Rob Maltman: How TNA could become British Wrestling

Rob Maltman

What is the biggest wrestling promotion in the UK? ICW? PCW? Southside? Rev-pro? To some people it’s still World of Sport.  Most peoples answer depends on where they live and which promotions they travel to watch, if they are even aware that British Wrestling still exists.  The real answer is that there is no number one promotion in this country at this time

British Wrestling is a thriving, exciting subculture at the moment – yet still struggles to attract the general populous and raise awareness of the product it delivers.  Like and overgrown vine it is a healthy organism, wide reaching with no real sense of direction.  It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle without any one truly putting the pieces in the right place.  In short what’s the next step for a professional British wrestler?

What is the biggest wrestling promotion in the USA? Very simple answer.  WWE, despite what people’s opinions are of the company and what it presents/promotes – it is undeniably not only the biggest wrestling promotion in the USA but the world.  What’s the second biggest promotion in the USA? There will be a few variables here but TNA should have more than a fighting chance of taking that title.

Yet despite being (arguably at least) the second biggest sports entertainment promotion in the world TNA is struggling financially and has been reported to have made some incredibly poor business decisions.  Taking Impact on the road costs an alleged $600,000 and now that TNA have moved from 12 to 4 PPVs a year they are not making as much money as previously thought – whilst it may make sense for storylines and developing feuds etc. – financially it’s costing the company, to the point they are having to release big name talents to make ends meet.  It has to be said researching these figures has been difficult as there is a lot of rumour and naysaying online with regards to TNAs recent struggles and the stories range from it all being a work to Hulk Hogan is not being paid and is going to face the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 30 to end their feud (you heard it here first!)

A lot of people are saying it’s only a matter of time before TNA become the latest company to find their way into Vince McMahons portfolio and video archive.  It’s hard to disagree with them too.  The TNA business plan does seem to be a carbon copy of the WWE combined with an attempt to please the internet wrestling community.  Which is fine on paper as is you are going to copy someone you might as well copy the best (or at least most successful) but by definition to copy someone you are always going to be a step behind and therefore only ever achieve second place at best.

And as for trying to please the general public – you can’t please all the people all the time – to use a crass but apt metaphor ‘options are like naked bodies, we all have one but it doesn’t mean they need to be plastered all over the internet’.  I personally don’t believe that Vince McMahon tries to appeal to the general public, I believe he does what he wants and believes is right for his product and has the opinion of ‘love us or hate us as long as you watch us’.  In my opinion the WWE try to shape the perception of sports entertainment whereas TNA try to give the people what they want

This is not to say I believe that Vince is a good businessman – as I am old enough to remember the XFL, WBF and the Monday Night Wars (where I truly believe that WCW lost it themselves rather than WWE winning) however his success cannot be denied with prowrestling and practically inventing PPV TV.

Regardless of this, as they are all worthy of articles all to themselves, TNA has lost track and focus.  It looks nothing like the fresh original product of 5 years ago and the drop in ratings only adds further fuel to the fire that the public want and alternative rather than a copy.  The last great successful alternative wrestling promotion was ECW and Paul Heymans mantra was to highlight and promote his strengths whilst hiding and not drawing attention to his weaknesses – and ECW didn’t have half the money or worldwide reach TNA do.  I am not suggesting a return to ECW’s hardcore grungy aesthetics as it was a product of its time and I truly believe the next step in wrestling is a focus on athletic ability and sportsmanship rather than gimmicks – but my point is TNA had something and were achieving success by being different and now they are struggling.  However there are positives to be had, TNA have an incredibly talented and experienced roster, a worldwide recognized brand, a commitment to long term storylines and unique ideas (gut check and open fight night for example) in this article I am suggesting a plan that could save TNA and UK wrestling in one move

5 reasons TNA should leave America and become a UK based company (aside from the obvious benefits to the UK economy)

  1.  Production values

Not one promotion in the UK comes close to matching the spectacle of a live TNA show.  TNA is TV ready and its entire crew knows exactly the demands of creating both a live event (that can charge nearly 3 times the amount as a British show and outdraw the amount of fans with ease) and creating a TV show.

