This column is not about coronavirus specifically, but more the overall effect that it is having on pro wrestling and Impact Wrestling in particular.
I don’t like to jump to conclusions. I rarely ever have and it’s just not my style. I’m fairly patient for the most part and I like to watch how things develop over time before I make assumptions. You end up looking like less of an ass that way, because I don’t really bother with much “breaking news” and other clickbait type of stories. There was a time where I cared somewhat about that stuff and yes, I do provide spoiler results occasionally when I go to a show in person. Other than that, I prefer to write about stuff that I’ve given some real thought to and have analyzed thoroughly. I say all of that in preface to the remainder of this column because I have to briefly delve into some serious information because unfortunately these are anxious and stressful times.
These are also unprecedented times in the world, the likes of which we haven’t seen in over 100 years when it comes to a novel virus. I have a background in public health so it’s impossible for me to ignore the seriousness of the situation. I will only give facts when it comes to this pandemic and again, I don’t want the focus to be on the virus itself. While I definitely realize and recognize that death and economic hardship and unemployment and all of those related bad things are happening in the world, I will not be diving into all of that here. I do want to talk about how the playing field has been somewhat leveled lately regarding Impact Wrestling, AEW and the WWE. We’ve discussed these issues in relation to the pro wrestling business on our Spark the Discussion podcast recently.
I know that we will not all agree, especially if some hardcore AEW and WWE fans actually get a hold of this piece. I’m well aware that this is all coming from an Impact Wrestling fans point of view (although I was a wrestling fan for 15 years before Impact existed) but the facts are out there and the data has been available for multiple weeks now. Not to be negative, but the events of the last three months have been harsh and somewhat devastating to most businesses of a sports and/or entertainment nature. Now, a lot of things like Netflix and other streaming services have actually benefited but pro wrestling (for the majority of companies) has taken a serious hit. Financially, these are tough times and the TV viewership and ratings for wrestling have been going downhill… scarily so.
When things are stripped down to the bare bones, you can see the real product without all the other fluff. The shit really hit the fan back in March with all of the craziness of a global pandemic. It was initially unclear how much it might damage pro wrestling as a whole. A clear sign was the WWE holding Wrestlemania in its Performance Center. It was a somber indication of things to come because they obviously have the most money and power in the industry. So even they have been forced to have no live spectators and to run their shows in small venues for many, many weeks now. Like them or not, they are the standard-bearer of the business and even the WWE has been mandated to survive by any means necessary and that is eye-opening.
Almost all major pro sports completely stopped for a long time. There are the beginnings of positive signs regarding things coming back. Although it will be in a much different form, sports like NASCAR and pro golf are dipping their toe in, but it’s still without fans in attendance and a whole series of restrictions and significant changes in place. In fact, most sports now have a solid plan to restart fairly soon but executing those plans and playing out the remainder of their seasons will still prove to be a difficult challenge.
In the shuffle of all of that, the XFL folded again after not even being able to complete its first season back in its latest incarnation. That is another signal that the WWE has taken a major hit. In fact, the WWE and AEW both seem to be hemorrhaging money. I’m not going to get into specific numbers with dollar amounts and so forth but it’s all out there if you care to Google it. The large number of roster cuts that the WWE has announced in recent weeks has been alarming also. No doubt, they are in downsizing mode and they will keep trimming the fat for as long as it takes to survive. As much as I don’t like or respect Vince McMahon, he will never let the WWE fold as long as he has a say in how things operate. That being said, there are reasons for concern when you consider all of the financial loss and general lack of enthusiasm for pro wrestling/sports entertainment. Also, their viewership has mostly dropped across the board for WWE programming.
All Elite Wrestling has also been forced to survive with no fans in attendance. That new normal has really exposed their product to a certain extent. In my opinion, AEW has suffered the most of the three (WWE & Impact included) during this pandemic because the in-venue crowd was such a big part of their identity. You can’t tell me that the lack of those lively, chanting fans on-screen hasn’t hurt them. I wish no ill will on AEW but with such a short history as a company and the financial commitment that they’ve made without some immediate return, their future is somewhat uncertain. Yes, they have a TNT contract but does that really mean that the contract will be fulfilled no matter what happens between now and the end of said contract? I’m not totally convinced on that and I honestly don’t think anyone should be.
The momentum that they had gained prior to March has now been mostly stripped away. Again, not having live fans has hurt them the most as their viewership numbers have had a fairly steady decline over time. That AEW buzz that existed before has basically evaporated. The in-arena crowd made up a gigantic slice of the pie when it came to the initial success of AEW. When they lost that, the show became very average and for me, nearly unwatchable. If Jake the Snake Roberts hadn’t shown up, I would not have watched ANY of Dynamite in the last three months. I respect Jake so much and he’s still that good on the mic and with vignettes and backstage stuff that I have checked out all of his AEW work so far. Legends like that have value if used properly.
