Last week, I penned an article about the recent additions to the Global Force roster and discussed the “impact” there might be on the company. Despite the new ownership under the Anthem banner, very similar to Total Nonstop Action, Global Force Wrestling has yet to truly establish their identity within the genre.
That brings up the question, is there a place for GFW on the wrestling landscape?
When Jeff Jarrett and his dad, legendary promoter Jerry launched NWA-TNA on weekly pay-per-view in June of 2002, there was unquestionable a need for another major promotion in the United States. The previous year, Vince McMahon won the wrestling war of the 90s when he bought Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, an organization with ties to the decades of history of the National Wrestling Alliance, for pennies on the dollar. Just a month after WCW shut down, Extreme Championship Wrestling, the renegade promotion that revolutionized the presentation of the business in America, filed for bankruptcy.
The market was flooded with established talent, and WWF only had a certain number of roster spots. In fact, one could argue that despite many of the biggest names from WCW deciding to stay home and collect a pay check for the duration of their Turner contract, the WWF actually still had too many wrestlers under contract to realistically feature on their various television shows in 2001. The flopped invasion angle didn’t create a sense of optimism within the industry, and many wondered about the consequences of a monopoly.
Jeff Jarrett had left the World Wrestling Federation under less than favorable circumstances in 1999 when his contract expired while he was IC champion. Supposedly, he demanded a specific amount of money to drop the belt before he jumped to WCW. Obviously, that closed the door on a Double J return after the Turner organization folded.
Jarrett needed a place to work, and the industry needed an alternative, both for the fans and the performers. His family had promoted shows for decades, often on a shoestring budget so the initial project certainly had potential. In theory, a weekly pay-per-view show at $10 a month was a decent value because it gave the consumer four events for nearly the same price as the monthly WWE PPVs at the time. The problem was, there wasn’t a way to realistically market or sell a promotion that fans hadn’t heard of previously. It also made booking more difficult because there had to be a “selling point” every week to generate buys, as opposed to building an angle to sell on pay-per-view. As a result of the cost of broadcasting live each week, the NWA-TNA format couldn’t sustain itself. Just four months after the launch, the group was on the brink of collapse before Dixie Carter convinced her dad, Bob Carter, the owner of Panda Energy to invest into the wrestling organization.
The ups and downs of the Carter era are well documented. In retrospect, what was the best chance for TNA to be successful?
It’s a harsh reality, but history shows that there’s usually a brief period for a sports entertainment entity to get off the ground. For example, ECW picked up from 1995 and was nationally recognized by 1997. The entire Turner era of WCW with its surge and collapse took roughly 12 years. The point being, there are critical points where an organization has the platform to make an impression on the viewing audience and that determines if fans buy what the organization is selling. Granted, there are different eras and the product evolves, but that leads to the critical points within the history of a company.
For Total Nonstop Action, the opportunity to make a major impression on a wrestling audience was its debut on Spike TV, the company’s first national cable deal, in October of 2005. Sure, the group produced television for roughly a year for Fox Sports Network in a terrible time slot on Friday afternoon, but the Spike deal gave them main stream exposure. With the Ultimate Fighting Championship surging in popularity, viewers certainly tuned into the channel, and the aerial showcase of the X Division fit well with that demographic. While the reasons that the company never truly peaked are numerous, including the lack proper marketing, advertising, or booking, their roster at the time was probably at its best in terms of the ability to have the chance to get an audience to notice the product. AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, James Storm, and other TNA originals provided fresh faces with an alternative in-ring style. At the same time, The Dudley Boys, Sting, Kurt Angle, and Christian were just a few of the names that brought star power during the years that followed.
The time span that TNA had its best chance to really propel itself up the ladder was probably from 2005 through 2008, a time period that saw some of the most spectacular matches of the decade delivered from a variety of athletes. Abyss and AJ Styles had a tremendous cage match that showcased both wrestlers as main event caliber stars. That’s just one of many quality matches that took place under the TNA banner.
