Professional wrestling promoters have never been able to work together. Maybe it’s the threat of eventual competition between the two or simply the shark tank environment that usually is the wrestling business. Perhaps, the most well-known attempt at this was in 1984 with Pro Wrestling USA, the co-promoted project of Memphis, AWA, NWA, and the Georgia territory that tried to compete with its own national TV show to rival the WWF’s expansion.
In one of his books, “The Best Of Times,” Jerry Jarrett detailed the dysfunction involved in the decision-making process between the owners. Each promoter wanted to protect their champion and insisted that key angles were scheduled for their territory so that they could collect the potentially biggest gates. The project was short-lived and the agreement dissolved within a year. Gagne and Crockett, the owners of the two biggest promotions in the alliance, had several disagreements that led to the rest of the group’s exit.
Following the flop of Pro Wrestling USA, there were several minor working agreements among various territory owners, but nothing materialized, as owners couldn’t agree on anything. The lack of a long-term vision kept those promoters behind the times. Vince McMahon saw what was possible with cable TV exposure and used it to change the industry. The hard-nosed Verne Gagne was too naive to realize that his Minneapolis-based group couldn’t compete with the pop culture association of the WWF. Since that time, McMahon beat the federal government, survived a Monday night war, and built his sports entertainment empire into a global brand. The expansion of programming and distribution allowed WWE brass to sign the majority of the top names of the current generation. AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Adam Cole, EC3, Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Bobby Roode, etc. all worked as main event stars before they arrived in the WWE.
Those signings along with 95% of the market share make it extremely difficult for any promotion to build themselves up in the United States. Sure, New Japan has done extremely well in recent years, but they have a solid fan base in their native country, and in many ways, they are a compliment, not competition to the WWE, which is actually a good thing because it provides more alternatives in almost every aspect of the business.
Still, how does a company make an “impact” in North America?
The problem of a domination of 95% the market is made exponentially more difficult when an organization has a negative perception. As I wrote previously, it’s almost unbelievable that somehow TNA survived when the league was on the brink of bankruptcy, and after the GFW merger debacle, most assumed it was “new management, same story.” It wasn’t until late last year that Anthem Sports made possibly the best decision in their history of ownership when they announced that Don Callis and Scott D’Amore were the new executive vice presidents of the group. Fight Network executive, Ed Nordholm was smart enough to know that he didn’t know the very unique wrestling business. As I said at the time of the announcement, Don Callis is one of the hidden gems of the industry, and the new duo provided the first legitimate sense of optimism around Impact Wrestling in years. There were some departures, debuts, and a few things that needed improvement, but overall, the general consensus is that Impact Wrestling is going in the right direction, which is represented with an improvement in ratings.
However, when Alberto El Patron, who was booked in the main event of the Redemption pay-per-view, no showed the Impact/Lucha Underground event during Wrestlemania weekend, it was a very disappointing situation. Shortly after he didn’t show up for the event, he was released from the organization. Later, a video surfaced from the same convention where the show took place and it appeared as though Alberto was intoxicated during an interview. Management made the right decision, but there had to be some damage control because quite frankly, Impact still needs to earn the investment of the fans. For too long too many mistakes were made under the previous regime, and part of the process of turning the company around is to give the fans a reason to be optimistic about the promotion.
As a replacement, Lucha Underground stars, Pentagon and Fenix were added to the main event to challenge Austin Aries for the Impact championship. AAA wrestlers Areostar and Drago are also scheduled for a match. This concept of inter-promotional matches on pay-per-view creates a unique selling point, something that is needed to market traditional PPV at a time when the WWE network is sold for $10 a month. That goes back to the original point of WWE’s market share. In 2018, can ANY company really take a piece of the WWE pie? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that a group of companies can’t form an “alliance” to present a product that offers something completely different from the WWE’s empire.
One promotion might not be able to rival McMahon’s global brand, that might just be the reality of professional wrestling in the United States in 2018. The goal for Impact Wrestling shouldn’t necessarily be competition, but rather profitability. If Anthem Sports can find a profitable niche, that would be tremendous progress from where the organization was when they purchased it. For Impact to reach the level it obtained during the peak of its exposure on national TV over a decade ago will take years of the right decisions at the right time so that can’t be determined at this point. But, Anthem and other groups know that beneficial working agreements are a better option for everyone. Sharing success with others is better than floundering in mediocrity on their own.
Callis and D’Amore already showed plans to move forward with the direction of today’s wrestling. Sure, Pop TV is a much smaller platform than TNA had on Spike TV as far as TV clearance, but Impact’s Twitch project increases their exposure, and at this point, allowing more viewers more access to the product provides more of a fresh start for the organization. The working agreements already used show that Impact management don’t plan to make the same mistakes as the territory promoters of the past.
Specifically, Lucha Underground working agreement makes sense for both organizations. As I said previously, LU is a popular series, but it’s strictly a television product with limited distribution and less revenue streams than a traditional company. El Rey is a smaller network so that brings in less ad revenue. The group doesn’t run house shows so the TV show is basically the totality of the product. Plus, there always seems to be rumors about if another season will be filmed or not. That’s not to down grade the quality of the show, but rather to explain that LU is not a full-time company. That would theoretically allow LU stars the flexible schedule to sign for Impact as well. The most important aspect is that since LU is strictly a TV product, there’s no clash with the Impact schedule.
While Austin Aries provided some buzz for his return to Impact and his recent appearances on Ring of Honor pay-per-views, Pentagon might be the right choice to win the championship at Redemption. That’s nothing against Aries, but rather that it could give Pentagon a platform to truly be discovered as a star. Aries is a former multiple time champion in many different companies so he’s already established. Pentagon has done stellar work and has the character to be a major star, but hasn’t had the main stream platform to be showcased as a featured athlete. If he wins the title, it gives Impact the chance to create a new star and it would be a good addition to the roster. That intrigue of if the lucha grappler will win the championship is the entire point of a main event of a pay-per-view because it gives viewers a reason to order the show. Regardless of if there’s a new champion, it’s nice to see that Callis and D’Amore understand the wrestling landscape and booked the Redemption pay-per-view to seem like a “special event” as opposed to just another show. If Redemption does a good buy rate at $40 remains to be seen, but the Lucha Underground working agreement certainly gives fans a reason to order the show.
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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