There are a multitude of factors for Spike's decision not to renew. The one that acted as the metaphorical final straw was, apparently, Vince Russo. Spike TV have a long-standing grudge against Russo dating back to his previous stints being involvement with TNA. His failure to produce the levels of success he promises is the cause of this. Spike discovered Russo had been involved in the booking of TNA since some time earlier this year or late last year and made the decision to cut ties.
|Maybe she'll be the last champ?
Which is understandable. They'd made it clear to TNA top boss Dixie Carter that they were not willing to help fund a promotion that was taking creative input from Russo. Instead of doing the intelligent thing and simply not using Russo, Dixie seemingly defied Spike and discreetly hired him, thinking she could keep it quiet (Spike discovered he was working for TNA when Russo accidentally sent an email to a Spike employee (note that there are already conspiracy theories that say Russo’s actions were deliberate)). Spike TV were not technically in charge of TNA but they had been funding the league for quite some time, making Dixie’s decision a dumb one. By hiring Russo, Dixie practically guaranteed the contract with Spike would not be renewed.
There are other reasons Spike would have been less than keen to continue its relationship with TNA. Their inability to keep hold of AJ Styles and Sting, the latter of whom Spike helped to cover the costs of because they felt he was a significant name worth having around, really wouldn't have helped. The viewing figures, which generally lay somewhere around the million mark, would have been a disappointment too. In and of itself that rating was fine and it had seen small improvements over the last few months, but TNA had been in its Thursday slot for years (ill-conceived and brief 2010 switch to Mondays aside) and should have been able to increase their average number by now.
The company's general lack of direction and overall image were likely big problems too. TNA had been drifting for years, aimlessly stumbling from one vague concept (usually focusing themselves around a new signing) to the next. There was no long term goal or focus, no image that helped to differentiate it from WWE or Ring of Honor. It fact, it felt as though TNA were happy to simply be a number two promotion that aped the approach of the number one promotion. Being an alternative to the market leader with an approach that was clearly their own would not have guaranteed greater ratings, or anything else for that matter, but it would have made TNA a more attractive prospect for Spike (and indeed for other prospective TV partners). Why be happy as number two in sports entertainment when you can be number one with your own approach?
It looks grim for the Total Nonstop crew. Without a television presence the company’s as good as dead. Their list of options are to find a new channel that's interested in airing Impact, getting some impressive and lucrative sponsorship sorted out and streaming shows online (or perhaps returning to the weekly pay-per-view model they first used in 2002) or relocating to Britain and mining their popularity on Challenge for all it's worth, while still desperately trying to find a new US network. The relocation seems massively unlikely. Spike would have probably covered costs of primarily taping in the UK (read about that here) had the partnership continued but TNA can't handle a full scale redeployment itself. It's simply not practical, and Challenge is unlikely to be interested in helping with the finances. Technically I suppose it could as it's run by Sky (Britain's biggest cable provider for non-Brit readers) but it's just not how things work over here. And even if it were I don't think TNA is that valuable to Challenge. It may be their highest rated show but the numbers aren't astronomical.
I don't know enough about the setup of US TV stations to rattle off a list of prospective new homes for Impact. I'm sure there are some and I'm sure one or two could even end up being better for TNA than Spike was. I can't imagine why any network that doesn't already have a vested interest would want to affiliate itself with the promotion. But I’m not in TV and I’m looking at the situation from the perspective of TNA having been completely missable for practically its entire existence. A show that stands a good chance of attracting a million viewers each, and has the potential to expand and attract more, is probably quite desirable to many TV people.
Streaming online is probably not going to happen, but it’s not impossible. TNA parent company Panda Energy has been willing to throw dosh Dixie's way in the past. Setting up a streaming service feels like the sort of thing all involved would convince themselves would work. I could see TNA going with streaming until the money stops coming, which likely wouldn't be for three or four months at least. Who knows, maybe streaming could work out well for them. I doubt it though. Weekly PPVs are even less likely. That wasn't a sustainable approach for the company ten years ago, so it certainly won't be now.
It’s possible Spike will buy TNA themselves. They know they’ll get a certain rating from it and could theoretically expand the live event schedule and sort out the woeful merchandise situation to get some money rolling in. They’d need an entirely new management team but considering the way TNA’s been run into the ground by the Carters I think that’s something Spike would be keen on anyway. If the view in that company is that TNA is a decent investment that could be turned around (and I think that with the right approach it could be) then a Spike purchase is just about plausible.
I fear the worst for TNA finding a new TV home and surviving this debacle. The TNA-Spike deal lasts until October. It's unknown when the last episode of Impact will air on the channel but October would seem a sensible assumption. If something new can't be sorted out then there's a strong chance Bound For Glory could be the promotion's last hurrah.
This won't be the last time I write about TNA in the next few months. As much as I find their product totally unengaging I'd like them to survive because it creates jobs for wrestlers and wrestling people and the possibility’s there to turn things around. But right now that happening looks highly unlikely.