Sunday, 21 August 2011

Fantasy Booker: TNA part one

I’m sure most of you remember when TNA made a half-hearted attempt at a relaunch a couple of months ago. Yes, the one that was so bungled that I’m still not sure if we’re expected to refer to them as IMPACT Wrestling or not. You probably remember their relaunch on October 10th last year too (which was based almost completely around the fact that the date was 10.10.10 – creative geniuses in TNA). You’ll likely remember the January 4th 2010 relaunch too. That one was based around the first appearance of both Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan in a TNA ring. It also boasted surprise appearances by both Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam. There was no thought given to spanning these big names out to maximise their effect on ratings: that wouldn’t be the TNA way.

This latest rebranding has basically amounted to a new blue set, different lighting effects, a failed attempt to reinvigorate the once lively X Division and Sting impersonating Heath Ledger’s Joker. It cannot be considered a success by any reasonable criteria.

My aim is to discuss across two blogs what I would do were I put in charge of TNA working on the presumption that Panda Energy would be fairly lenient with my funding (their attitude towards funding for the last several years has been so relaxed it could be considered comatose, so I don’t think this is too unrealistic). In the second part I’ll discuss how I’d book the on-screen product. In this first part I’ll concentrate on the backstage changes I’d make. An unfocused direction and poor management structure are what’s currently holding TNA back: nobody in the organisation seems to know who’s responsible for what or how to build a wrestling star from scratch. If the company is to succeed the backstage problems need to be sorted out and the company needs to expand into running regular shows across North America.

First things first: I would fire Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan. At one point I believe Russo probably contributed a few worthwhile ideas to the promotion. But those times are long gone. His eagerness to promote shock TV over quality matches has failed to help TNA improve its viewing figures and tends to be seen in a negative light by most existing fans. He is detrimental to the company’s present and future.

Similarly Hogan and Bischoff have nothing to offer. Hogan, easily the most recognisable wrestler on the planet even with his prime twenty years in the past, could have helped teach the roster how to connect with an audience, how to cut a promo and how to remain over. That Hogan has not helped anyone on the roster get over any more than they were when he joined the company makes it clear he’s not interested in helping the promotion grow. Or that he simply he doesn’t understand how he’s managed to do these things himself. All he wants is a paycheque.

Bischoff was lauded as a television production guru when he joined TNA, yet the company still regularly promotes shows from the same location they were using years before Bischoff’s signing and with only mildly improved production values. They’ve certainly not changed enough in the near two years Easy E’s been there to justify the six figure salary he collects.

In their place I would bring in my own team. The first position I would advertise would be that of a media relations expert (I’d dream up a suitably flashy job title before advertising the role). The job would involve working with the wrestlers of the TNA roster on their public image, covering everything from how they conduct themselves in mainstream media interviews to how and what they tweet on Twitter.

The reason I think this is necessary is linked to a tweet from Jesse Neal some months ago. Neal stated that he and his girlfriend had just qualified for food stamps, which basically meant they were so poor they weren’t able to feed themselves with the money they were making from their jobs. He quickly deleted the tweet and claimed it had been a joke. Now, it either was a joke and it was in incredibly poor taste or he really had qualified for food stamps. Either way it made TNA, his employer, look bad. A media relations expert would be tasked with making talent understand why such updates are counterproductive and educating the roster on how to make Twitter work for them and the promotion.

This expert would also be tasked with finding a speech coach to work with those members of the roster who struggle to cut a promo. Young talent would benefit immensely from having someone around who can teach them how to engage an audience and build a character with limited TV time. It’s an important part of the business and one TNA really needs to crack if it’s going to expand.

Two closing points on the production side of things: I would revert to simply calling the show IMPACT rather than IMPACT Wrestling (because the name change was fairly pointless and the show is still routinely referred to as just IMPACT) and reintroduce the six-sided ring. The ring separates TNA from its immediate competition of ROH and WWE at a glance and allows performers (particularly those in the X Division) to work matches that they couldn’t in a regular four-sided ring.

My second big hire would be a television producer with live event experience. What TNA really needs is someone who can turn out polished TV shows and pay-per-views on a very tight budget and knows the dos and don’ts of producing a weekly live show from different locations (more on this below). This person would need to get the lighting and sound spot-on, oversee the production of entrance videos and music (discussed below) and know how best to cover a wrestling match (currently big spots and match finishes are routinely missed because of random shots of the crowd, the announcers, or something nonsensical happening backstage).