Lighting, camera angles, editing, troubleshooting, timing, match running order and what needs to be in each match at each time, video packages, entrances – everything is ruin as part of a business by professionals (for example a camera man is a camera man not a wrestling fan/wrestler with a camera – he/she is a professionally trained operator of a camera who just happens to be working within wrestling)

Although this comes across as an attack on the UK scene, it’s not.  TNA have the money to invest in these professionals whereas UK promotions simply don’t, it’s a problem we are very aware of within the UK business and one that is getting addressed in various creative ways (PCW and House of Pain are available on Blu Ray now) – but the fact of the matter is we live in an age of mass media where we are spoilt for choice and nearly all footage is available on YouTube and judged within the first ten seconds.  What will look better TNA or a British ‘ring in a room’ shot on a camcorder from Argos and edited on movie maker?  (This is why I still believe TNA should have kept its 6 sided ring)  It’s a very real problem as the UK talent can compete with the best in the world yet thing prevents it getting noticed.

  1. TV, Brand Recognition, Established Fan base, Freeview and Hulk Hogan

Impact wrestling regularly beats the WWE for rating here in the UK.  Partly because it’s available on Freeview TV and for its success I believe it should remain there.  Impact wrestling is the bread and butter for TNAs business and by giving it away on Freeview (which itself will generate money in advertising) it gives the entire nation access to the brand and product – therefore generating interest and creating new fans (and I firmly believe that the British public love wrestling)

Whereas WWE are on Sky Sports TV not all homes have the option of watching raw every week as Sky Sports is a premium channel package.  For example does a single mum with 2 boys to look after have Sky Sports? Probably not but that doesn’t mean her two sons aren’t likely to be interested in wrestling.  Yes there is the internet but you are unlikely to stumble across pro wrestling online – you have to look for it

By putting your product on TV for free, means you can capture channel surfers and attract a larger audience, which in turn will generate interest from potential advertisers.  Which is where Hulk Hogan comes in.  There is a stigma with professional wrestling as a form of entertainment especially in this country where the shadow of World of Sport and Big Daddy still hangs over the business despite being off air for a generation and a lot of advertisers are reluctant to have their product associated with it.  I think it’s safe to assume that most advertising executives and TV executives have little knowledge of the wrestling business, if any outside of the WWE – but are interested in finding untapped markets and how much money can be made from them. By utilising the established brand that is Hulk Hogan, TNA have given themselves an ace up their sleeve.  Like Michael Jordan, David Beckham and Elvis Presley, Hogan has transcended his chosen field and become a cultural icon and has become recognisable outside the world of wrestling and in turn adds an air of legitimacy to the promotion he lends his name to.

Hulk Hogans fame will have stretched to the world of TV and marketing (and to be fair to him he is a great marketing man himself) should TNA decide that they want to get more sponsors and financial backing by using the Hogan brand and even bringing him along to meetings – his fame and career would likely confirm to any businessman that TNA mean business.

And how old is the average businessman? Over 30? It’s likely they will remember the glory days of Hulkamania first time around thus enhancing TNAs chances of securing a deal.  And being honest who else in wrestling has the power to do that? Sting, Angle – not even Stone Cold himself

Without solid finances going into the product and good business relationships production values will start to suffer – which is unacceptable

 

  1. Filling large scale arenas

In January TNA wrestling tour the UK and sell out huge arenas in huge cities such as Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.  This is something UK based promotions can only dream about.

By being permanantly based over here TNA would have access to top quality arenas up and down the country.  It could turn wrestling in this country into an event again and in addition raise money through ticket sales, merchandise, meet and greets, intelligent advertising in national press and TV raising the profile of TNA even higher thus making them more attractive to potential advertisers, venues and most importantly UK fans – who as I said before I believe are desperate for top quality Wrestling.  Plus is it out of the question for them to expand into Europe?

