CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2: WHAT TNA NEEDS TO DO TO SUCCEED
In the final part of this series, I will discuss the changes that I would recommend TNA make to enhance their product and create a stable wrestling promotion. We're going to do this in bullet format:
- Return to the four-sided ring (see picture above): The six-sided ring is a nice novelty and I was initially for TNA bringing it back, but when I watched this fantastic Austin Aries/AJ Styles match from 2013 the other day, I was blown away by how much different and more professional the four-sided ring looked. Ultimately, it probably doesn't matter how many sides a ring has, but the perception of a traditional four-sided ring is probably more important to the casual fan. If TNA wants to appear legitimate, return to the four-sided ring.
- Construct a smaller set for Impact: This is probably nit-picky, but I've always hated how huge Impact's sets are. I get the notion that you want to look major league and all that, but my favorite entrance set of all-time is WCW Monday Nitro's. It's not these larger sets that WWE has made mainstream, but a simple, effective, and professional looking set. I think TNA would benefit from this. The arenas they typically run are smaller and using a smaller set could give it more of an old-school vibe and add to the atmosphere in the arena.
- Run live events (house shows): The picture above was taken by me at a TNA live event in Lexington, KY called "Basebrawl." As I wrote in part 2, this show was the most fan friendly wrestling show I've ever attended. It's a shame that they aren't capitalizing on this and running more events. They could develop a devout fanbase through this and help expand the reach of their product. But as I said in part 2, they NEED to market these so people know they're in town! There's enough star power on the roster to get people interested - Bobby Lashley, Mr. Anderson, Kurt Angle, Jeff and Matt Hardy are all familiar names for the casual wrestling fan. They would likely shell out $10-$25 dollars to come see these guys in action. Some independent companies charge $8-$10 (at least in Kentucky) and they're putting out a lousy product. I would definitely shell out that kind of money to see those guys perform and I don't think I'm alone.
- Run four pay-per view events/specials per year: As I said before, TNA's pay-per views are probably losing them money, but if promoted correctly and given there are intriguing matches, I think they could generate a decent buyrate and capitalize on it. I wouldn't go for the whole monthly pay-per view gig - I think that model is dead. Four would be sufficient: Lockdown, Destination X, Slammiversary, and Bound for Glory would be the four I would choose. They're the most popular in TNA's existence. If TNA were to deem that a pay-per view model would not be beneficial, then negotiate with the network for a three-hour special similar to the WWE's Saturday Night Main Event or WCW's Clash of the Champions. Either way, it needs to be separate from their main TV timeslot and feel different. It needs to feel bigger and hopefully, will draw in new fans.
- Revive the backbone of TNA - The X-Division: When WCW was at it's peak, it was loaded with starpower, but that wasn't what made the product must-see TV. They had a backbone and that backbone was the incredible cruiserweight division consisting of guys like Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, Ultimo Dragon, Juventud Guerrera, Chris Jericho, and many other guys. Also, their midcard was loaded with guys just outside the cruiserweight division that put on excellent matches: Raven, Perry Saturn, Chris Benoit, Buff Bagwell, tag teams like the Steiner Brothers, Harlem Heat, The Triad (DDP/Kanyon/Bam Bam Bigelow), The Outsiders, and others were propping up the undercard and making WCW entertaining. TNA had a similar backbone: The exciting X-Division. With guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Kazarian, Jerry Lynn, Amazing Red, Petey Williams, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Low-Ki, and others, fans walked away from TNA shows remembering the X-Division and it was the most compelling wrestling in recent history. Unfortunately, due to cutting costs, the X-Division is a shell of its former self. The only real X-Division wrestlers on the roster are DJ-Z, Tigre Uno (current champion), Kenny King (great wrestler/never wrestles), Crazy Steve (don't ask), Rockstar Spud (dear Lord), and Manik (great wrestler/never wrestles). Frankly, it's sad to watch and the title means very little. If TNA wants to rebuild itself, start with the X-Division. Go out and find guys who are relative unknowns and let them make names for themselves. That's how the X-Division staples I mentioned above did it. Go out and recruit exciting young talent and give them the opportunity to showcase themselves. Heal the backbone and the rest of the show will start to come together.
