Imagine this: you’re a casual wrestling fan or just a WWE fan (you watch a good portion of the programs, and drop the dollars for the PPV when it’s a really hot card). You have digital cable and about 20 PPV channels. So as you look through your PPV options, by chance, one Wednesday night, you see a program entitled NWA: Total Nonstop Action. You get more information (via a booklet or the on-screen information) and it says, “Genre: Pro Wrestling. The starts of NWA: TNA, like Jeff Jarrett, battle in weekly pro-wrestling action.” You are somewhat intrigued. ³I remember Jeff Jarrett,³ you think to yourself. ³I always wondered what happened to him.³ You read on: ³Price: $9.95 + fees and taxes.³ Do you buy it? Conventional wisdom tells us no. In fact, any wisdom tells us no. You are interested, but you are not willing to pay 10 dollars to check it out unless some similarly-minded colleagues or friends tell you that the show is a great and that it’s a must-see.
There are two reasons that is not happening: (1) TNA’s programming is sometimes hot; but it’s often not. The booking is half-assed and even coming off the company’s strongest program ever, which took place on April 30 (could be the only profitable one as well), the company hasn’t had a good show since. (2) Almost all of TNA’s fans are people who readily read, write, and discuss wrestling on the Internet because about all of TNA’s advertisements are on pro wrestling websites and through mailing lists. There is, obviously, a tremendous marketing problem and despite some changes and additions, like that of former Spike TV president, Brian Hughes (hired to get a TV deal for the group), that will not change in any precipitous or meaningful manner.
But imagine that against all odds, our hypothetical figure decides to purchase a show (which, if WWA, WOW, HOW, XWF, or any other group tells us, then it won’t). They watch a dwindling southern crowd not appreciative of the show, people they don’t want to see being pushed the way they are (Glenn Gilberti, Eric Watts each representing their own befuddled minority group in the company), a screwed-up hybrid of Jarrett Family/Russo booking, queer segments, internal references that can’t be deciphered, bad matches, bad cards, bad main events, ignorant gimmicks, ignorant gimmick matches, insulting angles, unfunny characters designed to be funny, and any of the other plethora of horrible things that can happen on PPV. Even without the key of marketing, the best chance the group has is to great PPV shows: and isn’t it strange that we find Vince Russo having something to do with it (Russo’s only successful environment was when he was working side by side with Vince McMahon and in the WWF, it’s no coincidence). Even Raven, a top wrestler with the company, has expressed that the group can have next to no bad shows to draw. Working off that theory, TNA is in horrible shape, and realistically, that is the case.
Internally there is strife at the top of the company, problems then unrelentingly fall down the chain and affect the wrestlers, and then the fans. Business wise they have only been able to survive because a good portion of the company was purchased and blindly invested in. Talent relations are bad with many not willing to commit, being publicly against the company and discussing management negatively (fairly rampant). The problem is that it’s only partially to blame on the state of the game.
The original idea was extraordinarily creative but the question is whether it would work in this market and the answer is no. Konnan said this in an interview with The Pro Wrestling Torch cover dated June 7, 2003, ³[Jeff Jarrett’s] explanation (about the plan for TNA’s success) was that if you want to see Scott Steiner or Rey Mysterio who weren’t in the WWF at the time then why wouldn’t you pay $10 per week, which at the end of the month is the same price you would pay for the WWF? My answer was that I could see WWF for free (during the week), so why would I pay to see them. At the end of the day, you’re still paying $40. At least with the WWF you’re getting three or four weeks of free TV and then you can decide whether you want to order the pay-per-view.³
I outlined a set of minimal expectations for TNA in my April 26 column on the group: ³Think about this for a second: If WWE can draw more than 250,000 $39.95 PPV buys on a bad month, those fans plus fans turned off by WWE programming (and willing to commit to a different brand of wrestling) will certainly commit $39.80 a month to watch TNA, but they aren’t. I’m not saying TNA should have 250,000+ buys, but they certainly shouldn’t be drawing in the neighborhood of under 15,000.³ Just to put that in perspective, below is a table of several PPV-related figures: the current PPV universe, WWE Armageddon 2002, an example of the worst WWE has to offer, WWE Royal Rumble 2003, to represent the other side of the coin, as well as the weekly TNA buyrate, the monthly one, the half-yearly one, and the annual buyrate ‹ each made by combining every single buyrate for that period of time. Also on the table is a list of some of the worst drawing PPVs in the last decade (excluding WCW), which are eerily similar to TNA’s buyrate.
