December 24, 2014
TNA's Last Episode on Spike
While TNA/Impact Wrestling still exists heading into the new decade, the current incarnation of the promotion is a far cry from its glory days. Swallowed up by other wrestling organizations, the company's relevance to the average wrestling fan has arguably never been lower.
While TNA is often used as a punchline today, a failed experiment to challenge WWE's supremacy that made a litany of mistakes on its way to irrelevancy; earlier in the decade it was a different story. The company consistently averaged about a 1.0 in the weekly ratings for a few years between 2009 and 2012, numbers that most cable networks would take in a heartbeat in 2019. While they never really took off as a PPV company or as a live attendance draw, the company was successful as a television program for a number of years.
TNA also helped introduce wrestling outside of the WWE sphere to a whole generation of fans. For someone like myself, who does not really remember WCW or ECW during the 1990s, TNA was the first company outside of WWE that I really paid any attention too. During its peak, the company was willing to introduce different styles of wrestling and were ahead of the game when compared to WWE in a lot of ways. Through the X-Division and stars like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe and other wrestlers, TNA pushed a more athletic style of wrestling while WWE was stuck in a more traditional style. Also through the Knockouts Division and wrestlers like Gail Kim, Awesome Kong, ODB and others, TNA was well ahead of WWE when it came to promoting serious women's wrestling.
However, when the company was canceled by SpikeTV at the end of 2014, the glory days of the promotion were long behind it. The mistakes TNA made that led to its downfall could be discussed for days, but at the end of the day, Dixie Carter was not a wrestling person and she was in charge of the promotion. When you have a non-wrestling person in charge of the company, you are more prone to making mistakes than someone who has a lot of experience in wrestling. TNA had funding and a good TV partner, but they didn't have the leadership to fully capitalize on those advantages.
After getting canceled off of SpikeTV, TNA would see a decline in television partners, first going to Destination America, then Pop, then off of TV entirely. Eventually the company was sold from Carter to Anthem Sports and Entertainment, and in a positive move for the company, was put back on TV on AXS, giving the company its first real positive momentum in five years.
Still, when the company left Spike at the end of 2014, it opened the door for other wrestling companies to fill the void. I don't think it is a coincidence that when TNA left Spike, both NJPW and ROH saw significant increases in popularity. By having a weekly show on Spike, TNA had a major advantage against other non-WWE promotions and when it left, that advantage was taken away. Instead it was left with a middling product, that was quickly usurped by the superior NJPW and ROH products; not to mention the rise of Lucha Underground and the development of NXT, all of which took a piece of TNA's market away from them.
The decline of TNA really did open some doors for other promotions. Maybe ROH and NJPW would have taken off if TNA was still on Spike and hadn't declined to the degree it did. However, part of TNA's decline was that the company lost AJ Styles, who then went to NJPW, made the Bullet Club a bigger deal in both NJPW and ROH, raising the profile of both companies significantly. If TNA didn't ask AJ to take a pay cut, he stays with the company and perhaps NJPW and ROH don't get elevated as much. Going further, since AEW was largely built on the success of NJPW and ROH, it is reasonable to suggest that AEW possibly never becomes a reality if TNA retained Styles.
Today Impact is still around, but the company is on a completely different spot on the totem pole. Instead of being the clear number two in the US market, it is at the very most, fourth behind WWE, AEW and NJPW and battling with ROH, MLW and other smaller indie promotions for attention. All of the stars that made the company popular at the start of the decade; Styles, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, Daniels, Kazarian, Sting, Christian, Robert Roode, Abyss, etc. are all with other promotions or retired. In a lot of ways the quality of the product is much better than it was during its ratings peak, but the market is so much more competitive that it is harder for the product to stand out.
TNA's prominence on Spike also perhaps created a negative atmosphere for fans looking to sample a product outside of WWE. If fans were interested in seeing a product other than WWE in the early 2010s, TNA was the logical choice for them to look. During that time period TNA had a lot of issues; new viewers could tune in and see nonsensical storylines, tasteless angles and pushes to over-the-hill wrestlers. I think that could have soured some fans on non-WWE wrestling in general, since TNA was the face of wrestling outside of WWE during that time period.
Today, with NJPW and AEW, as well as ROH, MLW, today's version of Impact Wrestling and other promotions pretty accessible to new viewers, the non-WWE promotions generally have easier to watch shows, with better storylines and in-ring action than TNA did in its prime. Those promotions have a better understanding of the modern audience than TNA did, and I think that has had a positive effect on the growth of wrestling outside of WWE that the industry has seen since 2014. TNA's downfall after leaving Spike opened up more opportunity for other promotions, and in the end probably ended up strengthening the industry as a whole.
This article is the fifth in a series of articles discussing the most significant moments in wrestling over the past ten years. Make sure to check back on Tuesday for the next installment in the series
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