Views From The Turnbuckle: Can GFW Return To Glory (Relatively Speaking)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff

No story in the professional wrestling world has had quite the consistency as the perennial demise of TNA, now going by their new brand, Global Force Wrestling, which has been rumored about since the very inception of the company in 2002. What keeps things interesting in the saga, is that GFW is always in a different position than what they were in previously. Last year, I wrote an article titled "Can TNA be saved?". At the bottom of the article I indicated that the one thing TNA really needed to do was to find an investor that was willing to put money into the company, take losses, and get Dixie Carter out of her leadership position.

Today, in Sept. of 2017, GFW has done that. They were purchased by Anthem Sports & Entertainment, Carter is no longer a factor in the company, and they have leadership that is willing to take losses in order to grow the company. Anthem Executive Vice President Ed Nordholm said on Wrestling Observer Newsletter, "We're invested in this company. We're growing it. We know it's not going to turn around tomorrow."

Still, the rumors continue about GFW's future. While recent stories about Anthem to sell have been denied by Nordholm, there are some real issues in the company. Jeff Jarrett, who returned to the company he founded, has been put on an indefinite leave of absence due to numerous issues. Their attempt at running house shows over the summer went poorly, and they are still not making money off of their own domestic TV deal with POP TV. The roster is still a revolving door of talent, and there will always be that stigma about the company as being a second-rate organization when compared to WWE.

Since the rebranding, GFW has not been a particularly bad show. Jarrett to his credit, has been able to put together some nice storylines, mainly the one built around Bobby Lashley having to choose between pro wrestling and his MMA career, and the show is fairly easy to watch. With Jarrett out of the picture for the time being, the creative team that he put together, involving Sonjay Dutt, Dutch Mantel, Scott D'Amore, Bruce Pritchard and others, is in jeopardy since those are Jarrett's guys. If Nordholm removed Jarrett from his position to have more authority over the company, we don't really know what the creative future of the company is going to be.

Despite GFW coming across as a watchable product (often times more so than RAW or SmackDown) the company hasn't seen any real growth. Their TV numbers haven't gone up and they are not doing PPV's or house shows on a regular basis. They just re-signed a contract with POP TV, which doesn't pay them very much which means that no network was willing to really pay to show GFW in the United States.

Wrestling will always be a business driven by superstars. While WWE does survive and often times thrive because their brand names, whether it be RAW or WrestleMania, are so strong that they can sell tickets and attract attention solely based on the name value of the brand, they still need big names, like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and others, to really carry the product. An issue with GFW is that they don't have the kind of infrastructure that WWE has, and often times they don't even have the star power that other smaller wrestling companies have.

GFW was once a much more successful company than it is today; instead of 275,000 people tuning in each week, they had well over a million viewers. They ran house shows regularly and had monthly PPVs. When they did that, they had a nice combination of wrestlers that were identifiable with the product and larger names. AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, James Storm, Abyss, Bobby Roode, Kazarian and others were guys that were symbolic with the company, and ex-WWE (or WCW) stars in Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Sting, Christian helped bring in fans who may not have heard of TNA before.

Those days are long gone, and today GFW doesn't have the kind of identifiable talent that they once did. With the exception of Storm and Abyss, they don't have any of those TNA-exclusive names. All of the big name former WWE stars are gone as well. They don't have a ton of recognizable names; they have Lashley, who was in WWE for a handful of years (same with Alberto El Patron) and is far beneath the level of Angle, or even a guy like Christian. They have had guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew McIntyre come in for short stints, which in my opinion kind of hurts the brand because when someone debuts and gets a push, you would hope that they would be around for a while and when they leave not that long after, it makes the company feel second-rate.

GFW has had some small successes in getting a guy like Ethan Carter III over; but the struggle continues for them to create fresh, new stars that fans can rally behind. Almost all big GFW storylines, even the good ones, seem to center around a guy like Lashley. When they brought in Alberto, they immediately built the whole company around him because he was a name. Alberto and Lashley are also not exactly young guys that are going to be in GFW for the next ten years, when you build around them it feels like they are just trying to make it from week-to-week. Until GFW can create a new generation of stars, like they did during the 2005-2010 era, they are not going to be able to create an identifiable brand of talent that will be associated with the company.

