Tuesday 22 April 2014

Global Boom

You’ve probably noticed that Jeff Jarrett has a new wrestling promotion under construction. It will be called Global Force Wrestling and it’s being created for a number of reasons. First and foremost it’s because Jeff no longer holds a position with TNA, the company he founded with his father (Jerry) in 2002. Despite selling control of the company to the Carter family’s Panda Energy Jeff kept a position with the group for a number of years, including the years after he stopped being a TV presence. That changed a few months ago when he announced he was leaving. It seems fair to assume, given his new venture, that Jarrett was tired of being a bit part player in a company he’d intended to be North America’s number two wrestling league. Jeff Jarrett wanted to be the boss again.

Secondly, he feels that another wrestling boom period is imminent. While promoting his new league he’s said that now is the best time to start up a wrestling company because it’s due to shift back into the mainstream. He seems tuned in enough to realise that WWE is going to be the focal point of such a boom (should it materialise) but understands that being a new group while people are just getting interested in wrestling again (or for the first time) will help him build a fan base. A new promotion will feel fresh and new and be more capable of providing jump-in, introductory points than even WWE. There will be a certain dynamism that companies that have existed for more than a few years (basically the entire crop of meaningful indy feds) won’t be able to create.

It’s actually timing that may have doomed TNA from the very start. Wrestling’s last major period of significance started in the mid-nineties and ran through to 2001. It was characterised by the innovative ECW, the Monday Night Wars between the WWF and WCW, and the WWF’s Attitude Era. It was never going to last forever and in hindsight it was always going to wind down after either WCW or the WWF folded. The natural conclusion, basically, was always going to be an invasion of the WWF by WCW talent (or, in some alternate universe somewhere, an invasion of WCW by WWF talent).

Even if that storyline had been expertly handled and booked with no expense spared it was never going to stretch much beyond the early months of 2002. That it was so badly presented only helped to drive less enthusiastic viewers away sooner than would otherwise have been the case. By March 2002, a year after the closure of WCW, the WWF was the only game in town and it was not providing storylines anywhere near as compelling as it had two years before.

Setting up a wrestling company just a year after a hot streak had finished and while the market leader (which dictates how wrestling is perceived in general) was being particularly uninspiring was not the greatest move. But it’s the one the Jarretts made. And in fairness although it was ill-fated it did make sense. They couldn’t sit around waiting for the WWF (soon to become WWE) to get hot again. If they wanted to start a promotion they needed to do it then because there were still significant names floating around from the boom period that had only just ended, plus newcomers wanting a break that McMahon Corp weren’t going to provide.

This time it appears that Jarrett’s timing is better. While I’m not as confident as he is that wrestling’s about to explode into mainstream pop culture again, it is at least a positive sign that WWE’s doing better than when he started TNA. It creates an environment in which wrestling is taken as more acceptable. There’s also the fact that the viewing habits of fans have changed over the years. The internet has made it easier to watch wrestling from all over the world, and old footage too. People’s tastes have become more sophisticated and they understand the business better (whether the people in the business want to admit that or not). It’s easier to present a product that’s less storyline driven and more about athletic ability than it would have been ten years ago because fans at large have become more accepting of the variety of styles that make up professional wrestling.

And it seems as though that’s the approach ‘Double J’ is planning to take. We’ve heard that he’s “created a database” (a pretentious way of saying he’s got a list of names and numbers) with over five hundred entries on it. Obviously you’re not going to have five hundred main event calibre performers on any list. But equally you’re going to have a list that long and have no main event calibre names. Looking beyond the specifics of who Jarrett has and hasn’t signed we can say confidently that he will have some worthwhile talent available to him.

He’s also linked himself to a production company in California. That’s a good move in itself for the obvious reason that he’ll need to produce some sort of show to air and sell. Going with a company in California is a particularly good move. That’s the US’s entertainment mecca, making hobnobbing with other companies that could cross promote far easier than it would be if they were based in, oh, I don’t know, Baltimore, Maryland (cough, ROH, cough!). It also means that they’ll be promoting in an area that has all the technical equipment and venues (of all sizes) they could need. It also sets them up nicely to promote shows at next year’s WrestleMania weekend without going outside of what will I imagine will still be their comfort zone, although that’s more a happy coincidence than planning.

At first glance the idea of Global Force Wrestling has a lot of potential. That Jarrett appears to have worked out deals with talent from around the globe (presumably the name is intended as a literal reflection of his promotion’s scope as opposed to being an all too common bit of hollow wrestling wording) will allow him to present a variety of styles that will provide something for everyone watching. Theoretically it will help viewers discover new styles they enjoy too. As WWE only promotes the sports entertainment style (although in fairness it should be pointed out that this is far more flexible than many make out and does change with the times), DG USA and ROH don’t venture much outside their own comfort zones, and TNA are a complete shambles with no definitive style to speak of, that gives him something unique to offer anyone watching.

I think it’s safe to assume he’ll get some working arrangements sorted out with other promotions too. Jarrett was the man credited with getting TNA deals with AAA and Wrestle-1. As soon as whatever contracts are in place with TNA expire it’s entirely possible Jarrett will be able to swoop in and negotiate something for GFW in their place. In fact TNA itself is on shaky legs: should they go under Jarrett would have access to a wide selection of reasonably well-known names to feature on his shows.

Not everything about GFW inspires confidence. While Jarrett has been involved in wrestling for his entire adult life he’s not exactly got a string of successes to his name. I’ve already mentioned TNA, which is the closest thing we’ve got to a track record for Jarrett as an owner-operator-booker, is not in a good way. While the absence of former WWE, WCW and TNA stars will be a blessing for the most part it also means Jarrett will have to work that bit harder to get people interested. Modern fans may see quality wrestling as a reason to watch in and of itself but a significant name doesn’t hurt. And it may sound like nitpicking but the name Global Force Wrestling doesn’t roll off the tongue no matter how well it may reflect Jarrett’s international desires.

But the biggest problem I can see is that there’s not a particularly compelling advertising campaign attached to the group. Look back and see how it started: pictures of Karen Jarrett and the question of whether you missed her. She, at first glance, was the star of the group. While that no longer appears to be the case it’s still strange that they went with her in the first place. Yes, she’s an attractive woman who’d been an on-screen presence in TNA but if you’re trying to build interest in a wrestling company wouldn’t it be a good idea to start out by announcing you’ve got a significant wrestler on board? Perhaps the trouble there is that they didn’t and don’t have such a name interested and Karen Jarrett was their second best option (in such a scenario Jeff would be the top choice, although he doesn’t look as good lying around a beach) for presenting a big name from the business that could draw people in.

Social media (Twitter, basically) is likely to play an important part of GFW. If Jarrett’s going to be using a fraction of his purportedly five hundred strong roster (database, call it what you will) my assumption is that he’s going to be looking at social media response just as much, if not more than, the reactions of live crowds. So far I’ve seen nothing that makes me think he has anybody particularly ‘net savvy working for him in this department. The entire campaign has been based around posting pictures of the Jarrett and sometimes Karen posing with various wrestlers, everyone from Carlito to Jay Lethal to Gregory Helms to Bad Influence. Nobody interesting that they’ve shown pictures of (Nash and Bret Hart are about the only proven draws) is going to sign a contract, and the Lethals and Bad Influences of the world, as good as they may be, are not the stuff from which a dynamic new wrestling product can be fashioned.

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