This person would need to put together a team capable of improving the quality of IMPACT of a show. They would also need to hire a new play-by-play announcer for Xplosion. My aim would be to have a secondary announcer establishing themselves on the secondary show for twelve to eighteen months before introducing them to IMPACT to work alongside ‘Iron’ Mike Tenay. Tazz would be moved to Xplosion with immediate effect to be replaced by Don West on IMPACT. That West currently works in a marketing role for the company is ludicrous when he is clearly a superior colour commentator to Tazz. Within two years I would want to have Tenay and Tazz calling Xplosion and the new guy working alongside Don West on IMPACT. The pay-per-view announce team at that point would be West, the new guy and Tenay.

A replacement for Christy Hemme would also be needed. She’s acceptable as a backstage interviewer, but as a ring announcer she doesn’t cut it. She emphasises peculiar parts of wrestler’s names and doesn’t seem to understand that a bright, perky attitude doesn’t work well for a ring announcer. Somebody new is needed in the role and she should be used exclusively backstage. Jeremy Borash would find his role decreasing too: he’s become far too much of a character. He’s fine as a backstage interviewer but shouldn’t be anything more than that.

The producer and their team would also need to be skilled at putting together video packages.A long term initiative would be to introduce new video packages for every member of the roster. I dislike TNA’s current approach of assorted emblems flashing up on the screen as wrestlers walk to the ring. I much prefer the traditional approach of showing in-ring highlights of the wrestler interspersed with specially shot footage. Within nine months I’d expect everyone on the roster to have an entrance video and (where needed) new entrance music that fits their character.

Video packages would also play a large part in how I’d introduce new members of the roster. Kenny Omega or the Super Smash Brothers would benefit from a month or so of video packages showing what they can do in the ring. It helps fans accept a new wrestler and builds anticipation of their first appearance. A guy like Kevin Steen would benefit more from a video shot with a shaky-cam and consisting of quick cuts while he talks about what sort of a man he is (assuming he’d be using a gimmick similar to his current one, of course). The production team would need to be able to put these videos together quickly and ensure they have an individual feel to them to help distinguish the wrestler from anyone else who has debuted this way. Only one person would be introduced using this method at a time though. More would be overkill.

At this point I’ll mention the booking team. I would not be capable of running every aspect of the company and booking it too, so I would offer jobs to Dutch Mantel, Dave Lagana and Scott D’Amore (more on his role in part two) to form a booking committee. I would likely advertise one or two roles for fans to get into the business too: there are dozens of knowledgeable fans out there who could improve TNA’s product by working as part of such a team. This squad’s role would be to work out the specifics of the broad storyline ideas I’d provide and format them for a wrestling show. Naturally I would be reserving the right to veto any decisions they made and make any alterations to the final script that I felt necesarry.
The next big thing I’d want to do is expand TNA across North America. This would cost a lot of money, but it would also create more income in the long run. Doing tapings in front of the same audience (who don’t pay) every two weeks, interspersed by sporadic two or three date “tours”, is harmful to the company. The regular fans that flock to Universal Studios will react to things in whatever way they want, regardless of how someone is booked. That means if someone is turned heel but the regular fans don’t want to boo them the character will be switched back to being a face. That would be fine if there were no television audience to consider, but that’s not the case. Those of us watching at home may have a different opinion to the couple of hundred IMPACT Zone faithful, but we have no way of letting TNA know this because the regular fans are seen as the most important. The company needs to be catering to the larger television market.

Taking IMPACT on the road takes the control of characters away from those few hundred fans and puts it in the hands of management and the larger viewing market. If someone is getting booed everywhere but Universal Studios then they need to be a heel. By holding tapings in other locations that can happen with no backlash.

With regards to tapings at Universal, I would honour whatever dates have already been agreed upon and set up dates elsewhere for as soon as possible. I would pick eight markets and rotate through them on a fortnightly (that’s bi-weekly for you non-British readers) basis. Each market would consist of two big towns or cities within driving distance of one another, with enough small towns nearby being used for house shows (non-televised events).