A particular issue that GFW has moving forward is that the landscape of attracting talent outside of WWE has gotten much more competitive. While AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, and others are thought of as "home-grown" talent from TNA, the reality is that TNA brought them in after they became popular wrestlers on the fledgling independent scene. Throughout TNA's peak years, the company was able to comb over the top prospects outside of WWE and essentially handpick who they wanted. They were able to bring in some of the best talent in the world, like Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Nigel McGuinness just to name a few, and gave them pushes and turned them into identifiable stars for the company.

In 2017, the competition to attracting top talent is much fiercer. WWE has become extremely aggressive in picking up independent talent to flesh out NXT, so much so that they have more talent in NXT than they know what to do with. 12 years ago WWE wasn't interested in a guy like Samoa Joe; today he is a top star on RAW. In addition, smaller companies like Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground are signing talent to actual contracts that bind them to the company for a length of time, something that was not commonplace during TNA's glory years. Throw in New Japan becoming more aggressive in signing foreign talent, other indie companies offering good money to top talent, and GFW is bidding against a bunch of other companies. GFW has managed to bring in some notable independent talent over the last couple years, such as Moose and The American Wolves. However, Moose and the Wolves only came to GFW after they had been turned down by WWE. If WWE is going to have first pick of all the top independent talent, GFW is going to be left with the scraps.

A related issue is that during TNA's biggest run, when they were on Spike TV and averaging over a million viewers per week; the competition from non-WWE companies was very minimal. Over the last five years, the industry has evolved through the internet and social media, which has created a much more competitive atmosphere for WWE. In 2007, for the American wrestling fan, their options were RAW, SmackDown, or Impact. There was no Lucha Underground, ROH had no TV deal and the consumer had to by DVDs of events to watch the product. NJPW in the US was almost non-existent.

Today, GFW isn't just competition with RAW and SD, but NXT as well. If fans are looking for an alternative, there are countless options, not just GFW. Lucha Underground and ROH have weekly shows that are in a lot of homes. NJPW is on TV every week on AXS, in addition to their streaming service which makes their major events easily accessible to fans all over the world. EVOLVE and many other companies have iPPV and companies like What Culture Pro Wrestling have effectively utilized YouTube as a way for showcasing their product. While GFW still has as weekly TV show in the US, Canada and a lot of other countries, outside of WWE that isn't the end-all-be-all of a wrestling company. If a company wanted to really compete with WWE, they would need a good TV deal, but no company in the US has a TV deal outside of WWE that is really making the company a lot of money.

A good example of the changing landscape is GFW's recent attempts at running house shows. During the weekend of Aug. 4-6, GFW had three house shows planned in the New York area. Attendance at the first two shows was between 250-800, depending on who you ask, and the third show was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. No matter what the actual number was, it wasn't enough for GFW to plan any more house shows in the future following the events. Conversely, during that same weekend PROGRESS Wrestling, a British company founded in 2011 ran a house show in New York City. The PROGRESS show drew around 1,000 fans and PROGRESS has announced future shows in the United States. PROGRESS didn't have any former WWE talent (although they did have a few of the U.K. Tournament guys) and doesn't have any TV in the United States at all, yet right now they are a hotter box office attraction than GFW.

All of this contributes to an uphill battle for GFW. Even if GFW continues to turn out a good product, the company went through so many dark days which turned fans away that it will be hard to win them back. At this stage of the game if you are an investor looking to get into pro wrestling, you are almost better off being a company like PROGRESS and starting off fresh with a new brand. Even though they have re-branded TNA to GFW, there is still a lot of goodwill they need to create before fans come back. In addition they cannot simply survive on being different than WWE, they have to be better than all of the other promotions competing for a piece of the non-WWE pie. For GFW to get to the level they were once at, they need to get their fans back by creating not just solid, but really great storylines that are better than what is happening elsewhere. They need to get promising talent, push that talent and retain that talent. They need to run house shows consistently and get a TV deal that is paying them a decent amount. That is a lot of what-ifs in an industry that is unforgiving. Even if Anthem has their best intentions and is willing to invest, it is going to be a very difficult road back.

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