The reasons why the major boost in numbers never launched are well documented and another discussion for another time, but the point is, the group had the national platform on cable TV and the roster to make progress toward competition in the industry. Ultimately, Dixie Carter wasn’t’ able to capitalize on the opportunity the Spike time slot and roster provided for the organization. If anything, it underscores how important presentation is from a wrestling prospective, and how critical effective marketing and advertising are from the aspect of business. The pieces of the puzzle were there, but were never assembled quite correctly. The numbers told the story, Impact ratings on Spike were stagnant and pay-per-view buy rates were minimal.
The systematic downfall of Total Nonstop Action is also another story for another time. Hulk Hogan, who was nearly bankrupt in 2010, signed a deal and worked Dixie Carter for every dime he could before he left in 2013. The failed Monday night Impact experiment and dismal live attendance figures highlighted the company’s inability to market or monetize a brand. Hulk tried to turn Impact into a weekly WCW reunion, and made major cash without any regard for the lack of progress TNA made during his time as a “consultant” for them. The domino effect of Hogan’s money grab led the collapse of organization. When the company failed to profit, Bob Carter finally stopped funding his daughter’s vanity project. Eventually, Dixie went as far as trying to scam Billy Corgan before several lawsuits from various groups led to Anthem’s payments to clean up her mess and purchase the organization. Many stars jumped off the ship when they had the chance and are doing quite well for themselves.
Global Force was the new brand with Jeff Jarrett back as apart of the writing team, which resulted in the return of some familiar faces and the debut of new talent. Still, the Alberto El Patron situation fumbled the “fresh start,” and the acquisition of performers from the independent scene to attempt to replenish the depleted roster yielded mixed results.
So, what is the Global Force brand?
Unfortunately, the answer has yet to be established and even if a continuous identity is presented, it might only rank as a lesser version of an already existing product. For example, the WWE is the undisputed leader in production, presentation, and star power. The history of the company and the specific events all lead toward the enhancement of the perception of its stars. Quite simply, nobody can compete with the WWE production value. During the previously mentioned 05-08 era, there was a strong argument to be made that with Styles, Joe, Sabin , etc. that TNA had the best in-ring product in the world. In 2017, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to argue that New Japan Pro Wrestling doesn’t deliver the best in-ring action anywhere. In fact, the Omega/Okada series will be considered some of the greatest bouts in the history of the industry. Suzuki, Tanahashi, Naito, The Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, and others have delivered performances that made the Japanese league the talk of the wrestling world.
As the name implies, GFW wants to use international talent, which in theory is a decent idea. However, Ring Of Honor uses international talent on a regular basis and has done so the past few years. Specifically, New Japan talent for the “War of the Worlds” events, and CMLL wrestlers during a recent UK tour. Arguably, Ring of Honor has brought the best international talent from outside of the United States to events on American soil so the Global Force talent exchange seems more like a scaled down version of what was already done in another promotion. Along the same lines, Impact has featured some luchadors to capitalize on the recent popularity of lucha libre. Again, it’s a decent idea in theory, but Lucha Underground already has that portion of the market.
The bottom line is, what does GFW bring to the table that is unique?
Furthermore, other than being on television, what’s the draw to watch the product? Who’s the biggest star currently under contract? Johnny Impact? Bobby Lashley? In the past, building stars would be the answer, but can the organization do that on Pop TV? In comparison, Spike TV has an 80% TV clearance in the United States, while Pop has just 64% TV clearance so millions of potential viewers don’t have access to Pop TV. The difference of distribution had a drastic effect on ratings. During their time on Spike, TNA averaged around 1.2 million viewers, but Pop TV currently garners about 350,000 viewers each week. The major drop in viewership has a direct impact on every aspect of the company.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an attempt to bury Global Force, but rather the fact that their current platform doesn’t seem to be the best chance for success. Another factor that works against GFW is the amount of stars that went elsewhere to find greater success, which implies TNA lacked the opportunity for notoriety. Quite simply, there aren’t enough viewers to build stars, sell pay-per-views, or run profitable live events with the current situation on Pop TV. The incentive for Anthem to keep GFW in business is that it provides original content for their networks relatively cheap. Make no mistake, Anthem Entertainment is in the television business, not the wrestling business. If GFW eventually has an opportunity to elevate itself as a form of competition in the industry remains to be seen, but there will certainly have to be a series of improvements to the product before it finds an audience.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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