The four date run would begin on a Thursday with a live IMPACT, followed by a TV taping the next evening either in the same building or the other big town in the market. The Saturday and Sunday would be house shows, or a pay-per-view. The following Thursday would see the taped event air and then the week after that the process would begin again. This would allow for a light schedule for talent but incorporate live episodes of IMPACT and regular exposure outside of Orlando, both of which need to be top priorities. In time a house show could be added on the Wednesday before the live IMPACT or the Monday at the end of the run. Even if both extra days were added it would still be a six day run with over a week off before the next.

What eight markets would I choose? Despite my negative feelings towards shows at Universal Studios I wouldn’t stop running events there. If those fans only get to see the shows every three or four months they’re not going to be as detrimental to business as they are now. The goal isn’t to cut them off from the product completely, just to limit their influence on it. I’d use New Orleans as the other end of this touring route as that’s a passionate wrestling city within driving distance of Florida with enough towns in between to use as house show and second day TV taping locations.

That’s seven markets left. New York City and Philadelphia are ideal cities for TNA, running shows in the Hammerstein Ballroom and The Asylum Arena (formerly the ECW Arena) respectively. New York events would likely be followed by runs into New England (Boston would be a good opposite end to this touring route), while Philadelphia runs could take in New Jersey and Pittsburgh. As these are profitable wrestling markets already they would be used slightly more often than the other cities I’ll list, and major angles would ideally be saved for shows from these towns.

The remaining five markets I’d use would be as follows:

Austin, TX to Oklahoma City, OK
Raleigh, NC to Columbia, SC
Chicago, IL to Minneapolis, MN
Detroit, MI to Toronto, Canada
Atlanta, GA to Nashville, TN

I think this gives TNA a good presence in cities that have enough wrestling fans to sustain regular shows. Some touring areas are near each other but that’s a deliberate choice: my hope is that some fans in, say, New York, would like the product enough to catch a show in Toronto, or fans in Detroit would catch a show in Chicago.

The aim would be to establish firm fan support in these markets before expanding TNA further across the continent. Occasional forays to the west coast and Mexico could be made, but the company would need to concentrate on making the markets listed above work before further expansion could be considered srriously. TNA needs to have a loyal following outside of Orlando, and that can only come with time and by touring the promotion regularly.

I’m also of the opinion that TNA misses a trick by not doing anything to tie in to WrestleMania. Ring of Honor has been promoting shows from the WrestleMania host city on the weekend of the event for several years now. It’s been a big success for them. If TNA were to promote a TV special the Saturday before WrestleMania they would not only attract the fans in town to see the WWE supershow, they’d also open themselves up to a TV audience that’s getting ready for the biggest show of the year the next day. Heavily advertising a free wrestling TV show the day before WrestleMania should attract a large viewing figure, some of whom would like what TNA has to offer and continue tuning in. It’s a great chance to reach new fans and it amazes me TNA hasn’t done anything like this before.

In addition to this I would keep up tours of Britain and Ireland. For some reason TNA performs incredibly well on these tours, to the extent that the company makes more money running house shows here than they do in the States. I wouldn’t go as far as doing pay-per-views from Britain (because taped pay-per-views simply wouldn’t draw enough money in this day and age) but I would tape an episode of IMPACT on each tour. January and August seem like the prime times for such trips.

With all of the above in place I would turn my attention to the talent relations department. For anyone reading who is unaware, the talent relations department is responsible for overseeing contractual negotiations and hiring and firing talent. It’s an important part of any major wrestling promotion and should be of particular importance to TNA because their roster is in drastic need of an overhaul. The division is currently overseen by Bruce Prichard and Dean Broadhead, who seem to be doing a decent job and so would remain in their roles working to a new directive. Essentially I’d want them concentrating more on signing talented but relatively unknown people for the X and Knockout Divisions. As you’ll see in part two those will be the areas I concentrate on most and so they will require deeper rosters than they currently have. Signing men to compete in the heavyweight division (is that how you’d describe guys who challenge for TNA’s world title?) would still need to happen, but would be less of a priority.

I’d introduce the Talent Care Program: a system modelled on WWE’s Wellness Program and designed to eliminate steroids and other harmful substances from the promotion’s locker room. I’m not familiar enough with the subject to provide a detailed list of everything that would be banned and would hire experts to put the thing together. As with the WWE system the first infringement would result in a thirty day unpaid the suspension, the second with a sixty day unpaid suspension, and the third with a firing. In the result of a firing the talent would need to complete a rehabilitation course before being brought back (if we wanted to bring them back). Considering the attitudes of certain members of the current TNA roster on this subject I could be opening myself up to losing multiple wrestlers, but I’d work around it somehow. I believe drug testing systems such as this are necessary in the modern wrestling business.