Double or Nothing really had little to no excitement attached to it prior to May 23rd. The Mike Tyson appearance seems desperate to say the least. Not being able to hold the event in front of a sold-out arena at the MGM in Las Vegas just takes away so much of the aura of it all. A debuting Brian Cage with Taz as his manager does intrigue me a bit so I may give at least his involvement some attention if it’s done well since he won the Casino Ladder Match. Although, I thought when AEW initially debuted on TNT that the Lucha Brothers and Santana & Ortiz would also get me interested in the show and they didn’t really. Cody winning that new TNT belt doesn’t really move the meter either. The reviews for the PPV are pretty mixed with some hating it and others liking it.
In a time of great uncertainty and suffering on multiple levels, these last few months have turned into an unexpected opportunity for Impact Wrestling to regain some interest and earn back some fans that maybe gave up on the product at some point. I’m not delusional enough to think that it has created some massive shift, but any growth for Impact in the midst of such a crazy atmosphere would be remarkable. Again, the WWE and AEW have no fans in the venues either for their shows so that aspect for now (and the immediate future) has become moot. Impact Wrestling has been fortunate enough to tape several episodes at their Nashville Skyway Studios location (and it sounds like they will do, or already have done, another set soon). Having no fans in the stands is not ideal, but Impact has turned lemons into lemonade.
No media member has access to the viewership and ratings information for Impact Wrestling on AXS TV and I doubt that we will anytime soon (despite rumors and hints of that happening). However, we do have a general idea based off of improvements with Twitter trends, online engagement and Twitch numbers which are all up in recent weeks. The Twitter trends have been in the Top 15 (and mostly Top 10) for multiple weeks in a row now. Previous to that, Impact was rarely cracking into any type of Twitter trend during the weekly show on Tuesdays. Their views on social media with Instagram, YouTube and other formats has been steady and consistent. While the live Twitch numbers are not monstrous by any stretch of the imagination, they are up from normal and there is a loyal fan base (including myself) that watches the show that way. My guess is that Impact has actually maintained and probably slightly increased their audience during these recents months which would make them an anomaly in that regard.
Long story short is that Impact has found creative ways to stay relevant. Their Knockouts Division is the best women’s division out of any North American based wrestling promotion, including WWE and AEW. I will debate anyone on that as it has become basically indisputable at this point. It’s truly amazing how deep and great the female Impact roster is. The lack of Tessa Blanchard and Jordynne Grace has been a bit glaring but I’m guessing that there are legit reasons for all of that besides the ones we know of.
Even when some of the wrestlers could not make it to the Nashville tapings because of border and travel restrictions, the creative team found ways to feature most of them, either on social media or on the main Impact show. The best example is how the North produced their hilarious content. I have a hunch that more wrestlers will be able to attend this second set of Skyway Studios tapings but nothing has been confirmed as of the time of this column being posted.
So the million dollar question is, “Will Impact keep taping shows at Skyway Studios in Nashville indefinitely?”. In my opinion, they should keep producing spoiler-free content there until at least sometime this summer when conditions will hopefully be much improved. If the recent “taping six more episodes” tidbit from Tommy Dreamer is true (and it proved to be true last time) then Impact will soon have shows in the can that will take them up to sometime in July. Doing things this way in a controlled bubble-like environment is a safe and cautious way to keep churning out quality content. It has been effective so far so why shoot yourself in the foot unnecessarily?
This strategy may not always be as successful as it has been recently but choosing safety and health of your roster and employees should be the number one priority. Depending on how things shake out, it’s possible that there won’t be live fans for any pro wrestling events for the remainder of 2020. That is a regrettable yet real scenario. I am a bit concerned when it comes to the long-term plan on how to keep presenting the fanless product but until everyone else in North American sports and entertainment start shifting towards making that big change, why would you attempt to stick your head on the chopping block first?
Fans will naturally come back when it’s the right time. Impact management has to be smart and calculated with this and I am sure they will be. I’d guess that they have several tentative plans and backup plans depending on how things unfold but also take into consideration that they have their World Champion Tessa Blanchard stuck in Mexico and their Tag Champs, The North, stuck in Canada. Unless something drastically changes with border restrictions, that is going to be tough to get them back with the main roster anytime soon. Given all of the roster members that have been missing for various reasons lately, Impact Wrestling has done an amazing job at piecing things all together and keeping the ship sailing as best they can.