In addition to that, the current TNA roster has a strong name value and drawing power which will help fill arenas straight away.

  1. Respect for UK talent and UK history

TNA has had in their employment – Mark Haskins, Doug Williams, Nigel McGuiness, Rockstar Spud and Nick Aldis. They have also given us British Boot camp.  They have made it no secret (at least to the UK media) that the UK is an important part of the puzzle for TNAs continued success.

In addition to this whenever they tour here they hold regular gutchecks for British Wrestlers and keep an eye on the rising crop of UK talent, even letting some of them be the ring crew for the events.

Should TNA decide to become a UK company they would have to get involved in UK training schools and existing promotions in order to keep an eye on what talent is out there, what they are capable of and how they are progressing.  By working hand in hand with the UK business, they can have access to a whole crop of young talented and undiscovered wrestlers who can provide something different to the world scene and be uniquely British (they may even develop a uniquely British gimmick or two)

By working with existing UK promotions TNA could develop the storylines and professionalism of the product.  Even lending existing stars that are coming off injury and need to shake of ring rust and a draw for some smaller shows or lend cameramen and backstage directors etc. in a bid to upgrade the product and make it easier for talent to adapt when/if they get the call up

In addition to that, it would provide the UK talent something to aim for – a goal, ambition and career within a legit form of entertainment that is just waiting to explode onto the UK cultural map again

  1. UK v TNA PPV

A title that means so much more than 9 random letters.  For TNA to truly succeed over here it would have to utilise the current UK wrestlers and almost change its entire roster.  There is no point TNA coming here and doing exactly the same thing as its doing at the moment – otherwise the nay sayers will be right.  By coming to the UK and using UK wrestlers, they have the potential to be something refreshing and unique rather than a 2nd best promotion.

It would instantly draw attention to an exciting and talented bunch on unseen wrestlers not only around the world but to a UK audience who are blissfully unaware of the men and women who work hard every single night making a living in this business.

It also creates the possibility of a TNA v UK event featuring a host of never before seen matches (the idea for this article was born from me and Dean Mitchell of British Wrestling Radio playing fantasy match ups)

Imagine a card of Marty Scurll v Robert Roode, Mark Haskins v Sting, Project EGO v MCMG, House of Pain (Stixx, Malen, Conners, Gracie and Angelus with Harvey Dale) v Aces and Eights – its limitless what they can do and is a great way to introduce UK talent and most importantly get them over.

The UK audience is fiercely patriotic and I believe they would revel in the concept of ‘them v us’ – especially as TNA would be ‘invading’ our country – it might finally dispel the belief that all Americans are better than the British too.  We are a nation that love an underdog and will back anyone who is willing to work hard and achieve a goal regardless of how well they are known to us (look at the overwhelming respect we had as a nation to team GB in 2012) – the real trick would be to present both sides as equal to the general public – but is there a greater form of entertainment than wrestling for manipulating storylines and situations?

UK wrestling is in need of the next step forward – and TNA has the brand recognition and Kudos to provide a solid investment into what is already a thriving scene.  At the moment UK wrestling is not ready for TV, and whilst there are men and women both in front of house and behind the scenes ready to take the leap, the platform just isn’t there for them to do so

And as mentioned it would benefit TNA too as touring costs would reduce, they would have access to amazing talent no one else really knows about and could monopolise this country in the space of a year causing a real threat to the WWE when they tour.  (It would even make hiring UFC fighters more expensive which might put them off!)

By doing this some wrestling promotions in this country would suffer and go out of business – yet by the laws of business only the strong survive and if we are being honest UK wrestling has a juxtaposition of being over saturated and the general public not being aware of it.  In short the bad promotions would die off – is that too much of a bad thing?

The UK public have already accepted TNA and regularly watch them and their PPVs on TV.  It could save 2 businesses with 1 move.

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