Monday, July 28, 2014

Examing the Future of TNA Wrestling Following Impact's Cancellation

Sunday night's announcement of the cancellation of TNA's Impact Wrestling was a huge surprise. TNA has been a regular part of the network since 2005, when it debuted there after the end of the company's own deal with FSN and the end of WWE's Viacom contract as well. The timing was perfect, but if things hadn't worked out, the company would have been folded. TNA being on Spike gave them a much stronger network home than FSN and saw them bring in well-known current names like Christian Cage in addition to names that had worked there in the past like DDP, Randy Savage, and Jeff Hardy. Now, after a period of reshuffling that has seen them finally get some rock-solid TV back on the airwaves, the company's entire future is in doubt.

TNA's financial woes have been well-documented in both the Wrestling Observer and Figure Four Weekly publications, and they've been bleeding money since day one. The company's original business model of weekly pay-per-views was highly-flawed, as Jerry Jarrett's book outlines and led to them losing a lot of money. The inclusion of a crooked staff member led to them getting incorrect estimates for PPV buys, and within a few months, the company was in dire straits. Fortunately, Dixie Carter convinced her family to buy the company outright.

This move gave the company some financial stability and it steadily grew after a Jeff Jarrett-Raven match that was built up well and break all prior buyrate records for TNA. In 2004, they made their debut on Fox Sports 1 with TNA Impact. The show saw the debut of a six-sided ring in the United States and dramatically-increased production values. The weekly PPV concept died off in the fall of that year to set the stage for the company going with monthly PPVs starting in November of 2004. Their FSN deal ended in the summer of 2005 and their shows became internet-exclusive streams via Real Player until the fall, when they debuted on Spike.

Sunday's cancellation of TNA Impact Wrestling means that the group's future is once again uncertain. To make matters worse, the company's owners were looking for buyers last year, with Toby Keith reportedly being interested until an edict from Bob Carter stated that anyone who wanted to buy TNA had to use his daughter Dixie as an on-air character. This offer ended, and then the announcement came of Jeff Jarrett, the one-time part-owner and friend of Keith, leaving TNA and starting Global Force Wrestling.

The end of Impact on Spike could lead to Jarrett's group getting a slot, but they don't have much more than a logo and a bare-bones shop right now. While TNA Wrestling itself was started up in very little time, the standard of what you can throw on a weekly PPV and what you can put on national TV is a bit different. They could do things on the cheap for PPV if they needed, but that's not going to fly on national TV. If the Carters are looking to sell and Jeff's looking to buy, then perhaps he'll own the company once again and with the Carter-owned stink off of the company, maybe Spike will bring it back.

The recent news of Vince Russo sending an e-mail to Mike Johnson of PWInsider instead of Mike Tenay, along with Dave Meltzer reporting on Wrestling Observer Radio that Spike doesn't like Russo, would seem to indicate that the timing is more than coincidental. Spike losing its ability to trust TNA would definitely give them a reason to cancel TNA Impact under its current ownership, and that single e-mail could have accelerated the end of TNA. TNA's overspending has gone on for the better part of 12, with it only really getting reigned in over the past year.

Higher-priced contracts came due and the company didn't renew them. This led to AJ Styles being considered one of the greatest workers in the world in New Japan Pro Wrestling, instead of being used in a crack-addict storyline in TNA, while Kazarian and Daniels tear it up in ROH instead of wrestling comedy acts, and Sting is more newsworthy as a part of WWE 2K15's roster than he's been as an active member of TNA's roster.

Spike's had a strong history of pro wrestling on its station for 15 years now, starting with ECW, and the recent rumors from Jim Ross about Sinclair Broadcasting looking to sell ROH could be a boon for that company if Spike's in a buying mood. The company has no real stink on it like the TNA name does, and a move to Spike would remedy their production issues - especially if they're completely-owned by the company. ROH is also a serious product that makes for a slightly easier sell when you've also got an MMA property you want to sell. While using TNA Impact as a vehicle for Bellator made sense since Impact was the station's top-rated show, it was too big a tonal shift to work perfectly. Trying to sell a real sport on a show that treats everything as a joke is tough, but doing so on a show like ROH that takes things seriously would be an easier sell.

TNA's future would largely rely on another station being interested in them. Before WWE re-signed with NBC Universal, Dave Meltzer spoke of SmackDown being a good fit for FS1 since it has a lot of viewers and the show is always able to retain its audience. With that off the table, but TNA suddenly being available with over one million viewers each week, FS1 could be looking to add more programming that can give them more reliable viewership. UFC programming saturates the station to the point where ratings for individual shows can be scarily-low.

The future of the roster is in question as well. It's easy to imagine WWE legacy acts like the Hardys, Kurt Angle, Lashley, and MVP coming back in some form. The Hardys coming in for one last run is easy to imagine, while you can bring in Lashley and MVP right now and do that group as a wrestler/manager combination against Brock Lesnar and Heyman, with Angle coming in as a trainer for NXT and perhaps having a career-closing match at a WrestleMania alongside a Hall of Fame induction.

The status of homegrown TNA guys like James Storm and Bobby Roode is far less certain though. In the case of the former, you've got someone who felt like as close to a mainstream breakthrough star as TNA has ever had. Steve Austin endorsed him, used his theme for his own TV show, and he had a ton of momentum. TNA then destroyed it by not having him win against the evil-doer Robert Roode, who remains one of the best workers in the company and among the best wrestlers in his age bracket in the world today. With WWE in talks with Sting and Sting wanting one last match, Bobby Roode is by far the best option as he had several very good ones in TNA with Sting, and both would be more motivated to have better matches in WWE.

WWE could also be in the market to buy it in a fire sale, largely for the tape library. Doing that would give them a definitive set for Kurt Angle, Sting, Christian, and Mick Foley should they ever get on the same page again. Bobby Roode not getting a shot in WWE at some point would be a shame, so hopefully he's at least brought in as a trainer. Storm would be great as a promo coach there as well since it's unlikely they'd bring him in as a worker. Given his age, physique, greying hair, and lack of quality singles matches since his de-push, that's probably for the best.

It's a scary and uncertain time for non-WWE wrestling in North America, but with the launch of AAA on El Rey and some kind of shakeup happening with at least two other companies in the U.S., it should be exciting to see unfold. AAA will have Myzteziz as their primary act and it's easy to see them eventually getting Rey Mysterio Jr. to have a Mistico-Rey dream match that thankfully never happened in WWE. Hopefully the shakeup to the industry is minimal and TNA winds up with a new national deal, because pro wrestling in the U.S. has still never fully recovered from WCW's closure, and while TNA never reached its heights in any way, it's still a reasonably high-profile place to work and a lot of people are relying on that company staying open to provide for their families. The end of TNA has been rightfully predicted since day one, but they've been able to survive everything up until this point - hopefully they can get through this rough patch as well.  

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