After watching last week’s edition of Impact I was left in no doubt that if TNA moved away from the overexposed Impact Zone in Soundstage 21, that the product would both appear better to the viewing audience at home and would also allow wrestlers to step up their game in front of a rabid crowd who may not have seen a live TNA show.
Despite an obvious step in the right direction for the company in terms of storyline flow and a better concept of character development, the one major niggle remains with Impact and that is the failure of an audience who are mainly tourists to a theme park to react appropriately to the in-ring action or storyline developments.
When I rewatched my AJ Styles: Phenomenal DVD recently, the crowd at the Impact Zone circa 2005/2006 were still hungry for a relatively fresh product and provided enough noise to compensate for their lowly numbers (about 1100) when compared to the giant crowds that the WWE juggernaut attracts. Some fans may attribute this enthusiasm for the better overall in-ring wrestling that TNA provided during the earlier years but as a fan watching at home I wouldn’t say that TNA is any worse now for playing out matches on Impact at a slower pace. Sure the X Division is all but dead but the stars that propped up that jewel in TNA’s crown like AJ, Samoa Joe, Daniels, Kazarian et al are still in the company and all involved in major angles. They are also now supported by better writing (despite some smark opinions) and a more talented roster. However, we are now being treated to “pumped in” boos and cheers to compensate for the lack of vocality by the Impact Zone regulars and theme park visitors. This canned reaction is cheapening the product.
When TNA presented Impact from Fayetteville, NC recently it was abundantly obvious that a fresh on-the-road crowd provides a far better backdrop for TNA’s wrestlers and their respective storylines. The North Carolina crowd ate up the action with gusto and let the writers in the back know when ideas didn’t quite work. This is what is required for TNA to grow and develop successfully both in terms of TV audience and in terms of people on the street willing to invest in TNA merchandise. The only thing apparently stopping TNA from taking Impact around the US regularly is a lack of money, however with a lot of overpaid talent on the roster this problem could be solved with ease. The first few names I would cut/reduce salaries for would be Sting, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Rob Van Dam. Whilst these names do bring marquee value they have so far failed to produce a significant return for TNA’s sizeable investment.
If TNA is to finally shake off the label of a “second rate” wrestling company then they will need to make a bold step and leave the safety of Orlando to improve the product’s aesthetic appeal and finally grab the ratings that some of the better editions of Impact deserve. Ratings that touch the 2.0s instead of stagnating at the 1.1s.