Thursday, April 16, 2015

TV Killed the Wrestling Star

On the recent v2 podcast, we hosted a section which was tentatively called "Quick Fixes". It was meant as a way for the panel to suggest a way to improve the current product that is put on our collective screens. Most of the suggestions revolved around the screen time given to each show and how it was a hindrance – in the case of WWE too much time and for TNA not enough. And from this discussion, an idea was born.

Historically, mainstream wrestling has fought tooth and nail to get exposure, mainly through television deals. Basically, the more programming that made it to air, the bigger the promotion. WCW had Nitro, Thunder, Saturday Night, Worldwide, etc and WWE has RAW, Smackdown, Superstars, Main Event, etc. And for the most part, these shows were just filler to supplement their flagship shows. But that didn’t matter – people watched.

WWE continues to work with this strategy, as does TNA with their Xplosion show which only airs internationally. And still to this day, TV exposure is the key to success. Or is it?

When I was growing up in the UK, TV was a very different beast (3 channels for a start!). But when a show came on, it was a battle to book the telly to watch it live (and by live, I mean broadcast time, not an actual live event). Videos helped alleviate this problem but the television was still a place where we gathered for major TV events.

But it's changed dramatically in the last 5 to 10 years. In the late 90's early 2000’s, when wrestling was close to its boom period, the thought of being able to watch anything I wanted to, on my phone at any time, was just incomprehensible.

TV viewing habits are different now. But the grab for TV wrestling time is the same as it always was. TV exposure is king in the eyes of McMahons and Carters. Now before I suggest my idea for a quick fix, I also want to revisit another concept that will make my idea come together – the NWA.

For those who have heard the term but are not familiar with the actual history behind it, the NWA is the National Wrestling Alliance and was formed in the days when the wrestling territories still existed. The concept behind it was to act as a governing body for all the small regional promotions and to have champions that would defend the belts across their respective federations. It was effectively a union with a titleholder, who defended the belt in cross-promotional events.

With the rise of WCW and WWE on national television, and these promotions buying up the smaller indies, the NWA became a lesser known attraction and although it is still in existence in NJPW, the NWA members are much fewer these days. Television destroyed the territories and effectively made the NWA redundant in a business they helped create. And television is that key word again.

Well, the internet is killing television as we know it. But still, TNA and WWE (and every other promotion) is holding on to the television exposure model. So how do these two seemingly un-associated topics come together?

Firstly, TNA is suffering from having only two hours (+Xplosion) which means they have about 80 minutes of actual TV time once adverts have been taken into account, each week. They currently have 4 belts (Heavyweight, X Division, Knockouts and Tag Team) that are competed for. They also have a roster that is underused due to lack of air time.

But this is only a problem if it is looked at within the confines of "TV air time". Being on Destination America has given them a lifeline but it is unlikely that they will grow their own following unless DA itself grows. But as already stated, TV is no longer the same as it was. And here is my recipe to take TNA to a new audience.

Take 2 cups of internet, mix them with the NWA and add a pinch of Gut Check.

TNA should form a new version of the NWA (and by NWA, I mean its concept). An allegiance with smaller wrestling promotions to feature an internet only belt. Call it the TNA Internet Open Belt. Have the belt defended on a 30 minute internet show, available to all, each week.

Feature the belt on Impact and have references to the last match and the next match. Talk about the next contender from whichever indie promotion it is that week. Use this 30 minute show/match as the new Gut Check tryout but in this case, actually make it a proper Gut Check to scout new talent.

TNA gets the rub of indie fans tuning in to the internet show and hopefully promoting it at their events. It also gets the benefit of sharing talent and getting buys from local fans when they come to town. The indie promotions get exposure on national television and through social media.

Most importantly, it's something different. It’s taking an old idea and bringing it to today's audience. TNA have stated they wanted to pull back the curtain. Well, this concept does that by talking about wrestling outside of their own universe. Wrestling needs to change for its own good.

Obviously this is only my take on how to help TNA grow – would love to hear your thoughts!