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Wentz’s Blog – “Who’s Number Two?” – TNA’s New Television Deal is an Opportunity to Retain Their Status, but Will Require Effort

For a long time now, wrestling fans have pined for a legitimate number two promotion.  They look at WWE’s brand of “sports-entertainment” and feel it has drifted too far afield of being true to wrestling’s roots.  Some have also complained that with approximately seven hours of WWE programming every week, their product is over-exposed.   And of course it goes without saying that there are thousands of John Cena haters who have “Cena-nuff” of the jorts-wearing face of the PG product.

At times through the past nine years, it looked like TNA would be that number two promotion and somewhat by default they have been to this point.  With yesterday’s television deal announcement, one has to ask whether or not this will be the case in 2015.

If you’ve listened to Ring Rap Audio, or read the press release, there is a lot of information that we know about this new deal, but there are still a lot of holes.  For example, what time and day will the show air?  Has Destination America demanded re-branding, something that the ship may or may not have sailed on?  Have either Destination America or TNA decided on management changes?  Exactly how long is “multi-year” anyhow?

TNA president Dixie Carter has promised a lot of things to fans and not really delivered in the past.  She said in an interview with Grantland.com two months ago that there was a “big play” in mind – so perhaps this is a first step in that play.  But if this move to Destination America is simply a means for TNA to keep the lights on and survive, then I can predict with a relative level of confidence that TNA will fall from the default number two slot.

Who is pushing TNA right now for that slot?  Well, for starters one of the best hours on wrestling television right now is Lucha Underground. Backed by Mexico’s AAA promotion and run by Mark Burnett and Robert Rodriguez, the show has made a splash out of the gate on El Rey Network.  Let’s also not forget about Ring of Honor either, who may be best positioned for that #2 slot.

Drew and I broke the numbers down last night in audio, so I won’t rehash it here.  The statistics definitely don’t lie.  While Sinclair Broadcast Group (Ring of Honor) and El Rey Network (Lucha Underground) are growing and expanding their reach, TNA stepped backward to a network that is available in fewer homes, and some of whom will have to pay for an upgraded tier of service to get to.

Without question, TNA now immediately has challengers for that number two slot.

We don’t know exactly what the future holds for TNA via Discovery Communications (the parent company of Destination America) at this point.  What kind of plans are in the works for iMPACT?  Will Discovery put the marketing machine of ten networks behind TNA and treat this move like a big deal?

It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  The announcement of this deal on Wednesday was a golden opportunity for TNA and Discovery to make that first new impression.  They didn’t do that.  At least right now, everything feels the same and looks the same as it has over the past nine years.

TNA and Discovery need to work together to figure out who they are, and who they want to be.  Even so and independent of Discovery, TNA needs to take a hard look at their product over the next six weeks and consider how they can feel fresh and new come January of 2015.

Let’s face facts, while there has been a lot of good television from TNA, it hasn’t been all good.  The TNA brand has been damaged by a lot of bad television over the past ten years.  The shows that have closed out the run on Spike TV saw a marked drop in viewership also.  It’s not that they have been particularly bad, but really have felt inconsequential.  Many sites, like ours, even tailed off on their coverage as a result.

TNA debuts on Destination America in six weeks or so.  Despite yesterday’s announcement feeling like “more of same” there is still an opportunity for the company to introduce a new look and feel to their product.  Is it too late to get rid of the “TNA” brand as a part of that?  Well, it’s debatable and Drew and I did last night in audio.  Even so between production value, lighting, staging, and other tangible elements TNA can give the product an overhaul that makes it feel like they’ve turned the page and are ready to build a new chapter.

TNA needs focus which is something the product has lacked.  They are at a time where they need to prove themselves to new network executives and possibly new eyes on their product.  Creatively speaking, they need to get back to the fundamentals of pro wrestling.  Tell a compelling and straightforward story in the ring without all the frills of authority figures and power struggles that are well overplayed in wrestling.

The roster has some question marks, and TNA will have to work to solidify that.  Ideally, strong independent talent that is hungry to make a mark would be the best to bring in over free agents from WWE.  It’s not to say that a key acquisition (we mentioned Alberto Del Rio as a possibility in audio) wouldn’t help.  At this point though, TNA needs to spend talent dollars wisely right now as they look to re-grow the brand in their new home.

Also, Discovery Communications needs to take an active role in bringing visibility to the brand.  They need to help market the brand, which is something Viacom didn’t do for TNA.  They have ten stations – why could they not consistently provide advertising in key places to both introduce and promote upcoming events?  Perhaps as willing partners they can also assist TNA in the re-branding of the product to make it feel fresh.

With an overhaul, TNA can assert their brand and remain a viable number two promotion in pro wrestling.  It is possible for them to gain viewership and begin to draw both in live shows and pay per view events also, but it’s going to take a focused effort from all parties involved.

In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll examine why I think Ring of Honor is perched to supplant TNA as the new #2 in American pro wrestling.  Stay tuned for more!

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