The practice of signing practically every former WWE performer would cease. A small list of WWE performers would be compiled and TNA would set aside cash to make them significant offers when their McMahonland contracts come up for renewal. The names on the list are all people who are either in a position to immediately have an impact (no pun intended) on TNA’s ratings or people who could rise to that level within a few months if introduced and used in the right way. They’re all people who could sell a lot of merchandise too. Who’s on the list? Take a look:

John Cena
Rey Mysterio
CM Punk
Randy Orton
Bryan Danielson
Tyler Black (currently in FCW as Seth Rollins)

As I said, these are the only current WWE names I’d be interested in signing at any point in the foreseeable future. The aim would be to use them to improve IMPACT’s ratings and to increase merchandise revenue. Cena may not be the best worker, but he would raise ratings significantly and bring in a lot of money in T-shirt, wrist band and hat sales (people will buy anything, you know). You don’t think he’d increase ratings? If you went a wrestling news website now and saw that Cena had left WWE to sign with TNA wouldn’t you be watching the next episode of IMPACT? I know I would.

There are two names I’ll address separately: Batista and Chris Jericho. It’s assumed both men will return to WWE at some point in the future. I would try to convince them to do otherwise. Offering them big money contracts with light schedules would be my approach. Signing them would help TNA’s ratings and pay-per-view buys, as well as deprive Vince McMahon of two of the biggest free agents in the wrestling business. I would offer them positions immediately but wouldn’t expect them to be accepted due to the promotion’s current image. I would make a second offer six months later (providing they hadn’t returned to WWE) in the hope that six months of my television product would be enough to persuade them to change their minds.

In addition to the long term, big money plan the talent department would be given three immediate goals: concentrate on finding new talent (as mentioned above), establish a working relationship with one or two independent leagues (to function as feeder promotions and training areas, as well as somewhere for established stars to go to work off ring rust before returning from injuries/general time off), and make some firings.

Yes, I’d be makings a lot of cuts from the current roster. There are really two reasons for cutting people from TNA’s roster. The first is financial. Paying Sting half a million dollars a year to only appear on TV and PPV is not cost effective. He’s not the ratings draw Spike TV and TNA management seem to want us to believe he is and the fact that he barely ever appears on house shows means TNA can’t capitalise on what little popularity he does have. For the money he’s paid TNA could sign five or six talented individuals to stock the tag team, Knockout, and X Division ranks. I know which I’d rather see each week. How about you?

The second reason is a creative one. There are various people on the roster that I simply wouldn’t have any interest in using because they don’t fit into my vision of the TNA product. If I don’t see them as a star I won’t book them as a star, and that will come across on TV and make the company look bad.

Here’s the list of releases:

Anarquia and Hernandez – Clumsy, generic workers with a racist gimmick. There’s no need for such cheap heat merchants in 2011.
Crimson – I’ve not seen him do anything that sticks in my mind or makes him look like a potential headliner.
Devon and Bully Ray – They have nothing to offer as a tag team and no promotion (even TNA) should be trying to get them over as singles stars.
Jerry Lynn – A very talented worker but TNA needs to emphasise youth and Lynn doesn’t help with that. I’d offer him an agent role though, because I imagine he’d be a good influence on younger talent.
Kid Kash – As above, but without the offer of agent work (his attitude is appalling).
Gunner – Useless.
Murphy – Awful.
Rob Terry – Useless and awful.
Jeff Jarrett – Yeah, I’d fire “the founder”. He’s done everything he can to elevate the company, doesn’t have the aura of a main event star, and is too old to be worth keeping around. His work in Mexico proves he doesn’t need TNA to make a living so he’d be fine. Don’t worry about him, he’ll do okay.
D’Angelo Dinero – He doesn’t fit into my vision for either the heavyweight division of the X Division , plus everything that the character can do has been done.
Scott Steiner – I like Steiner as a character but his ring work is not consistent and, as with Jarrett and Lynn, his age doesn’t allow the company to present itself as the promotion of the young guys.
Abyss – An overrated worker with a gimmick that’s ripped off from two WWE characters (shame on you if you need to be told I’m talking about Kane and Mankind), he’s accomplished everything he can in TNA and there’s no need to keep him around.
Ric Flair – A 62-year-old man who punches himself in the face until he bleeds and cuts promos so nonsensical even he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about? I think I’ll pass.
Matt Hardy – It’s recently been announced that Matt really has been released from his TNA contract. I’m including him on this list for clarity. I wouldn’t rehire him at any point: he’s a bland worker with no main event prospects who will forever be in his brother’s shadow.
Jeff Hardy – If Jeff agreed to enter rehab and clean up his act, and rediscovered his passion for the wrestling business, I’d be more than happy to use him. I don’t think either’s going to happen though. TNA cannot justify paying someone to sit at home so I would with him the best in his future endeavours.
Sting – As I said above, Sting earns half a million dollars for working five or six days a month. That isn’t fair on the talent who are on per appearance deals (which usually earn them around $500). His firing would be a mixture of budget redistribution and “creative having nothing for him” (I have become John Laurinaitis).