- Own the tag team market: I have two kids that like to watch wrestling - ages 6 and 7. When they pop in WWE 2K14 in our XBox, the first place they go is tag team wrestling. When we watch wrestling, they want to watch tag team wrestling. Why? Kids LOVE teams. It's an easy way of knowing who's allied. WWE has recently made some strides in creating a fun tag team division, but if TNA were to put in some effort, they could own it. They already have The Wolves - who are the best tag team in wrestling in my opinion - and the Hardyz. They could bring back teams like the Dirty Heels (pictured above - would need to re-sign Austin Aries), the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin), Bad Influence (ROH's 'The Addiction' - Daniels & Kazarian), maybe even recruit Chris Harris to rejoin James Storm as 'America's Most Wanted,' Jeff Jarrett landed 'The Bullet Club' and they were available, TNA reportedly went after 'The Young Bucks' and were turned down - but would they if TNA were a legitimate second option and respected?
- Make TNA Wrestling more like an athletic competition than Sports Entertainment: I.E. 'Southern Wrasslin' vs. Sports Entertainment. Not everyone enjoys the Sports Entertainment model WWE employs. Some just want to see logical booking and good wrestling. That's it. What I loved about WCW in the day was it felt like the matches meant something. In WWE, the matches don't. They run the same matches week after week, show after show, and expect fans to care because it's WWE. I don't. I burn out on it quickly. If the matches are meaningless, why would I care to tune in? Why do I care who wins? When I watch basketball, I'm cheering for a team I want to win. Not just for the team to perform. Big difference. Oh, and one way TNA could help this is to dump Josh Matthews. Like right now. Stop reading, Dixie, and just fire him. Immediately. Get Mike Tenay in the booth. Call up Taz and make amends. Those two guys helped present TNA as an athletic competition and them calling the match felt old-school. Taz would talk about the strategy of the match and Tenay would bring up the history of the opponents. It was AWESOME. Josh Matthews is the most annoying announcer in wrestling history - and that includes Michael Cole. Think about that for a second. He and the Pope are a disaster together (the three man booth at Slammiversary was solid when it included one, Mike Tenay). TNA needs to feel different than WWE and this is one way to do it. I think fans would appreciate the change in pace and make TNA feel like a wrestling promotion.
- Make Impact Wrestling more accessible: Let's face it: Destination America is a small network and hardly accessible. I have a mid-level DirecTV package and don't get it. I have to find Impact Wrestling online. Wait, there's an idea! Why not negotiate with Hulu or Netflix or even stream the most recent episode on YouTube or your website? How is your fanbase supposed to grow if they don't have access to your product? Do you think fans are going to bump up their TV package just to watch two hours of Impact Wrestling per week? No way. Make it available online. Cord cutting is the thing these days and TNA should capitalize on it. WWE has with the WWE Network. TNA needs to find a way to counter that. Also, TNA has a show called 'XPlosion' and you may not have known that. You know why? It's only broadcast in the UK and sometimes online. Why not make this a true second show and make it meaningful? Progress storylines, have decent matches, and put on a quality one hour show. They could even stream it exclusively on impactwrestling.com or find a smaller network that is willing to broadcast it. ROH was able to secure a TV deal that syndicates their product around the US on Fox. Couldn't TNA, a bigger company, secure a similar deal? What about a network like ION that is available via antenna? They jumped in with WWE a few years ago and broadcast Main Event on Wednesdays. Maybe they would bite on a cheaper alternative like TNA for one hour. It wouldn't hurt to try.
- Have a clear and distinct vision: I asked the question in part 2, "If you brought all of their power players into one room, what would they say their overall goal is?" And my guess is they would say to be competition with WWE or to be the biggest company in the world. That's the wrong perspective. Their goal needs to be to put on the best and most logical wrestling show in the world. Period. If the quality of your product is good, it will draw in fans. Just look at Ring of Honor, NXT Wrestling, and Lucha Underground. They don't have star power, but they're consistent and they are good. TNA could be that. Their second goal should be to become a self-sustaining entity. The only way they're going to see growth is to be wise with their money and gradually pull away from the Panda Energy umbrella and sustain themselves through their own revenue.
But it starts with having a good product and TNA used to have that, but made too many silly mistakes and tried to hit the homerun. Don't go for the homerun! You can still score runs hitting singles and doubles. It just takes a little longer, but guess what? Hitting singles and doubles are more likely than hitting homeruns. And in wrestling today, how many homeruns are available? We're never going to see a boom like we did in 1996 when the NWO was created. Those stars just aren't jumping ship. But we could see a different kind of boom - a boom where quality wrestling is desired over the Sports Entertainment drama presented by WWE. I think that boom is here and TNA had the pieces to take advantage of it. They could again, but they have to get their ducks in a row. Can they do it or will they just fold? Let's hope they find a way to become the promotion we've all been hoping they would be: A true number two in professional wrestling. We're long overdue.
Brandon Pence is the founder and former editor of "The Bulls Charge" and currently a freelance blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @thebullscharge and on Facebook