If internet reports are to be believed, over the past few weeks TNA's stock with hardcore wrestling fans appears to have dramatically increased. Let us recap for the uninitiated.
First, the company scored big with their Slammiversary XII Pay-Per-View (Free to UK viewers on Challenge TV). Canny booking, saw the Texan legends 'The Von Erichs' booked for their hometown show, together with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. This ensured the crowd was full and hot. The unexpected absence of MVP from the main event, gave the company some creative breathing room and the resultant 3-way title match between Eric Young, Bobby Lashley and Austin Aries was widely praised. The undercard was also considered to have been well executed. Finally, Kurt Angle returned to announce that Team 3D would be the next inductees into the Hall of Fame. This again was smart booking from TNA, reuniting a legendary team, bringing Devon back into the fold - albeit temporarily we think - and drawing crowds to their forthcoming New York tapings.
Second, we saw a title change from 'Showtime' Eric Young to Bobby Lashley. Some will no doubt criticise this move. Young had yet to firmly establish himself and was working a good angle as the 'fighting champion' but in a market where their main opponents are building long title reigns, there is something to be said for TNA allowing a degree of unpredictability and excitement around their major prize.
Next, we saw art imitating life, when Tommy Dreamer appeared on TNA TV to confront Dixie Carter. The backstory involved Carter pulling Bully Ray from Dreamer's House of Hardcore live show in order that he could attend a Spike TV (TNA's US broadcast partner) awards event. This crossover for readers of the 'dirt sheets' really draws them in and is what, we believe, can get die-hard fans to part with their money.
Then, TNA announced that alumni Low Ki, Rhino, Homicide, Brian Cage and Tommy Dreamer would all be appearing at the NYC tapings alongside Matt Hardy whom will be teaming with his brother Jeff to recreate one of the greatest tag-teams of all time.
Throughout this period, TNA has been engaging fans (see their UK Facebook page) in a contentious debate about the future of the ring-shape they should use. The six-sided ring that made them famous is set to return, although EC3 and Austin Aries have both voiced concerns on Twitter.
Taken together, these five simple steps have got people talking about TNA in large numbers. As part of our contribution to that conversation, here are our five thoughts for TNA's future:
1. Book Clever
TNA has for some time been good at utilising a flexible talent base. Wrestlers have come and gone without necessarily having a permanent contract (for example, as part of their 'Gut Check Challenge').. Whilst we would never advocate that any company should use this as an excuse to abuse talents (by way of a zero-hours contract type arrangement), using clever booking can create opportunities and deliver for fans.
Thus organising for Devon, Tommy Dreamer and other New York area stars to appear at their next set of tapings is wise, in the same way that it was smart to get the Von Erichs to appear in Texas. In the same vein, British fans will never likely be disappointed to see Doug Williams competing. Whilst this takes planning and forethought, getting it right can enable TNA to draw money whilst continually building their own talents. So long as the locker room can see the long-term benefit in this arrangement, it will likely serve TNA well.
2. Change It Up
As we outlined above, TNA's determination to keep fans guessing about the fate of their major prize is important. That is not to say that it should change on every edition of IMPACT! But it serves both as interesting TV for fans and as a way to inspire optimism amongst TNA's younger talents. It would however be beneficial for TNA to bring their TV championship back into play so that there is more gold to go round that younger talent pool.
3. Beware the Hexagon
Re-Introducing the six-sided ring is an interesting move. It marks a step change from the past few years and obviously sets TNA apart from other companies. However, if it is really unpopular with TNA talents - as Aries and EC3's tweets indicated - then TNA should be careful. Whilst we urged clever manipulation of the talent roster above, losing new stars like EC3 and a solid, top-level talent like Aries would be a big blow. Our suggestion would be to bring the Hexagon back for either specific periods in the year or more obviously, for a single pay-per-view event per annum.
4. Continue to Innovate
The six-sided ring debate was important because it adhered to a golden public relations rule around two-way communications. Fan surveys and polls are important but with a discussion like this, fans felt empowered to make a significant change to what they were watching. It would be great if TNA could continue to innovate around this theme. For example, might it be possible to create a pay-per-view in which every match and its accompanying stipulation was decided by a fan discussion and vote. Continuing to engage fans regularly in crucial decisions is an obvious thing to do and it works.
5. Maintain the X-Factor
Finally, we would urge TNA to continue to promote and allow time for X-Division matches. Those going to TNA's January event in London will get to see an Ultimate-X match for the first time. This high-flying, cruiserweight action is ever so interesting and enjoyable to watch. TNA gave the X-Division significant TV time in its early days. We believe that continuing to build on that early trend will ensure TNA is delivering an exciting TV product into the future.
Many of the wrestlers we have interviewed have told us that having competition in the wrestling industry is critically important because it is good for the business as a whole and allows many wrestling talents to feed their families. From our perspective, as fans and consumers, having choice is what we desire. We hope that TNA continues to build on this recent uplift to the benefit of fans and wrestlers alike. in adopting our recommendations, we believe they will continue to deliver the choice that we want and need.