Time For a Change, Dixie? You Betcha, and It Starts With Image

Ivan BlancoCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

Ah, Dixie, I didn’t see you standing out there. Come in, come in.


Please, have a seat; we have a lot to go over. Now, I more than anyone am thrilled to see that you’ve taken the initiative and gone the purported “extra mile” in trying to get TNA a foothold into the North American wrestling scene. Market share is a tough broad to woo, and oftentimes you find that she’s put you over the barrel and into the red – and in this market, anyone not named “Vince” will be taking it hard.


Oh, I’m sorry. Did that come off too harsh? I could hear you shifting in your seat from here. The leather on those chairs says quite a bit, you know.


We’ll go the more…cordial way then, if you prefer. What you and your staff managed to pull off on Monday did more for this company’s image than all the work of the previous 8 years combined.


And therein lays our problem.


Image is important in this industry, Dixie: Probably more so than with any other form of entertainment in America. It took Eric Bischoff years to build an image for WCW, and just a single year of bad execution to blow it all away. Vince came within weeks of going under in ’97 when he banked on Austin to save them.


Yes, Dixie, image isn’t something I need to school you about. You’re a businesswoman, after all, and the corporate world isn’t much different from the wrestling one. We’re dealing with a much different audience, sure, but image is what drives sales, and image is what destroys companies. You have Bischoff and Russo under contract now. Ask them all about it.


I can see it in your eyes that this isn’t what you wanted to hear. I can’t blame you. You’ve worked tirelessly to bring this company out of the cellar. The Jarrett’s can’t be too happy with what you’ve done with their baby, but the market was ready for a big-time competition, and you helped bring it there.


I saw that same look on your face Monday night when Eric Bischoff prattled on about becoming a giant in the “sports entertainment” world.


I had a professor back in business school that once told me, “If you want to back up a point, turn to numbers.” So that’s what I’ve asked my crack staff to do.


Where to begin?


In the months leading up to Monday night, the talk had been that wrestling, not entertainment, was going to dominate the new TNA landscape. This made sense, after all, since the company is widely considered to have the best collection of talent on the planet. Polls and feedback from fans concurred. Finally, they said, the wrestling community was going to get all the wrestling they could handle.


On Monday’s 3-hour iMPACT, wrestling accounted for 46 minutes of airtime, split between 7 matches. Twenty-two minutes of that time went to the main event. Five of the remaining six matches went under 5 minutes. The remaining match went for nine and a half.


Brand association is huge, Dixie, as I’m sure you’re well aware of. No matter how many WWE wrestlers you sign, they’ll never be seen as more than “old WWE wrestlers.” Again, ask Bischoff all about it.


That said, Samoa Joe, Abyss, Daniels, the Motor City Machineguns, and Beer Money are the closest this company has to real brand recognition outside of AJ Styles. On Monday, all of these men combined for a grand total of 10 minutes of airtime. One of them was interrupted during an interview in order to announce Hulk Hogan’s arrival. Another guy was taken out by Hogan’s n.W.o faction – of which 2/3 did not wrestle in this company prior to Monday night.


By comparison, the Nasty Boys (who also did not wrestle in this company until Monday night) had 3 segments dedicated entirely to them.


TNA had prided itself on a youth movement, and Hogan had promised to continue it. On Monday, Sean Morley had more television time than Christopher Daniels.


The n.Wo. faction of Hall, Waltman, and Nash were involved in 6 segments – if you counts the segments where original TNA talent lay on the ground selling injuries while Bubba the Love Sponge did his worst Gordon Solie impression.


Of the four matches hyped for the show, two did not take place.

Of all of Hogan’s “surprise guests” on Monday night, only two – Jeff Hardy and Sean Waltman – are under 40. Only one of those men has a track record of success in the last decade. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one.


After all the hype, iMPACT drew a 1.7 rating, compared to the Ghost of Screwjobs Past’s 3.4. Not a bad showing, but word from Orlando (the city, not Jordan) is that the iMPACT Zone was half-empty for Tuesday's tapings. Not the kind of turnout we expected just 24 hours removed.


I see it in your eyes now. It’s the same look you had on Monday night, when your Rocky-inspired “fight-for-the-little-guy” dream began to look more and more like Rocky V. It was during that Hogan interview that I could see the mistake in your eyes, and the uneasiness begin to set in -- a sense of doubt. Maybe even a sense of fear.


Coincidentally, that was the show’s highest rated segment, meaning that everyone else saw it too. Wrestling has always been about selling body language, Dixie, and yours then and now read like King Lear.


I can see why you did it. Hogan is a proven commodity. Monday’s ratings spike for his arrival proves that. But how long-term are those spikes? And how trusting are you to men like Bischoff, Hogan, and Russo?


Image takes time to build, Dixie. You of all people know that. Last Monday, the scriptwriters condensed 8 years of the X-Division into one 4-minute mess. The Knockouts Division was relegated to second-tier sight gags. The Nasty Boys, however, were given free reign with locker rooms and donuts.


Remember the old catchphrases? This is Wrestling? The New Face of Professional Wrestling? I am TNA? Imagine how confused the new fanbase was, then, in watching a main event classic cut away to watch a group of men who haven’t drawn since ‘98 beating down a man who was WWF Champion 11 years ago.


There are many ways to take this image, Dixie. You could tap into the hardcore fanbase that built ECW. You could appeal to the burgeoning wrestling fans from ROH.


Or you could become WCW 2000. Either way, remember who ran things then.


Body language, Dixie. People can read it a mile away. Hogan and Bischoff looked like the Kings of Fecal Hill. You looked worried.


The choice is yours. Thanks for your time. My secretary will show you out.