Current PPV Universe (Spring 2003) 53,571,429
TNA Buys (2002-2003)* 7,500
Weekly buyrate 0.00014
Monthly buyrate 0.0006
6-Month buyrate 0.003
1-Year buyrate 0.007
WOW Unleashed (2001) 0.015
iGeneration Rodman Down Under (2000) 0.015
Heroes of Wrestling (1999) 0.04
AAA When Worlds Collide (1994) 0.24
WWE Armageddon (2002) 0.50
WWE Royal Rumble (2003) 0.95
(For perspective, years put in parenthesis.)
* TNA PPV buys used to formulate buyrates are representative of most shows.
The fans have also found the promotion’s lack of direction. Todd Martin’s thoughts in a recent column exemplify many of the fans feelings, despite trying to commit to supporting the product: ³One week and one swerve later, TNA once again proved it isn’t worth putting hope and faith in. Last night’s show was a booking disaster, and pairing Russo with A.J. Styles at the end was a dumb move on so many levels. I pointed out last week that not all swerves are bad. But boy does Russo love those nonsensical swerves. Wow, Russo hit Jarrett with the guitar. That really surprised the fans. What exactly are the long term programs now? I don’t have the foggiest idea. Lack of long term direction has become one of the promotion’s calling cards. Whenever it looks like things are picking up, the promotion frustrates its fans and digresses once again.³ I am aware that there are people who stand by Vince Russo, and I’m not about to jump into a rant, but the fact of the matter is that Vince Russo’s style of booking is insulting and not profitable (if you want to debate this, I’m available at firstname.lastname@example.org). His stint with the company has led to little.
I will continue discuss the past, future, and state of NWA:TNA in the upcoming second-part of this column.
CORRECTIONS – To a FFLL Volume III, Edition XXV, three references were made to the ghostwriter of Fred Blassie’s book. The correct name of the author is Keith Elliot Greenberg, as in the first paragraph, not Goldberg as referenced in paragraphs 9 and 16.
Before I begin today, I would like to thank everybody who sent mail and all of you for the tremendous feedback to the Blassie column I did. He was a very interesting man. On to the letters…
Hey, my name is Jeff and I am 18 years old and have been watching wrestling since I came out of the womb. I wanted to e-mail you about the split ppv story you put up and tell you I believe it can work if they do several things, one of which is…
Keeping some PPVs co-brand. These should be Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Summerslam, King of the Ring. At these PPVs, they should have an angle. For example, King of the Ring should be a 16-man tournament with 8 RAW wrestlers and 8 Smackdown wrestlers and every match on the PPV should be RAW vs. Smackdown. Wrestlemania would be just a great show with better matches than all the other PPVs. I don’t even have to say what they would do with The Royal Rumble. Summerslam should be Raw vs. Smackdown in matches with no titles on the line.
If the brands have more time between PPVs, they have more time to build story lines for those PPVs. I don’t know about you, but I think a feud looks a lot better if it is done over 6 or 7 weeks rather then 2 or 3 like they have been doing. And to build these storylines you will need to give the people matches to show them and with no PPV, they will have to do these matches on Smackdown and Raw making those shows better and they can get rid of bad story lines with enough time to build up new ones.
That is my idea for them that is how I feel. Have the co-PPVs in January, April, July, and October. Then just go Raw, Smackdown; Raw, Smackdown. If they do it like this and take time with the story lines I think we might get better shows and PPVs, not worse ones.
I would like to hear from you after you read this, even if it is just to tell me I’m an idiot.
Thanks for your time,
Dr. TH: I appreciate your response to my column and the dissenting viewpoint is also appreciated. Your plan is better than the ideas WWE has been on the fringe of accepting, especially the plan they currently have, logistically. WWE might defend the elimination of King of the Ring because tournaments don’t draw well traditionally, and last years King of the Ring didn’t draw all that well. Before that as well, it usually drew less than the other four main PPVs. However, I think that the benefits outweigh the detractions. Anyway, back to your letter. It is factually true that by having split PPVs, the brands have sufficiently more time to develop the shows. But nothing tells us that they will use that time wisely for two reasons: (1) WWE could already be doing several-week build to matches, with monthly PPVs (they even have less matches per show) but they aren’t. The writing team hasn’t the will or solidarity to book that far in advance, or they would have done so without as much time. Extra time is not a cure to bad writing. I also reject that to make people buy PPVs, you need great matches on TV, but if that’s true won’t that lead to giving the fans free matches instead of making them pay for it (and ruining the credibility of that feud down the road) and wearing out angles quickly. Also, fans have been non-responsive to seeing less of the people the like (half the talent, in essence). People certainly aren’t going to pay the same amount for these shows than for others, and if the past tells us anything it’s that they’ll reject paying less for it as well. What about the business problems I mentioned in my column? All are things to be considered when looking at the issue. Thanks for writing.
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