The following is the second of a series of articles designed to discuss the serious issues that face Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling as fans prepare for the return of Hulk Hogan to prime time, professional wrestling television.
In May 2004, TNA Wrestling announced its landmark television deal with Fox Sports Net, allowing the fledgling wrestling company to broadcast a weekly, one-hour show on Fridays.
TNA also announced that their new weekly show, TNA Impact!, would be taped from Soundstage 21 in Universal Studios Florida, a well known theme park in Orlando, Fla. Prior to their leasing agreement with Universal Studios, TNA's main offices were located in Nashville, Tenn.
Founded in May 2002, the company aired weekly pay-per-view events from the Tennessee State Fairgrounds beginning in July of the same year. The arena that the company operated from was nicknamed the TNA Asylum, and was also the home of TNA's then-syndicated weekly program, TNA Xplosion.
In June 2004, TNA began airing episodes of TNA Impact! and TNA Xplosion taped from the newly dubbed Impact Zone in Soundstage 21 in Universal Studios Florida. Conversely, the company also filmed their monthly pay-per-view events from the Impact Zone until 2006, when their Bound for Glory pay-per-view was broadcast from Detroit, MI.
For five and a half years, TNA's Impact Zone from Soundstage 21 in Universal Studios Florida has consistently been the place for pro wrestling fans to catch their favorite TNA superstars engaged in total nonstop action.
The Impact Zone is much more than a venue for TNA to host its pay-per-view events or its television show, the Impact Zone is TNA's home.
The Impact Zone will be even more important for TNA, as the Tennessee State Fairgrounds—home of the TNA Asylum—will be closed by the end of June 2010. That tidbit is inconsequential, as most of the TNA offices have been relocated to Orlando, Fla.
TNA continues to evolve, and in October 2008, TNA Impact! began broadcasting in high definition (HD) on Spike TV, allowing for the Impact Zone to receive a much needed makeover to accommodate the HD tapings.
Anyone can see that the Impact Zone is quite possibly the heart of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
It's just too bad that TNA is suffering from congestive heart failure.
TNA Should Start Taping TNA Impact! Outside of the Impact Zone
TNA Should Start Taping TNA Impact! Outside of the Impact Zone
Before I get into my tirade, I must stress one thing. I am not saying, nor am I implying, that TNA should abandon the Impact Zone. This is for sentimental reasons, as well as for financial reasons.
After dumping that much money into making Soundstage 21, an HD-ready soundstage, I'd sleep there if I were Dixie Carter.
At any rate, the Impact Zone does about as much good for TNA's television ratings, pay-per-view ticket sales, and nationwide/global exposure as Spike TV does. In case you didn't catch that hint of sarcasm, or my last article, the Impact Zone does nothing to help TNA grow its fan base or audience appeal.
Opening in June 1990, Universal Studios Florida is an American amusement park who's theme centers around the entertainment industry.
The park is home to numerous events, attractions, lives shows, and encourages guests to "ride the movies." The attractions, shows, and events featured in the park appeal to people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
If this is the case, then why would the Impact Zone be bad news for TNA? If people from all around the world are visiting Universal Studios Florida, then that also means that people from all over the world have the opportunity to witness TNA Wrestling live.
The product could be seen across several demographics at once each time they tape a show. What could possibly be wrong with that?
For starters, those people who are visiting Universal Studios Florida are not doing so to see TNA.
Those visitors are tourists that are more than likely on vacation, and as a tourist to Florida AND a pro wrestling fan, I can honestly tell you that I did not visit Florida to see TNA.
Unlike ROH or the WWE, TNA's Impact! tapings probably consist mostly of fair-weather (casual) wrestling fans or tourists visiting the soundstage for the first time. I would guess that a very small portion of the audience consists of die hard TNA or pro wrestling fans.
The Impact Zone seats 1,325 people, and it would be fair to assume that at least fifty-five percent of those people (728.75) are not familiar with TNA's product at all.
The major problem with that assumption is that whenever TNA tapes an episode of Impact! or broadcasts a pay-per-view from the Impact Zone, the company is giving away its product to 728.75 people that may never watch or invest any time into the company after they've left the Impact Zone.
Let's do some fuzzy math. TNA tapes four episodes of Impact! two times a month, and usually one PPV a month from the Impact Zone. During one taping of Impact! , fans get to see two taped episodes of the show, which means that during any given month, three sets of 728.75 people who are not aware of TNA's product will visit the Impact Zone while at Universal Studios—two sets for the TV taping, and one set for the pay-per-view.
So every month, 2,186.25 fans that are not pro wrestling or TNA fans, will visit the Impact Zone. This means TNA possibly showcases its product live to 2,186 fans that may or may not invest in the company once their vacations are over.
Also, out of the 3,925 (1,325 capacity multiplied by three) fans that visit the Impact Zone monthly, only 1,788.75 fans are actually interested in the product beyond their vacations.
That 55 percent was just off the top of my head, but I'll give you something else to take into consideration. Part of TNA's leasing agreement of Soundstage 21 with Universal Studios Florida states that the company (TNA) is not allowed to charge entrance fees for events they hold in the Impact Zone.
