Can TNA Wrestling Compete with the World Wrestling Entertainment?

Kurt Angle vs Jeff JarrettImage by simononly via Flickr

Over the course of the last four years TNA Wrestling has attempted to turn itself into a competitor to the WWE. With the acquisition of Kurt Angle this weekend (Sunday 24th September 2006) they have suddenly attracted a lot of extra attention. But is this competing with World Wrestling Entertainment a realistic and achievable goal?

The Creation of TNA Wrestling

Started in 2002 by Jerry Jarrett and his son Jeff Jarrett, TNA Wrestling was created as a result of WWE's complete dominance of the wrestling industry. When WWE acquired WCW in 2001, they made themselves the only national wrestling federation on television.

Jerry Jarrett has indicated that one of the reasons he initially started TNA was to give his son Jeff somewhere to wrestle as personal and political issues with Vince McMahon meant it was extremely unlike Jeff would ever set foot in a WWE ring again.

The initial format for TNA Wrestling was a series of weekly pay per view shows at a low dollar price. It was a unique format that was at once both liberating and limiting. Being on PPV meant that the company could do almost anything it wanted, but it also severely limited it's presence in front of viewers eyes. How do you sell a pay per view if you don't have any television time to market it on?

Since then TNA Wrestling has taken slow but steady steps towards a more mainstream presence. Initially with a show on Fox Sports Network, they have now been airing on Spike TV for about a year and have established a pretty consistent audience. On Sunday 9/24/06 they announced that they had secured a better timeslot for the show iMPACT, moving into primetime at 9PM on Thursday nights.

So, are they ready to compete with WWE? Based on their current product, my answer is a definitive no.

Why TNA Can't Compete With WWE

In its current state TNA, lacks clear direction. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. TNA contains a number of unique elements, each of which might be a selling point to some segments of the larger wrestling audience, but to date TNA Wrestling has been completely unable to present those elements in a way that captures interest on a wider scale.

The six-sided ring that TNA uses is primarily a gimmick, but one that at least makes the company visually different to its competition which is a good thing. Similarly the two entrance tunnels, one for faces, one for heels could be an effective technique to cue the crowd into who to cheer for. Unfortunately TNA has completely failed to capitalize on that.

Over the last few years, TNA has attempted to create some signature matches for itself. This has been a reall mixed bag. On the one hand we have the impressive Ultimate X match, but on the other there's the overly confusing King of the Mountain match and then we have the X-Cup which sounds good but has a scoring system that only a calculator could love.

Another tick in the plus column must be the X Division itself. Primarily a cruiserweight division, TNA has done a good job of re-branding it so that it is presenting something that feels different to other wrestling. Unfortunately they have been unable to package the X Division wrestlers in a fashion that will appeal to anyone other than the hardcore wrestling fans.

The only wrestler that TNA has who could be described as a potential breakout star is Samoa Joe and the current creative direction is jeopardizing a year's worth of star making.

There's an additional PR problem that TNA faces. There are a few too many old faces on their shows, people that were stars (in some cases) but are too old to be entirely credible in the main event any more. Using names like Sting and Scott Steiner might get a one off ratings push, but by placing them in title contention TNA makes itself look like WCW 6 years ago.

How To Compete With WWE

So having established why I don't think they are ready to compete with WWE, what do I think they can do to get ready?

Actually I think they have all the necessary elements already in place in the company. The trick to my mind is not to attempt to be WWE or WCW. They don't have the marketing power to go head to head and even in the best case scenario, they won't have that power for at least 4 more years.

What they do have is the talent to win over specific groups of wrestling fans. Those groups combined would probably still not come close to WWE's total demographic, but they would give it enough mindshare to really start building the stars that can make them a competitor.

As I said, TNA Wrestling has the elements it needs it just isn't utilizing them. The X-Division is something that can't be seen elsewhere on tv and it inherently appeals to the hardcore wrestling fan. The sort of person who would go to a Ring of Honor show. On its own though it doesn't appeal to the sort of person who comes to my site once a month to check the latest PPV results. For that you need feuds, not random matches. The same is true for the tag division.

TNA is also in a position to out-hardcore WWE's ECW brand since the TNA schedule is so much lighter than ECW's with few house shows.

But the TNA needs to focus on a handful of feuds at at time and build them properly. They can still pad their PPVs with some amazing workrate matches, so long as the keystone feud matches are there too. I'd suggest they should be overlapping their feud building. Each PPV should probably be the culmination of 3-4 feuds, but the previous 4 week's iMPACT shows can intermingle those big feuds with slowly building issues that will come to the front the following month.

It's a simple enough formula, but actually implementing it... that's much harder.