Source: Scott Sloan of the Herald Leader
When Total Nonstop Action Wrestling begins its three-city tour through Kentucky and West Virginia on Thursday, fans will find something a bit different than what they see weekly on Spike TV.
Because of the growing wrestling company’s business model, not all of its highest-profile stars attend the non-televised live events, commonly called “house shows.” But those who do put on “the most fan-friendly, interactive live event that I’ve ever been affiliated with,” said Jeff Jarrett, who founded the company with his father, Jerry.
Jarrett is among the stars, including TNA World Heavyweight Champion “The Phenomenal” A.J. Styles and Kurt Angle, who are slated to appear at the shows this weekend in Corbin, Pikeville and Huntington, W.Va.
But absent will be stars like Sting, Hulk Hogan, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and Kevin Nash, who have increasingly become centerpieces of the company’s weekly television show, which has moved to Monday nights to face off against the flagship Monday Night Raw telecast of wrestling megapower World Wrestling Entertainment.
It’s a move that has its roots in TNA’s business model. When Jarrett and his father founded the company in 2002, a year after WWE bought its rival World Championship Wrestling, TNA made money by selling weekly pay-per-views. As the company evolved and became a more familiar name, it ditched the weekly pay-per-view model in favor of weekly cable television shows building to heavily promoted monthly pay-per-views that are more expensive. And it added house shows.
Jarrett, whose family promoted events in Rupp Arena in the 1970s and ’80s, said that in TNA’s first five years, it put on probably 15 non-televised live events. In 2008, it ran about 20 and then increased that to 80 or so last year. This year, they’re looking to do as many as 90.
House shows can be a major revenue stream — 22.9 percent of WWE’s 2009 revenue came from live events, that rises to 27.1 percent when you add in merchandise sold at the shows — but they also have high costs. Wrestlers are brought in for the shows, and production teams bring the ring and set-up.
“Going to a building the size of Rupp Arena doesn’t make financial sense for us at this point,” Jarrett said.
And with TNA still growing and maturing as a touring company, “You can’t load up a card with up to 20 superstars,” Jarrett said.
“You’ve got to be smart and strategic about it and build your base and make sure the shows aren’t money-losers,” he said. “All of our shows are financial winners.”
He declined to give the percentage of the company’s revenue that comes from house shows but said merchandise sales at recent live events is up more than 130 percent year-over-year and attendance is up 27 percent.
James Caldwell, assistant editor of wrestling industry publication Pro Wrestling Torch and PWTorch.com, said TNA is smart in how it chooses locations.
“It’s been successful because they’ve been able to reach fans that WWE doesn’t go to,” he said. “WWE typically goes to the larger cities and larger venues. TNA kind of fills in the smaller towns.”
TNA, he said, might choose a 600-person arena and pack it by bringing in just a couple of major stars, he said. That way, the costs stay low, “but they can make up for it with the interaction.”
Jarrett said TNA shows are famous for crowd interaction and autograph sessions with the wrestlers for some fans afterward, as well as customized merchandise unique to the show.
The relaxed schedule is also an attraction for many wrestlers who shun the hundreds of dates a year required by WWE.
“Even if a wrestler did a full-time TNA schedule with all the pay-per-views, TV shows and live events, it still wouldn’t come close to WWE’s schedule,” Caldwell said.
But some of that might be changing soon.
Jarrett said TNA is considering whether to bring more top stars along to house shows.
“The issue you’re talking about of the (Kevin) Nashes of the world not making it, we are graduating or progressing so that won’t be the case by the end of the year,” Jarrett said. “What you see on TV will match the live events.”
Caldwell said that could be realistic “if the cost-benefit is in TNA’s favor.”
“If they’re going to step up and start doing 3,000-seat arenas, they’re going to have to bring the top stars or they won’t draw,” he said.
Source: Scott Sloan of the Herald Leader