TNA definitely needs to establish its own brand identity that will distinguish it from WWE, the overwhelming and undisputed market leader. That is easier said than done, however. Almost everything in pro wrestling has been done. But that in my mind is exactly the point that TNA needs to take on board.
I don't know what goes on backstage in TNA. Nobody really does. There may be rumours and speculation, but only an idiot would rely on third hand information. What we do know is that Vince Russo is employed by TNA and does have some degree of influence over TNA's creative end. This is the same Vince Russo who by consensus, helped bring in the WWF Attitude era that resulted in record buy rates, TV ratings and worldwide recognition that the industry could only dream of now. When he had Vince mcMahon as a filter, he helped achieve all of these things. When he was let loose in WCW, the success wasn't there but that was far from just his fault.
The point is, TNA needs to look at how Vince McMahon truly made his millions. His safe, babyish, outdated wrestling product nearly went out of business by the mid-1990's as WCW tore into the McMahon Empire with a mix of the groundbreaking nWo, established names like Flair and Savage, new lucha libre stars and up and comers like Chris Benoit, Booker T and Chris Jericho. Success by McMahon was achieved by radically shaking up the product and going for a more mature audience with an infinitely more gritty, realistic and audacious product.
That has now been abandoned by McMahon, as wife Linda sought a political career. WWE is now targeting a PG audience. Logic would say that this creates a massive gap in the market for a product that fills the aura of craziness, excitement and violence to an extent that the WWE created back then. TNA needs to go there.
I'm not talking about wacky for the sake of it, i.e. Orlando Jordan with whipped cream. But a product that takes a defiant stride towards attracting young adult men between 18 and 30, rather than trying to please everyone.
The audience is there. It's been proven in the past. Society has moved on though, where the wrestling business has not. TNA needs to become more Total Nonstop Attitude with a swagger, with blood, with unpredictability and adult themes that young men pumped with testosterone want to watch every week.
UFC's swagger has shown how to break out as it has innovated with programming that has refused to play it safe, instead branching out year on year. The MMA industry as a whole comes across as young, eager and hungry while pro wrestling seems happy to sit on its perch and continuing to repeat and redo.
The trouble is, TNA's roster tries to reach out to everyone and in the end hits no one in particular. Logically having Hogan and the ECW Invasion guys in the same promotion at the same time was going to get messy (and expensive). The likes of Bischoff, Hogan and Sting do a create a hook and give credibility, but they need to be advanced as characters. WCW demonstrated when main stars are allowed to stagnate, the result is a product that bombs. Evolution in the business is a matter of survival, not just success.
In the long term, TNA needs to focus on developing its brand through homegrown stars who represent the product well. TNA should be about gritty, no frills wrestling coupled with over the top surprises and storylines that push the boundaries. Having The Undertaker as a satanic character, Steve Austin as a beer swilling, ass kicking swearing machine and Mankind as a manic depressive who mutilated his body were all examples of taking a gamble, pushing the boundaries and reaping the rewards.
TNA needs to take advantage of the WWE's biggest current weakness not by seeking to emulate them, but by exploiting the PG rating the WWE now posseses to attract a more switched on, adult audience. Vince Russo may have some very bad ideas but I'm willing to bet that if Dixie Carter pushed him for one big one that was intended to push the boundaries and inject some new style attitude into the TNA project, one of his 50 different ideas could be all it would take for TNA to take the path towards true progression and brand identity.
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