It seems not a day can go by in the world of professional wrestling without someone – be it fans, employees or even actual wrestlers themselves – passing comment on exactly what TNA/Impact Wrestling need to do in order to become the true alternative to WWE. Usually when remarking on the subject, these people are referring to TNA eventually becoming competitive with WWE, rivalling them in terms of TV ratings, merchandise takings and Pay-Per-View buys.
Ever since buying over WCW in 2001, as well as with the demise of ECW that same year, Vince McMahon’s global juggernaut has stood tall as the only giant in the wrestling world. The intricacies surrounding this monopoly are up for debate; many fans and industry experts feel the lack of credible competition has hampered storyline direction and overall character development within WWE. The promotion, it is argued, have less haste in creating bankable main-event stars now than at any point during the past 25 years, something which can be directly attributed to the lack of a competitive edge.
So, what can TNA do to become ‘competitive’? This writer would like to pose a much broader question; why do they need to be competitive?
An explanation may be in order. TNA wrestling are a privately held limited liability company, which means they do not need to make accounts or business dealings public – something WWE (as a public company) must do. Therefore, a lot of what is said is pure speculation – Pay-Per-View numbers leaked onto the internet are often estimations, as TNA are not bound by law to provide this information publicly. Furthermore, as of the writing of this article, TNA operate on a much smaller scale than WWE. In 2012 alone, WWE programming was broadcast in more than 145 countries, translated into 30 different languages. TNA’s Impact Wrestling flagship is viewable in 130 countries, translated into 17 different dialects. On the surface, those numbers don’t appear massively different, but it’s in the show schedules themselves and overall mass of production where the real differences lay. WWE produce on average several hundred live events each year, with a number of worldwide tours into the bargain. On the flip side, TNA have a more limited house show schedule, with the only non-domestic tour occurring annually in the UK and Europe. Indeed, that more limited touring schedule is a selling point to many performers when joining TNA; names such as Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle have widely praised this set-up and decreed it crucial in extending their careers.
Of course, WWE as a whole are the much bigger operation, which is clear to anyone with even the most rudimentary of knowledge regarding the pro wrestling industry. Having been in business since 1952 (going corporate in 1980), there’s a bit of a head-start there when compared to TNA’s formation in the early Summer of 2002. This is exactly where the earlier question comes into play; TNA need worry less about going head-to-head with WWE, and more about building their own audience. As a relatively new company, ‘competing’ with WWE is wholly unrealistic.
When Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff joined forces to enter TNA in October, 2009, they quickly announced intentions to take the company to that magical ‘next level’. What they were basically saying was that they held the key to being able to compete with Vince McMahon, something which became clearer once the Impact show was moved into the same timeslot as WWE’s Raw on Monday evenings. Of course, this bombed spectacularly. Ratings started encouragingly (Impact drew over 2 million viewers for the very first head-to-head broadcast on January 4th, 2010 – a new record for the show), but had dipped sufficiently once the shows started going against one another weekly in early-March. By the final head-to-head in May, TNA were back to pulling in the same million or so viewers who had been tuning in anyway before the experiment.
In a nutshell, this failed experiment proved it would take much more than big names and aggressive fighting talk to compete with Vince McMahon’s WWE. Despite many wishing for a renewed “Monday Night War” (reliving WCW’s Nitro vs. WWE Raw feud from the 1990′s), this was nothing of the sort. TNA going up against WWE didn’t make a blip in the latter’s ratings, and it was almost like it hadn’t happened.
Thankfully, TNA appear to have learned their lesson. In the past year and a half, there has been a remarkable shift away from referencing WWE on-screen (something which always made the company appear like an independent promotion, trying to get the rub by mentioning their more famous peers), with more energy being put into expanding the TNA brand itself. With the Ring Ka King promotion set-up in India, and the British Bootcamp show hitting the UK, there’s been a more conscious effort to champion TNA, rather than chase the coat-tails of WWE.
Simply put, TNA (and every other wrestling company in the world) will always be in the shadow of WWE. It’s striking to think that TNA have been now almost been in business for as long as WCW (Turner Broadcasting bought over the company from Jim Crockett in 1988, eventually running it successfully before going bust in 2001). The parallels in success between the pair are themselves interesting. Running for close to 11 years now, TNA have barely made a scratch on WWE, whereas WCW between 1996-1998 overtook them as the number one wrestling organisation in North America. Obviously, the industry is in a different place now than it was back then; a new generation of fans have been conditioned to believe WWE are the only show in town.
Living in the shadow of WWE does not mean TNA cannot be successful. Cutting back on the amount of Pay-Per-View events has been widely applauded by the wrestling world, as the on-going argument of product saturation rages on. The overall direction of the company has also seen much acclaim; TNA is now seen less as the guilty pleasure, there to be ridiculed and poked fun at for similarities to the dying days of World Championship Wrestling. It is this writer’s firm believe that should TNA continue on the path they’re on (provided they are financially solvent), the audience will grow. It may not grow to rival that of WWE, but TNA should not gauge the success of their company on that of an ability to outshine Vince McMahon.
No, TNA’s success should be gauged on creating an enjoyable product, one enjoyed by a steadily increasing audience. An audience who have for years been crying out for an alternative to WWE. That true alternative need not threaten WWE’s business, merely enhance it’s own, leading to a far more profitable pro wrestling industry as a whole. If you can pardon the lame pun, there is time yet for TNA to make an impact.