to see HIM, they will leave a satisfied customer. Sure, Styles is far less recognizable than the stars TNA has had as guests. A clip of AJ Styles on The Best Damn Sports Show Period will attract far fewer people to sample TNA than a video of Sting or Urlacher will. But those who DO tune in for AJ Styles - or any of the other TNA staples - those are the fans who will REMAIN with TNA, and help it to grow.

It isn't that TNA doesn't appreciate its regulars. They just fall back on their guest appearances too often. And I guess you can't blame them. Stars like Mr. T and Mike Tyson have certainly boosted WWE's viewership in the past. However, when WWE promoted Mr. T, he was always at the side of Hulk Hogan - a charismatic WWE star. Mike Tyson was always at the side of either Stone Cold Steve Austin or Shawn Michaels - two more dynamic WWE stars. Some of the WWE viewers who showed up for Mr. T and Tyson stayed for Hulkamania and DX, but they did so because WWE made sure they piggybacked those one-off celeb appearances into a way to promote its own best talent.

I'll be tuning in to the debut edition of Impact in a couple of hours. I'm expecting a pretty good show, without getting my hopes high for a must-see event. After all, it's only a weekly basic cable program. It can't crush the promotion by itself, nor can it lift them without the help of other solid strategies.

Can it?


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