If you haven’t seen it by now, I suggest you take a look at the latest news regarding iMPACT!’s retreat to Thursday nights on Spike TV. This is certainly an interesting development in the Monday Night War since it effectively ends the war before it really had a chance to get started. So now that WWE’s Monday Night RAW has won the Monday Night Wars II, what lessons have we learned from this short battle?
Don’t Jump the Gun
While I don’t think that a move to Monday nights was an inherently bad move for TNA, the ratings results show that the move was made too quickly. Let’s remember that before moving to Monday nights, iMPACT! was struggling to find its personality in a new world that included Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Ric Flair, Orlando Jordan, Bubba the Love Sponge (up until last weekend), Ken Anderson, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, Sean Morley The Nasty Boys, Rob Van Dam, Brian Kendrick, Jeff Hardy, Shannon Moore, and so many other new faces and ideas. Instead of figuring out what a new TNA and a new iMPACT! looked and felt like, TNA and Spike TV made the move to Monday nights. That was a bad business move and calls into question the real-world business sense of the people behind this decision.
In addition to jumping the gun by making the move to Monday nights, TNA also jumped the gun with respect to direct competition with WWE’s Monday Night RAW. Any casual wrestling fans that watched RAW would definitely choose to follow RAW over an episode of iMPACT! when they were competing head-to-head during the 9:00pm – 11:00pm EST time slot (more on that below). iMPACT! should have started at the 8:00pm EST time slot from the very beginning of its move to Monday nights – moving directly to the 9:00pm EST time slot was a bad move and one that should be questioned internally.
If You Want to Play with the Big Boys, Then Act Like It
To continue on the point in the previous paragraph, I can’t imagine a casual wrestling fan wanting to flip the channels between Spike TV and the USA Network when one wrestling program is taped in a sound studio with about 1,000 fairweather fans in Universal Studios and the other is live in a 15,000 seat arena at a different location each week. The point is that if you want to compete with the big boys, then you need to act like you want to compete. Before TNA made the move to Monday nights, they should have decided to tour with iMPACT! on a weekly basis.
That doesn’t mean that they needed to put on a production the size and scope of RAW each week. Not at all, actually. Instead, TNA could have been successful touring iMPACT! regionally in the southeast portion of the United States. TNA would not have to consider doing live broadcasts from London, England or Sacramento, California or even in my home state of New Jersey (though we’d welcome some TNA up this way if anyone is listening). Nor did TNA have to consider putting 15,000 to 20,000 fans in an arena each week to make the television production look “big time.” Nope. Instead, TNA could have toured from the Carolinas down to Florida and booked 5,000 – 7,000 seat arenas for iMPACT!
One of the barriers that iMPACT! absolutely must overcome before it becomes a “big boy” show is the small-time feel of the iMPACT! Zone. And, as opposed to what iMPACT! Zone faithful may suggest about its intimate feel, the feeling that comes across to most casual wrestling fans when they watch iMPACT! is a low rent show with a small-time atmosphere. Think high school gymnasium…
The Core Fan Base is Different in TNA Than WWE
It’s pretty apparent that the folks in charge at TNA thought that their core fan base was pretty similar to the WWE fan base. TNA’s loss in the Monday Night War proves this assumption wrong. For better or for worse, this is not the late 1990’s and WWE is not sharing the same fan base with WCW; they’re just not. This is a new wrestling landscape where TNA has been in such a distant second place since it was founded in 2002 that to say it is the second largest wrestling organization in the United States is somewhat of an insult to the patchwork of promotions that comprise the modern NWA. The fact is that WWE has a monopoly on sports entertainment and their fans are not the same fans that watch iMPACT!
Let me further clarify my last statement. Do some WWE fans watch iMPACT!? Of course. Was there flipping between channels on Monday nights when both shows were airing head-to-head? Of course. However, you can’t compare the back and forth flipping of a few thousand people (possibly even a few hundred thousand people) to the back and forth flipping during the first Monday Night War which involved millions of fans going back and forth between WWE and WCW. The truth is that the portion of WWE fans that flipped over to iMPACT! was so small that it barely made an impact (pardon the pun) in the weekly ratings.
On the other hand, the portion of TNA fans that flipped over to RAW was so large that it devastated the show during those weeks when it was a taped show going against a live RAW.
WWE Fans Like Characters, Not “WWE”
Following on the previous point, I think that one of the biggest outcomes from the direct head-to-head competition is that WWE fans aren’t simply wrestling fans, they are fans of the characters portrayed on WWE programming. For example, I doubt some young John Cena fan knows (or would even care) about the latest Monday Night War. Nor would that fan care about flipping over to iMPACT! to see what TNA’s product looks like. Why would this fan not care about switching the channel? Simple – he’s not a “WWE” fan, he’s a John Cena fan.
In other words, while TNA has been trying to build its brand, WWE has been building its trademarked characters. Fans tune in to Monday Night RAW to watch their favorite characters who happen to appear on WWE programming; they don’t tune in to watch WWE programming and its various characters. This is a big distinction between iMPACT! and Monday Night RAW. One show (iMPACT!) markets a brand called TNA. The other show (RAW) markets specific characters that appear from 9:00pm to 11:00pm EST on Monday nights on the USA Network.
TNA lost this war because it didn’t have any new, exciting characters to market for Monday nights.
Stick With What Works
Now let me ruffle some feathers.
First, I like Bubba the Love Sponge – the guy is entertaining as could be and he was one of the best natural heel talkers that TNA had in its arsenal. Second, I love Awesome Kong and her ability to absolutely beat the hell out of everyone in the Knockouts division. Third, the Knockouts division has consistently produced the highest rated segments on iMPACT! Fourth, The Nasty Boys vs. Team 3D feud was almost complete before The Nasty Boys were put on an indefinite hiatus. Fifth, Orlando Jordan is creepy. And sixth, Christopher Daniels and the X-Division is one of the most exciting parts of TNA’s entire product.
Why weren’t these items exploited more during the Monday Night War? For example, leading up to Lockdown, why wasn’t Bubba sent out to deliver an anti-fan, anti-Hogan promo before getting the hell beat out of him by Team Hogan? The fans would have blown the roof off of the iMPACT! Zone if they watched Bubba get destroyed in the ring.
And once Awesome Kong attacked Bubba backstage, why wasn’t she reprimanded, fined, suspended, and then brought back in as the centerpiece of the Knockouts division? Further, why were the Knockouts relegated to a second-rate place on most of the Monday night shows? And why are Knockouts being allowed to leave the company left and right when they are the highest rated segment in each show?! Business sense anyone?
And while most of the smarks on the internet hated The Nasty Boys in TNA, the truth is that Team 3D is a gigantic bore which is why they’ve never ever been in one of iMPACT!’s highest rated quarter hour segments. At least with The Nasty Boys bringing some name recognition to the tag team division, they could have been defeated by Team 3D and then sent out to pasture. But simply ending the feud without any resolution is bad storytelling and something that should be kept up at Titan Towers.
Wrapping It Up
TNA is going to have a strong showing on Thursday nights, just like it was beginning to do before the move to Monday nights. However, until the items above are addressed on a business level, I don’t know how much higher than the standard 1.5 rating they’ll score on Thursday nights. Plus, with shows sometimes taped two and three weeks in advance and no more live shows, I’m not sure what the smark/internet fan interest will be in Thursday Night iMPACT!
For this TNA fan, though, I’m looking forward to iMPACT! going back to Thursday nights – where it should have been all along.
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