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SMARK COUNTRY: How TNA Can Get Back On Track

Over the past decade, we have seen Total Nonstop Action (TNA) transform from the plucky upstart, to being one of the biggest laughing stocks of the wrestling community in North America. This was through no fault of the men and women who left their blood, sweat and tears in the ring each and every day. I attended several of their live events at Universal Studios and can attest that their production values are certainly up to par with the work in the ring. The company does have its share of problems. Being shuffled around three different networks in less than a four year span does not inspire faith in the company. The product has vastly improved since its move to Pop TV, but it still has a long way to go. Outside of finding a larger company than Panda Energy to buy them outright, or them finding a higher profile network than Pop TV, there are some other more realistic ways that TNA can regain the trust of the fans that they’ve lost. Their best bet to achieve this, stand out from the pack.

Revamp the announcing team: This is not a knock on Josh Matthews and D’angelo ‘the Pope’ Dinero. They are a good commentary team, but to bring lapsed fans back, good just isn’t going to cut it. To improve their commentary, TNA will need to go outside the box. In one of the few occasions of leaning on the old school, I would convince Mike Tenay or even try to lure Joey Styles in, to give that in-depth wrestling knowledge that diehard fans would appreciate. Keep Pope around to bounce off of your lead play-by-play guy. However, I would also add a third person to their commentary team from outside of pro wrestling. Perhaps Karyn Bryant from UFC Tonight on Fox Sports could work. Maybe former Bellator MMA announcer Sean Wheelock would be a good fit. The third person in this announcing team would need to have combat sports knowledge, be willing to immerse themselves with wrestling and its history, but also have enough mainstream appeal to pull in sports viewers who may not be wrestling fans.

Cut back on the long winded promos: This is where TNA seems to fall into one of its biggest pitfalls when trying to mimic the big dog, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Any wrestling fan that has been watching the sport long enough knows the importance of using the opening segment to set up your main event of the evening, but the long winded promos from heels like Matt Hardy, Eric Young, Mike Bennett and Maria tend to drone on as much as an early 2000s Triple-H promo. Their weekly Impact Wrestling program runs two hours, which is approximately 10-12 segments. When over half of their segments are talking, they shouldn’t be surprised why people tune out. People watch WWE for that. People watch other promotions to watch something different.

Treat it like a real sport: One thing that I noticed when Impact Wrestling first moved to Pop TV was that there was an attempt to give the show a “big fight” atmosphere. Things like ‘tale of the tape’, comparing both athletes’ stats, or having giant screens in the background showing the wrestlers in the match or vignettes and promos being kept to a minimum. The matches themselves felt more like fights, as they did back in the day, compared to the more cirque du soleil style spot-fests that most promotions have embraced in recent years. Over the past month or two, TNA has moved away from this, going less in the direction of sport and more towards sports entertainment. They need to course correct before things get out of hand again. Wasn’t one of the reasons that Spike TV ended its deal with TNA wrestling because of network executives complaining that it was too much like WWE?

However, when you need them to speak and they can’t cut a promo, revive the lost art of the manager: One of the wisest things that TNA did when they signed ‘The Miracle’ Mike Bennett was to sign his wife, Maria Kanellis. Kanellis is one of the best female mic workers in the business and has gotten Mike over with her promos just as much as Mike has with his matches. Gregory Shane Helms is also managing Trevor Lee and helping to get him over. But there are plenty of other great workers not known for their ability to cut a promo in the company right now. It would behoove TNA to try to bring in some managers to help get this talent over. The Wolves are one of the top tag teams in professional wrestling. If TNA could come to terms with Jim Cornette and have him spin some of his Midnight Express/Rock & Roll Express magic on the microphone for them, the Wolves would be rocketed to the next level. Or Tara could return and give guidance to the Dollhouse. There are several talented mid-card workers on the roster that are one manager away from becoming main event stars.

Only have title bouts, specialty matches, and main events run more than one segment: With the nearly non-existent attention span of today’s television viewer, a program has to pull the audience in and keep pulling for the entirety of the show. Matches that only run one segment are a good way to build enough heat on a feud so that the pay-per-view event can allow both competitors to cut loose in a lengthy match. A lengthy match should be a special occasion on free TV, not every other match. Save the multi-segment matches for when they should count. Championship bouts, specialty matches and the main event should really be the only places where we see TV matches going across commercial breaks.