Again, I’ll reiterate that they should be careful and err on the side of caution. Why risk the complications of your roster becoming infected when the fanless shows have been mostly great? Seems unnecessary and just not smart. There’s no immediate pressure to try and haphazardly throw together an event in front of fans if the backlash is going to outweigh the benefits of doing so. The most logical path is to follow the lead of the pro sports leagues and the other two big U.S. wrestling promotions. Certainly, it would be a bad idea to get into any kind of pissing contest with the WWE or AEW to see who can push the limits with bringing fans back in to witness events in person. That type of mad scramble could lead to legal problems and all sorts of headaches and repercussions. There will come a time where it is appropriate to have fans again but it obviously isn’t going to happen until at least July if not later.
The TNA brand coming back in name (and to a certain extent on-screen) to increase fan awareness may go down as one of the smartest moves that Impact Wrestling has pulled off in the Anthem Era years so far. They own the TNA content and have an eighteen year total history as a company so why not capitalize on it more? Enough time has passed to the point where the stink of the TNA name has faded away somewhat, but a complete change back to TNA as the official company name would be a mistake. There is additional programming for AXS TV with “Impact in 60” debuting in June that will have an emphasis on the TNA years which is prudent business.
Something is also brewing with this Moose storyline and a possible reintroduction of the TNA brand in some capacity. I suspect that there were some interesting plans in the works for more programming and all sorts of growth opportunities for Impact Wrestling before the coronavirus threw a monkey wrench into the gears for the time being. Once things are eventually stabilized again, I’ll be eager to see how those plans are unveiled. It would make sense for Chris Sabin and perhaps other ex-TNA wrestlers to work for the company with on-screen stints in the future. It could be like a TNA wrestlers Vs Impact Wrestling talents type of thing or maybe the TNA World Title is established as a legit belt again (it kind of already has been). Or maybe a future unification match with the Impact and TNA World Titles is in the cards? We shall see sometime soon.
So we have to look towards the next big PPV for Impact which would be Slammiversary. Will we get an official announcement soon? Will it be taped in Nashville or would the show possibly be the first one that would be held outside of Skyway Studios? If the way that Rebellion was done is an indicator of things to come with at least this Slammiversary event, I think it’s a decent way to go. None of this is ideal, but you have to roll with the punches of a global pandemic.
So it could either be a traditional LIVE pay-per-view or a two-part TV episode special show again. It’ll be difficult to have a LIVE PPV so I don’t see that happening but I could be wrong. A lot of stuff could change between now and July but certain things make it harder to plan for future events when the landscape keeps changing on a daily basis. The NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, NFL and college football are all faced with similar challenges. I get that people want to exercise their freedoms but why put Impact in a bad position when other multi-billion dollar companies aren’t even taking that risk yet? We should be happy with what Impact has done so far and trust their judgment. There are complications on top of complications but there are also a lot of really smart people trying to figure it all out and come to some sort of compromise and solution.
Another undeniable marker that Impact Wrestling is doing well is that they are signing and re-signing talent to new contracts. While the WWE is making massive cuts and shedding salaries and costs like crazy, Impact seems to be calm and confident in paying talent and making their way through all the financial obstacles out there. A fun subject to throw around is who will Impact possibly sign in the future given all of the free agents now on the market? There are so many possibilities but there is also limited roster space and the challenge of taping content so keep that all in mind. Going off of recent DPW Twitter poll results, the fans point to EC3, Spud, Gallows & Anderson and Eric Young. Who would you like to see Impact sign to a contract?
A lot of people are going to be home more than usual through at least most of 2020 and they’ll be looking for more content. How can Impact Wrestling tap into that? Will there be a second show dedicated to the Knockouts in the future? With the vast array of women wrestlers on the roster, there has to be something in the works there. I’m confident that the decision makers at Impact will continue to find innovative ways to put out more new quality content while also utilizing their huge TNA library. The purchase of AXS TV and the continuance of multiple international TV deals provide Impact with the security that they need to stay relevant and safe into the future.
Finally, we at DiscussPW would like to send our condolences and thoughts to the family and friends of Larry Csonka of 411Mania. They posted a touching and heartfelt column paying tribute to his life and I highly suggest reading it. I didn’t know Larry but I thought his work was always solid and he was seriously one of the hardest working pro wrestling writers out there in the entire world. The wrestling community lost a great fan and a talented writer. His family lost a husband and a father. Rest in peace Larry. Here’s a link to his Go Fund Me page which is setup for his daughters.