AS I SEE IT 6/8: Thoughts on TNA's TV debut
by: Bob Magee
Picture that you're NWA-TNA, and you're ready to debut your new TNA Impact show on Fox Sports Net affiliates all over the United States, a show you're paying $15,000 a week to air in the hope it'll increase buyrates for your weekly PPVs.
You run an initial taping for this TNA Impact show, which as it turns out, was something you would WANT people to know about because it had a good look and good matches...centered around people that can actually work in the ring.
At worst, the taping was reported to have a handful of the usual first time production mistakes, but they were handled in post-production so the viewing audience didn't see them. The show looked good on its first airing, focusing on what many think TNA SHOULD be focusing on...the X division and tag team divisions, as opposed to just being the JJJ Show, as so many Wednesday nights turn into. The "Fox Box" style insets gave new viewers information that let them know what was going on with storylines.
So...you're TNA... you have the advantage of being able to look back at the only other independent company to make such an undertaking, namely, ECW...do you do what they did? Given that you have people working for you that went through the ECW experience, do you do encourage your fans to help get the word out about this show and your product? Do you try to build a loyal, almost fanatical fanbase that will promote your product anywhere it can?
Instead you do the following....
During last Thursday night's initial TNA Impact taping, a NWA-TNA representative approached a fan/correspondent for PWInsider.com named David Williams, questioning him as to why he was using his cell phone. When Williams told the staffer that he was providing results of the show, Williams was told to shut his cell phone off, or he'd be removed from the taping. When Williams questioned the staffer as to the reason, the TNA staffperson (who refused to identify himself) told him, "We don't want the results out before it airs on TV." This kept spoilers from getting out for a grand total of about an hour or two, as Williams called PWinsider.com immediately after and the spoilers were provided.
OK...let me get this straight... fans are, in essence, helping do TNA's work for them, and getting out the word about a show TNA WANTS fans to watch, so those fans will lay out money for the company's weekly PPVs. The fans were doing this 15 hours before the show's scheduled airing time in many markets (with the exceptions of Philadelphia, Baltimore/Washington, Pittsburgh, and New York), keeping it fresh in the minds of potential fans.... and TNA is bitching that people actually are helping them do their job?
Mind you, these spoilers were free advertising that a fan was willing to provide... to a major website that also happens to carry PAID advertising for the TNA Impact show... additional free advertising which will become especially necessary considering that little or no advertising of the Impact show was done on most Fox Sports net affiliates during the week leading up to the show's debut airing. This is eerily reminiscent of the situation with ECW, when the only ads that ever ran for ECW when it ran on TNN seemed to be DURING the ECW on TNN telecasts.
Another reason any free attention would be helpful is that the websites of many Fox Sports Net affiliates (or TNA itself) are listing incorrect times for Impact airings; such as Fox Sports Florida, Fox Sports New England, Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports South (GA) listing the show as airing at 12 noon; Fox Sports North (Minnesota), Fox Sports Detroit, and Fox Sports Southwest (TX) listing the show as airing at 1:00 pm, while TNA's own website lists Impact as airing in these areas at 3:00 pm. Two Fox SportsNet websites that air the show (Fox Sports New York, and Fox Sports Pittsburgh) don't list Impact at all in their listings.
If that wasn't bad enough, NWA-TNA can't even use the words "Fox Sports Net" on its PPVs to advertise where the TNA Impact show airs...because of a dispute between DirecTV and In Demand. It seems that InDemand is afraid that Fox will buy DirecTV, and thus become a direct competitor to InDemand. Mind you, DirecTV CARRIES most of these Fox Sports Net channels whose name Mike Tenay and Don West can't say.
But InDemand says they can't use the phrase, so Tenay and West have to use the phrase "regional sports channels". Mind you, there are many regional sports channels not affiliates with Fox Sports Net, such as YES Network, MSG, and NESN that won't carry the show.
So fans are apparently supposed to look around to find this show...find where it airs...and when it airs. Yes, I know that the TNA website has listings (although not all were correct as of this past Friday), but it's asinine that TNA can't use their PPV to remind people about their new TV show, which NWA-TNA has most likely built their survival around the success of, presumably as measured by increased buyrates for the weekly PPVs.
Let's go back to the only remotely comparable attempt by an independent wrestling promotion to go national...ECW.
ECW had a staff and fanatical fanbase referred to as "Team ECW" by Dave Meltzer. It was a group of hardworking people behind the scenes and a fan base who BELIEVED, and would do nearly anything for the company. The fans would attack anyone online who criticized ECW...whether that criticism was deserved or not.
The company's fanbase actively promoted ECW online and by word of mouth, with its television first airing in the Philadelphia area on SportsChannel Philadelphia, available locally (and on satellite) for five years until the station went out of business. ECW's local TV then moved to WPPX Channel 61, before all Paxson stations changed to the "family-oriented" PAX TV format. ECW's Philadelphia TV then moved to its last Philadelphia home, WGTW Channel 48.
But the company's TV also expanded to New York's MSG, then Florida's Sunshine Network, then many of the PRIME Network stations (most, if not all of which are now Fox Sports Net affiliates) nationwide. Later, it was syndicated nationwide on the America One Network, as well as on other independent stations.
When the clearances for MSG and Sunshine Network were lost at one point due to content issues, or when a station wouldn't air ECW for the first time, or (after 1997) when a PPV carrier refused to carry the ECW PPVs, ECW had a fanatical fanbase that would call, write, e-mail...then call, write, e-mail some more until the TV station gave in. To cite one example, a fan-based group called Strictly ECW singlehandledly got ECW back on the air on New York's MSG Network...a major effort by fans on behalf of the company.
Unfortunately, TNA has seemingly done everything possible to avoid building such a fanbase, including angering fans what fanbase it has... such as Ring of Honor fans by taking away a number of the promotion's major name talent, including AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Chris Sabin, and others... with a blanket refusal to allow the talent to work dates with Ring of Honor. Many ROH fans are centered in the Northeast...the very location that TNA states that it draws many of the limited weekly buys.
Logic would have said that these would be the last people you'd want upset.
Fans of other independent promotions have also been upset by TNA's requirement that independent promotions that want to use its talent to pay a 15% booking fee...in addition to requiring the right to approve storylines, AND to demand 50% of the wrestlers payoff to put up by the promotion up front. Some major independent promoters have outright refused to use TNA talent unless these requirements are removed.
So...do these actions sound like the way to do things?
TNA has more financial stability than ECW ever dreamed of...for the short term, anyhow. But if buyrates don't improve, heaven only knows how long Panda Energy will be willing to pay the bills for TNA. The fact is, for now, TNA's backers are people than know how to run a business and that DO have money to spend, even if some question whether or not they know how to run a WRESTLING business.
But TNA doesn't have the fanbase...let alone the fanatical fanbase that ECW had. You have to wonder if what TNA is about to do will create the #2 promotion that is needed within the North American wrestling business...or if it will be just one more attempt to do so that fails...by making mistakes that didn't need to be made...mistakes that could have been so easily prevented.
Until next time...
If you have comments/questions, or if you'd like to add the AS I SEE IT
column to your website, I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)