Phase out extraneous championship titles: This is specifically in regards to the King of the Mountain belt. This is one of a long line of spiritual successors to the Television Title. This championship is rarely defended and is seen as lesser than any of the other belts. I would instead brand a yearly King of the Mountain, bringing back TNA’s classic gimmick match. I would have a tournament that has 5-6 finalists. Then at one of the quarterly event shows, have the finalists compete in a King of the Mountain match. The winner would not need a title belt, just bragging rights as being the King of the Mountain and the next big thing/future main eventer. In essence, it would not make them feel like the B-list champ the way that the current KotM championship does.

If the show is not rated PG then push the envelope: I am not advocating a full on retread of what WWE did during the Attitude Era. But the WWE has stockholders that they have to answer to and charities that they have to look presentable for, so they had to phase out the more gratuitous content, for better or for worse. When WWE has a specialty match like cage, street fight, extreme rules, etc, it can feel watered down because the wrestlers aren’t allowed to show color (blood). If the same doesn’t apply to TNA, then they should use it in the matches where it makes sense. If they can use more risqué angles with higher sex appeal than WWE, then do it. TNA is already seen as a watered down WWE. They shouldn’t reinforce this by showing product that’s just as watered down as World Wrestling Entertainment’s.

More inter-promotional events: And by this, I don’t mean just have someone from Wrestle-1 or New Japan Pro Wrestling show up. Imagine if TNA was able to tell the Invasion angle that WWE failed to land. A full on invasion by Ring of Honor or New Japan or Lucha Underground could be the hottest ticket in town and make people become glued to their television sets every Tuesday night for the entirety of the storyline and hopefully beyond. This will require upper management of both promotions to come to a working agreement, which I know is easier said than done. But both sides could reap the rewards of this by gaining more press and possibly national headlines. In my estimation, both sides would have nothing to lose.

Exposure, Exposure, Exposure: Let’s be frank here. Whoever has been handling marketing for TNA has ultimately failed at their job for a very long time. Ratings seem to dwindle. The average wrestling fan now will mention Lucha Underground or Ring of Honor before TNA. Merchandise is not moving the way it should be. Panda Energy will need to start investing in this product more and getting TNA ingrained in the public consciousness. If it means paying for the occasional celebrity to do an appearance, then do it. If it means offering low and affordable ticket prices to their house shows, then do it. If it means negotiating with Pop TV to get some of the TNA wrestlers to appear on Pop TV series’ like Schitt’s Creek or even mainstream television shows, do it. If it means going after a legend like a Diamond Dallas Page or Goldberg and putting them in an authority figure type role, then make it happen. I understand that another “legend” allegedly bled the company for all it was worth, but they can’t be afraid to take a big risk, especially when their future constantly hanging in the balance.

Re-open negotiations with Spike TV: There were several reasons that Spike let go of TNA. Part of it was the product wasn’t being presented in a way that fit with Spike’s vision. But the format of Impact Wrestling has changed since then. Rumors swirled about Spike being unhappy with some under the employ of Dixie Carter. Those employees no longer work for TNA. Spike was the biggest platform that TNA had ever been on. If a few up at the top of the food chain of TNA need to eat some crow and go back to the executives of Spike TV and work out some kind of probationary trial period where they could study Impact Wrestling and if Spike can see a potential revenue stream, they could be partners again once TNA’s deal with Pop TV is up. Though Pop TV has given TNA a home when no others were available, the cold hard fact is that Pop TV is not going to give them the exposure they need on a national level. Spike TV may not be the same Spike TV from nearly three years ago and may have a different outlook on things now. There is no harm in TNA at least trying.

TNA has gone from about One to two million viewers to roughly 275,000 for their weekly Impact Wrestling broadcast. My ten step business plan is not a cure all for TNA’s ills. It is, however, a start on a road to regaining the audience that they so desperately need. What are some other things that you’d do to improve TNA?

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