The money saved on these cuts would be spent on re-signing wrestlers TNA has recently let go that should have stayed on the roster and bringing in completely new talent to beef up the roster. Names will be revealed in part two, along with the talent I’d be placing in key positions on the card and the storylines I’d be running.

Stay tuned!


  1. Great blog. I think TNA would greatly benefit from most of the changes you have suggested here. However I would argue against a few of them. Firstly, getting rid of Sting. I take all your points about Sting but the man is a legend who has repeatedly put TNA above WWE. He turned down a match with the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, arguably the biggest match on the biggest show/“destination” of the year in favour of a few hundred fans in the impact zone. I agree that he can’t be the face of the company forever but you can’t buy the kind of credibility he gives to the company through his loyalty. Sting should be treated in TNA in the same way as the Undertaker or Shawn Michaels are in the WWE – as a legend, he is the only true legend TNA has.

    Second, I agree TNA needs better public relations but I think the issue of Jesse Neal tweeting about his poverty is one that should be more about the pay structure itself rather than his tweet.. As a PR practitioner myself, it’s about “truth well told” not about covering things up, that is no way to breed loyalty from wrestlers who someday might blow-up and be the big money making stars.

    Finally, I would not include Rey Mysterio on the list of people to offer contracts to from the WWE. I understand he is a big merchandise seller but would he sell enough to even pay for his employment? As far as I understand Rey’s knee is shot and he is coming to the end of his career – he is certainly not a promo man and got himself over with his wrestling style. What could he actually birng the company?

    I’m looking forward to reading the names of people you would bring back in part 2. Again, great blog!


  2. Thanks for the feedback.

    I'd strongly disagree on Sting. Basically I don't think he offers enough to justify his enormous price tag. He did indeed turn down a match with Undertaker at WrestleMania, but I think that makes him look foolish rather than loyal to TNA. That was (probably) his last opportunity at a run in WWE working with their top talent. That he didn't accept a year deal and then return to TNA is ridiculous.

    I also disagree on him being used in a Michaels/Undertaker role. It's fine in principle but doesn't work in practice. WWE can promote 'Taker and HBK in that fashion because they have twenty years of footage to use. I'm not sure exactly when Sting debuted in TNA but they don't have anywhere near that amount of footage of him, and he's well over forty in everything they do have of him. The role you're suggesting would be better for AJ Styles or Chris Daniels.

    With regards to the Jesse Neal comment: the idea wouldn't be to cover things up, more to teach talent that such tweets paint the company in a negative light, which could prohibit further expansion, which would lead to continued smaller paycheques. Simply put, it's not something Neal should have been tweeting because it can only have negative consequences.

    Rey is battered and beaten up, that's true. I'm working on the assumption that I'd only be able to attract him to sign by offering him a big downside and limited dates. If he's only wrestling two or three times every two weeks he'd have enough time to rest up his knee and whatever else is bothering him and put in decent performances. Putting him in tag matches and short singles matches on TV would help, saving his longer outings for pay-per-views.

    I also think mask sales would be huge. He's currently WWE's second biggest merchandise seller behind John Cena. That's the main reason I'd be bringing him in. Don't forget that it would be depriving WWE of a top guy as much as anything else.

    Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated.