Views From The Turnbuckle
TNA has lost its grip on what made it a quality promotion in the past few years. A lot of the changes in their product can be allegedly attributed to Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and other big names which have arrived in TNA in the past few years. The idea which once made TNA an entertaining and interesting product have mostly been swooped away in favor of a radically different philosophy, which in my opinion has really detracted from the overall appeal of TNA.
Before I go any further I would like to permit a little bit of a warning to readers. A large problem with the criticism of TNA is that is often compared to the WWE. The WWE is a separate entity from TNA, and what they do with their product really has no bearing on what TNA does. Just because WWE does something stupid, that does not make it ok or tolerable for TNA to do, and vice versa. The following article is not about World Wresting Entertainment, it is about Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Although it is obvious that TNA and the WWE are always going to be compared to each other and even influenced by each other, from an overall quality standpoint, they really have nothing to do with each other, and I ask all of you to keep that in mind while you are reading this.
What originally drew my eye to TNA was the speed and thrill of their matches. Wrestling that I had seen up until that point (WWE, WWF, WCW) had been mostly made up of slow-plotting workers who took minutes to work through a headlock. TNA was something that was totally different then all of that, something that was unique to a casual viewer, which is what I was at the time.
Whether the faster paced style was better or more preferable then the slower mat based style was irrelevant. The fact that it was different was what made TNA important. The word "alternative" is something that comes up a lot when thinking about TNA. By employing this type of in-ring action, TNA was supplying an alternative to most wrestling at the time.
The alternatively of TNA did not solely reside in the pacing of its matches, it also resided in the talent that it promoted. Wrestlers such as AJ Styles, Amazing Red, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and others could not get work in other companies because they were too different for a variety of reasons. TNA took what made those guys different and promoted the heck out of them, building the company around those differences.
The last piece of the puzzle was the structure of the company. Instead of employing the "soap-opera" type mentality for wrestling, TNA kept it nice and easy, with the majority of the storytelling taking place in the ring as opposed towards backstage promos and vignettes. The storylines were simple and easy to follow, because ideally they were just there to set up the matches, not for the matches to set up the storylines which seems to happen so often now.
It is that last point which really bugs me the most about TNA currently. While the WWE had long been the home for wacky and nonsensical ideas, TNA tried it's best to imitate them once Hogan and Bischoff came aboard. In the past few years TNA has seen a major boom in over-arching storylines, ridiculous segments and preposterous feuds. Instead of letting the wrestling settle it, TNA has ditched the classical explanations for more of a Hollywood styled product, causing it to lose a lot of its alternative appeal.
Another big problem is the change in talent that is being promoted by the company. Instead of promoting the different guys like they did in the past, they have put most of the marketing and promotion towards former WWE guys, who left the larger company for a variety of reasons.
The largest storyline in the company today, and probably in the company's history is about Aces & 8s. Aces & 8s is a group entirely comprised of former WWE wrestlers and Eric Bischoff's son. To donate so much air time to a group of mostly un-notable WWE guys simply because they were in the WWE is a serious error that I feel that a lot of fans have shown a distaste for.
The change in TNA's philosophy would be more tolerable if they were making large financial improvements using it. Unfortunately for TNA, that has not been the case. The average rating for Impact in 2012 was a 1.01. That is lowest number for TNA since 2006. The growth for a relatively young company such as TNA is essential, and to have a big drop in ratings over the past year is for sure a significant problem.
The main point here is that despite TNA's best efforts to mimic its more established rival, the television ratings and the popularity of the product have decreased. TNA was doing just as well if not better under their original formula, so why not have the best of both worlds and bring back the old philosophy, to increase the in-ring action and the ratings?
Looking towards the future, it is becoming clearer that TNA is going to have to make a very significant change, sooner rather than later. In the past year, TNA has tried desperately to make as many aesthetic changes to the company, from ditching the Impact Zone, to cutting down on ppvs, to filming shows live to referee cameras, nothing has gotten the job done so far.
Improbably, in a result I doubt even the most cynical of fans anticipated, the live and on the road shows for TNA have done WORSE than the recorded shows from the Impact Zone. Even the promotion of marquee matches on free TV such as Bully Ray vs Jeff Hardy Full Metal Mayhem for the TNA World Title have done nothing to raise the ratings.
What does this tell us about TNA? It tells us that the Impact Zone and it's dead crowds were not the major problem, that the recorded shows and internet spoilers are not the biggest issue with TNA. As much as the blame for TNA has been directed at its aesthetic issues, these recent failures have brought to light the fact that TNA needs to make some huge changes from the front-office on down if it wants to increase its popularity.
Hulk Hogan may have seemed like a savior for the company when he arrived several years ago, but a majority of fans will agree with me when I say that he is not a good fit for TNA, and a lot of the hate from fans has been directed at him for TNA's current dilemmas. Other changes of course need to be made, with a lot of creative direction needing a makeover, but until TNA makes these moves, I can't see any reason for optimism for the product or the popularity of the company.