Tony Pentin

TP: The Emergence of TNA Wrestling?

Over the last six years TNA has grown to become the second biggest wrestling company in the United States. Combining a roster of recognisable talent who had moved on from well known organisations and developing their own talent, the company soon built a solid following in Tennessee.
This dedication resulted in the company securing their first national television deal in 2004, gaining a Friday afternoon slot on the Fox Sports Network. Disappointing ratings of around two hundred thousand viewers saw the deal not being renewed in 2005 and TNA was once again back looking for a TV contract. In October 2005, TNA secured a deal, landing on the popular Spike TV network which formerly hosted WWE Raw. TV ratings have gradually risen and Impact has been getting around a million viewers a week on a regular basis. This success resulted in Impact being extended to a two hour format in October 2007.
This solid TV deal is only one part of the gradual development of the company. The other is the all important in-ring product. TNA has developed its own style in the ring by using a six-sided ring instead of the traditional four corners. The X Division with outstanding talent such as Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley and Jay Lethal, has often been the highlight of TV and pay-per-view shows. At the same time, WWE has abused the cruiserweight division for so long, they decided to axe that particular championship in 2007 leaving many of their wrestlers lost in the roster. By doing this WWE has rubberstamped TNA”s claim that they are the company where smaller talent can get over with the crowd and be taken seriously.
In late 2007, a women”s division was formed and has proved to be a huge success just like the X division due to the big talents of the likes of Gail Kim and Awesome Kong. There was many a sceptical eye cast when the division was formed but these doubts have been cleared in the eyes of the fans.
The other major development in the ring has been the influx of WWE talent to TNA. Christian Cage quickly joined TNA in 2005. WWE had finally pushed the Canadian to main event level that year but never gave him the world championship. Cage realised that opportunity had escaped him, joined TNA and soon became world champion!
Kurt Angle, who had done pretty much everything in WWE, was fired in 2006 due to his deteriorating health. Since joining TNA he has become the most dominant wrestler on the roster and has held the world title on numerous occasions during this time. The other big name to jump from WWE is Booker T, who is another main event contender at present. There have been many others to come from the WWE and this is a sign that the company can compete for talent from a much more established company.
For all these positives, there are some things that TNA need to correct if it is to one day compete on the same financial level as the WWE.
Firstly, TNA”s TV show, Impact, is taped in Orlando, Florida in front of less than a thousand fans. At each of these tapings many TNA fans are unable to get a seat resulting in them being turned away each week. With TV ratings at around one million, it”s clear that TNA is now far too big a company to be taping its flagship show in such a tiny venue every week.
Rather than jumping into the depths of uncertainty by taking Impact on the road each week, a far better option would be to move Impact to a ten or fifteen thousand capacity arena in the Orlando area. Should this move be a financial success it would then be time to take Impact across different states each week to increase viewership on Spike TV, just like WWE takes Raw and Smackdown all over the States. Why the change to a bigger arena still hasn”t been made is baffling considering many of the monthly pay per views are taken out of Orlando. The company will never grow to the heights of WWE if their flagship shop doesn”t have a big time feel about it.
The other major change I think is needed is to remove Vince Russo as head booker. Russo has always been unpopular with the fans since his ridiculous reign as head writer in WCW during 1999-2000. He is best remembered in WCW for allowing too many title changes rendering titles worthless, crude storylines, excessive gimmick matches and a lack of patience in the development of storylines which lead to too much happening on any one show. During his WCW run, TV ratings for Nitro fell by half a million and buy rates for PPV”s fell by over ninety percent.
Whilst the ratings haven”t dropped in TNA, they haven”t increased for a long time either and Impact struggles to beat ECW each week. Russo continue to use gimmick matches, strange storylines and allows past-it wrestlers to hog TV time whilst younger talent such as Curryman and Eric Young are often forgotten. Although Impact has many strong points, I believe the company has to remove Russo and employ someone with more experience in the wrestling industry who has more respect from the wrestlers in order to boost the TV ratings.
Eric Bischoff hit a winning formula as head of WCW in 1996 enabling Nitro to beat Raw in the TV ratings for over eighty weeks. Wrestling fans want to see a return to those days of the Monday night ratings wars and the best hope of that happening lies with TNA.