In other words, it is free for one to see an Impact! taping, and unless there's something I missed, it is also free to see a TNA PPV at the Impact Zone. This means that TNA is quite possibly not pulling any revenue from ticket sales for their Thursday night shows or their monthly pay-per-views.
Unfortunately, if tourists are given free tickets to anything at a theme park, the number of people that attend events at the Impact Zone that are not die hard wrestling fans will increase.
There is a strong possibility that TNA makes money from the ticket sales of people entering the park, but that's highly unlikely as TNA is leasing Soundstage 21 from the theme park. My guess is the company has to make their money elsewhere (merchandise, etc.).
If TNA plans on making any strides towards expanding their audience, then they should seriously consider, at the very least, taking their Impact! tapings on the road.
I contend that if they have enough money to hire Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, and others, then they definitely have enough money to do at least two of their tapings in small venues around the country.
Let's look at the WWE and their Monday Night RAW program as an example. In January 1993, RAW broadcast its first episode from the Grand Ballroom of the Manhattan Center in New York.
The Grand Ballroom seats 1,200 people theater style, and unlike the Impact Zone in Florida, is rented for a multitude of musical events and receptions. People show up to the Manhattan Center for a particular reason, not for vacation.
The Grand Ballroom played host to the then WWF's Monday Night RAW for about a year, where every Monday an episode was taped and broadcast live via the USA Network.
While the intimate venue and live audience (made up of mostly wrestling fans) proved to be successful for the WWF, the weekly live shows proved to be a drain on their finances.
So, from early 1994 until September 1999, RAW was shown live one week, and a taped episode was shown the next.
On a side note, this led to one of the reasons why WCW Monday Nitro blew the WWF out of the water during the Monday Night Wars.
After about a year of broadcasting Monday Night RAW from the Grand Ballroom, the WWF took the show on the road to different venues each Monday.
Now fast forward to 2009, where RAW continues to be broadcast live weekly from arenas all over the nation and Canada. Every week, at least 12,000 fans weekly pay $30+ for tickets to see RAW live.
For those of you keeping tab, that's at least $360,000 in ticket sales per episode of RAW (not counting the $150-$200 ringside seats and the $50-$149 seats), compared to the zilch per episode of Impact!
The WWE went from 1,200 live fans weekly and two live shows a month, to 12,000+ fans weekly and four live shows a month. Mind you, RAW was taped twice a month for five years before getting to the point they are now.
With TNA proudly boasting that they're ready to battle the WWE, I think it's about time they consider taking their show on the road at least twice a month to appeal to more than just vacationers.
Again, if they have the money to hire Hogan and Flair, then they definitely have the money to risk broadening their fan base.
I'll give you a scenario. TNA plans on going head-to-head with the WWE next Monday night with a 3-hour episode of Impact!, which will be highlighted with the return of Hulk Hogan to prime time professional wrestling television.
The Hammerstein Ballroom, also in the Manhattan Center in New York, seats 2,500 people for theatrical and musical productions, and several thousand for events with a "central ring."
For the sake of argument, we'll say that the Hammerstein Ballroom seats 2,000 for professional wrestling events.
You might remember the Hammerstein Ballroom from several of ECW's pay-per-views, as well as the first two One Night Stand pay-per-views from the WWE's reincarnation of ECW.
The Hammerstein seats 675 more people than the Impact Zone, and due to its location, the number of die hard professional wrestling fans in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and I'll include Pennsylvania just for the hell of it).
Not only would fans have to pay to see events there, the venue would be a perfect place for TNA to broadcast or tape an episode of Impact! or a pay-per-view.
So, with one of the most electrifying names in professional wrestling returning to your company, and on a night where you plan to go head to head with the biggest dog in the yard of professional wrestling, why not hold your three hour television extravaganza in an arena where you can:
- (a) charge a live gate,
- (b) have rabid, die hard fans who will thoroughly enjoy your product, and
- (c) have an intimacy with those fans that will translate to television easily and cause the viewers at home to pay more attention to the product than they have before?
Is that what TNA did? Nope.
Their money, in part, is going to throwing Hulk Hogan a parade in Universal Studios Florida sometime during the day before their live show later in the evening on Jan. 4.
TNA will never be able to compete with the WWE if they keep giving away their product every month to people that were given free tickets to the show.
This is not to say that they cannot regularly tape shows in the Impact Zone, but I do believe it would do them a world of good to at least take their show on the road twice a month, and air those taped episodes in a similar fashion to how the WWE did before they started going live every week.
And even when WWE lost money due to RAW being broadcast live every Monday, Vince McMahon still managed to take the show on the road on a weekly basis. I can't dictate how TNA spends its money, but if they can finally pull Hogan after not landing him in 2003, then they can at least consider taking Impact! to the Hammerstein, or similar venues, every once and awhile.
But then again, what do I know? I just find it very interesting that even on TNAWrestling.com, they have videos and banner ads that proclaim their readiness to take on the WWE.
But on its worst day of programming, RAW can still bring in a minimum live gate of $360,000, while on its best day of programming, Impact! can't even bring in a full audience of die hard wrestling fans...for free.