I have sort of become the person who watches the big shows TNA puts out here at Inside Pulse. I don’t watch everything, I don’t peruse their website on a regular basis, and I struggle to find any of their DVDs from a supplier in Australia. But I’ll do a ‘Random Number of Thoughts…’ on the PPVs and Impact shows that interest me, so long as I can find them to watch them in a timely manner. That’s because I like wrestling as wrestling. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – give me a good match that I can re-watch and I’m a happy viewer. Storylines, character arcs, extra-curricular activities are secondary to me.
And you know what? TNA gives me that often enough.
You knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you?
But there’s something wrong in TNAland.
Now, I am the first to admit I am not wrestling’s current target audience. WWE is geared towards a demographic of 11 to 25 year olds. I get that. I enjoy a lot of their matches, and I am even enjoying the CM Punk/Paul Heyman and Daniel Bryan versus the World storyline arcs. I am getting some good matches and some entertainment, but I know it is being aimed at an age group far lower than me and those who I think I represent – the very long-time wrestling fan. That’s fine, and that is also understandable. My age group will buy DVDs (and that is where many of their documentary type DVDs are aimed – at me and my demographic) and PPVs and maybe watch the TV shows. But little else. They want the kids who buy the t-shirts, action figures, replica belts, books, posters, watch TV, use the apps and take note of the advertising, buy the PPV DVDs, buy the documentaries about the latest sports entertainers… Basically they want the kids who will spend money, theirs or that of their parents.
But TNA is different. They seem to want to cater to the old-time fan by offering a slightly more violent product with more blood, more weapons and more ‘adult’ language. There are free-to-air matches that are allowed to go a decent amount of time fairly regularly, emphasising the wrestling. So what is wrong with this picture? Why aren’t they growing?
Re-read that paragraph about WWE above. Why are they marketing to that younger demographic? Because these are the consumers who don’t care what they buy – they just buy. And the older demographic… well, they don’t buy. If that older consumer was the market they were after, that’s fine, but that clearly is not going to make the most money. WWE worked that out, and adjusted themselves accordingly. TNA’s target market is not a money-making one for them, I’m afraid.
TNA has some of the best wrestlers on TV working for them. AJ Styles, Austin Aries, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Magnus, even Kazarian, Bobby Roode, James Storm. Those are the guys I enjoy watching who are not WWE cast-offs. They are great wrestlers. They have great matches. So why aren’t they doing better, why aren’t they doing something amazing all the time?
Again, let’s look at WWE. John Cena has been a top guy for 10 years. 10 years! He hasn’t held the title for all that time, but he has been near the top, fighting in high profile matches. CM Punk has been a top guy for years now. They let him hold the title for more than a year. His story-lines are prominent. Daniel Bryan has spent over a year now in a similar situation. Orton is always somewhere near the top. Being shunted down the card does not mean a loss of status. We could add Kane, Big Show, Mark Henry, etc to that list. They might move up and down the card, but they are not portrayed as complete losers for long periods.
All of those TNA wrestlers I’ve mentioned… they have. They have been portrayed as useless, putting over lesser athletes with no story-line redemption. They have been ignored, made to look like losers, shunted down the card to be jobbers to the latest WWE cast-offs, left off PPVs without any explanation. How can you get behind some-one if, in 6 months’ time, they are going to be losers again? A Cena fan knows that, even if he loses, he’s going to look strong. And there’s a good chance he’ll win again sooner rather than later. (Ziggler fans may, of course, disagree here… but maybe that means he’s not seen as a top guy yet.) A Punk fan or a Bryan fan feels the same way. A Styles fan, on the other hand, has that feeling that if he loses it’s the start of another 6 months of jobber duty, making his fans also look like losers in their own eyes.
But, of course, there are some people in TNA who are not allowed to look weak. Sting, Hulk Hogan, Mr Anderson, Jeff Hardy, Bully Ray, Kurt Angle – none of them TNA originals. Maybe that’s unfair because Angle does lose at times, makes his opponents always look a million bucks, and delivers in the ring in spades. Bully Ray maybe also to a lesser degree, but he certainly delivers on the mic. But Anderson? Seriously, the guy is not good in the ring and his mic work consists of catchphrases and no substance. And, until the very end of his match at the recent No Surrender Impact special, he was as protected as the best of them.
