The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
No matter how anyone wants to spin it, it has not been a good last few years for TNA. They are on their third network in as many years, they have all but abandoned the concept of house shows, they are bleeding all identifiable talent and their ratings are at a new low. With that being said, TNA is still managing to turn out a TV show each and every week and does have hundreds of thousands of fans tuning in each week to watch their product. There is still something there for TNA to work with, but their current room for error is rapidly shrinking.
What has hurt TNA more than anything is their shrinking TV audience. That goes back to their inability to maintain strong audiences when they were on Spike. When they moved to Destination America and later POP TV, it was expected that they would lose viewers because they were on a smaller network. However, when they were still on Spike TV, TNA had all of the tools to become a bigger factor in the wrestling landscape. Whatever revisionists want to say about Spike's support of TNA, the fact of the matter is they gave them two hours of prime time on a good TV night for years and years. Spike was in 90 percent of American homes. If TNA was doing things extremely well, they could have built their audience during that time period.
For a while they did, and they became the highest rated show on the network. The problem became that they were never able to take that next step, consistently gain viewers well over 1.2 million or so, and remained in many fans eyes a small-time promotion constantly playing catch-up with WWE.
The beginning of the decline for TNA, and this is something that is frequently talked about, was the hiring of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. Statistically speaking, Hogan and Bischoff delivered the highest ratings in TNA history, but that run of success was almost immediately snuffed out, replaced instead with absolute mediocrity.
Hogan and Bischoff embodied a larger problem that TNA has battled since its inception, and that is an over-reliance on what WWE is doing and they are using. TNA has constantly tried to be a WWE-lite incarnation, and to this day they still struggle with finding an identity. TNA originally did have some form of an identity, peaking between 2007-2009 around the X-Division and some great homegrown talent, like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Abyss, Beer Money, The Motor City Machineguns and a few quality WWE-guys mixed in like Kurt Angle and Christian. They also had the six-sided ring, an imported idea from Mexico that, along with the constant quickness of the X-Division, helped set a tone and pace for the show.
When Hogan and Bischoff arrived, TNA began to morph into a Bizzaro version of WWE, desperately clinging to anything that would make them more like their top competitor. Gone was the six-sided ring and a lot of the pace that TNA became famous for was sucked out of the product. Ex-WWE wrestlers began to flood into the company and not just big names like Christian and Angle, but random guys who had no real business being in a national promotion anymore, like Val Venis and The Nasty Boys.
The damage that Hogan and Bischoff and their leadership of the company did during their time in TNA cannot really be understated. While ratings originally perked up, they slowly declined to well-below the previous numbers. Even after both men left the company, their shadow and the fingerprints of their time in the company were still all over the product. Eventually TNA went from being the highest-rated show on Spike, to being expendable and eventually they lost their TV deal.
At the same time, the writing of the show went rapidly downhill. The creativity of storylines has never been a strength of TNA, there in-ring wrestling was always the best thing about the company, but as that began to decline, TNA's writing didn't do it any favors. Whether it was Vince Russo, Bruce Pritchard, John Gaburick or whoever, TNA delivered consistently bad ideas and horrible storylines. In addition, weird executive decisions were made (Jeff Hardy turning heel, Magnus, Chris Sabin and Eric Young having seemingly random world title reigns) that continued to drain their audience.
Currently, TNA is as low as it has been for many years. Switching networks as really hurt their audience. According to the Wrestling Observer, their audience is down 31 percent from last year, even though they are in more homes on POP than they were on Destination America. They are also receiving little financial support from POP for their TV show, and their parent company, Panda Energy, has pulled out nearly all of their funding, which along with dwindling ratings and the cancellation of almost all house shows, has TNA desperately searching for investors.
I think a big problem with TNA is that currently they lack a lot of identifiable talent. In the last year or so the product hasn't even been very bad, their writing is still sketchy and the matches are not quite as good as they were back in the mid-2000s, but often times they still turn out a better product than RAW or Smackdown. What I think is hurting them is that they have lost so much talent that people have associated with TNA. In the last several years they have lost Styles, Daniels, Joe, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Young, Kazarian, Sabin, Alex Shelley, Magnus and other stars. Those are not just expendable pieces for TNA, those are guys who were the heart and soul of the company and the most decorated wrestlers they had.
If you flip on TNA today, you see a weird mix of talent. Outside of Abyss and James Storm, there are no current home grown wrestlers that have been in the company for a long period of time. You have the Hardy Boys, clinging on to whatever they have left in the tank. The rest of the roster don't seem to strike me as true TNA guys. Maybe Ethan Carter III is, but even the current champion Drew Galloway doesn't really come across as a true TNA guy to me, his best work right now isn't even in the company, it is in EVOLVE, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and the UK-indie companies. Maybe over time that will change, but if you are someone who used to watch TNA and haven't tuned in in years (and the numbers suggest there are a lot of those people) and you flipped on TNA, chances are you would be very unfamiliar with the current product, and that hurts them.
The negotiations for investors in TNA seem to be centered around one issue: the current investors want to have control of the company, while Dixie Carter and the rest of TNA management want to remain in control of the company. I think TNA's best chance for survival is for Carter to cut her ties with the company. TNA has had a lot of opportunities to grow over the years and recently they have been shrinking. If I am an investor, why would I pump money into the company and then allow the leadership that has proven to be very ineffectual to still call the shots? If it's my money, I want to be in charge. Other companies, like Panda Energy and various TV networks have put money into TNA and all have left in frustration. If TNA wants to soldier on, I believe their best bet would be to leave Dixie and her management team behind.