Commentary is next. WWE’s commentary is mediocre. JBL can be good, I’ve never liked Lawler and Cole is rubbish. TNA has Tenay, Taz and Borash, all of whom have the potential to be good. And when it’s Borash and Tenay, I think they are the best announce team out there. (I know that’s like being the best bacon sandwich in Israel, but the point is they can be better than the rest.) But that hardly ever happens, and instead we get Taz who sounds like he doesn’t care half the time, and the other half is more interested in putting Taz over. It’s got to a point where he spent the entire Mia Yim v Tara match making fun of Yim’s name. But then they pull out a commentary like the Styles-Magnus No Surrender main event which was fantastic. The potential is there, but it is sorely under-utilised.
Then you have the X-Division. It should be there like the Cruiserweights were in WCW from 1996 (when Mysterio came in) to 1999 (when Russo came in with his ‘no-one likes Mexican wrestlers’ mantra) – something to pop the crowd and get them excited. And the X-Division can, but there are so many botches, so many under-prepared people, so many high spots that are totally not sold, that it actually looks like amateur hour a lot of the time. They have the basis of something that could be as entertaining as all hell here, but they are wasting it. I love me a fun ultimate-X match, or watching the X-division guys going through their paces, but too often they just don’t deliver. They need a bunch of people who are consistent in the X-Division and who are really good at it, and who don’t mind staying in it long-term. WCW had the lucha libre stars – Rey Mysterio Jr, Juventud Guerrera, Billy Kidman, guys who were fun to watch and didn’t mind staying there, only going for the tag team titles as a heavyweight title. The X-Division needs to be differentiated. Nowadays it serves as a stepping stone for the heavyweight title – but why? It’s a different sort of wrestling. Why not have the Knockouts champ challenge for the title while they’re at it? It doesn’t make sense.
Even the Knockouts are an issue. TNA’s women are better wrestlers and tend to have better storylines. They have Gail Kim, Mickie James, and Tara who can put on some great matches (I know 2 are former WWE, but bear with me). But they have Velvet Sky who is terrible, ODB who is a one-trick pony, and they had to pull in a bunch of others from outside for their Knockouts PPV who, in some cases, outshone their own talent. They should get these girls in, build up the division properly and offer a true alternative to WWE, whose Divas division, it must be said, looking at NXT and a couple on the main roster, is improving, slowly but surely.
What saddens me is that the building blocks are there, the basis for a fantastic promotion is there, but it’s not being used properly. And now, I feel, it is too late. Way too late. From the days of the Johnsons and masturbating midgets to Claire Lynch and homeless AJ, they just kept not delivering time and time again. Even the Aces & Eights has been a let-down. Knux? Brisco? Bischoff’s kid? I’m supposed to be afraid of them? They can barely back up their bravado in the ring. Any goodwill has been wasted because TNA are not learning from their past mistakes, and even if they did learn the audience has been burned too many times. Fans of WWE are not going to change over. Even if they botch this Daniel Bryan storyline – which so many people are emotionally invested in – the disgruntled fans will not go to TNA. They will turn off. That’s what happened as WCW was dying. WCW fans were not switching over to WWF, they were leaving altogether. As WCW’s ratings went down, WWF’s ratings did not go up the same amount.
I am not saying here, by the way, that WWE are perfect. Far from it. They have more than their fair share of rubbish storylines, aborted pushes, and stupid wrestlers getting wins they should not. Gimmicks that are ridiculous. But the simple fact of the matter is the WWE are the biggest game in town. They can insult the intelligence of their audience all they want and the drop-off will be minimal, and new fans will go to them because to many, many people WWE are wrestling. TNA does not even exist for a majority of fans. It would be like the NFL having players taking drugs or running dog-fights, lop-sided matches, referees going on strike… did that make people tune into the Canadian Football League? No – to most people the NFL is football in America, and they just put up with the crap or left the sport. WWE is in the same boat. They have that market dominance that is almost absolute. TNA are a fringe dweller.
I hope TNA survives. But at the moment I fear that is all it is: just a hope.
(This was written before Night of Champions. Sorry of it does not mention anything exciting that happened.)
Tags: AJ Styles, Austin Aries, Bully Ray, cm punk, Daniel Bryan, DVD, Gail Kim, Hulk Hogan, Knockouts, Kurt Angle, magnus, Mickie James, mr anderson, Paul Heyman, PPV, rey mysterio, Samoa Joe, Sting, Tara, Taz, TNA, WCW, WWE, X-Division, Ziggler