For years, the promotion known as TNA fought to be seen as an alternative to WWE, a haven for wrestling fans who had grown disillusioned with what WWE was providing. And at times, they did manage to succeed, putting on well-received shows, creating new stars, and they even kept the company afloat for over thirteen years despite a variety of obstacles, many of them self-inflicted. Unfortunately, for every step TNA took forward, it seemed like they would do something that caused them to slide two or three steps backwards, an unsustainable model no matter how you look at it, especially for a company trying to compete with a multi-million-dollar behemoth of an opponent like WWE. The mistakes of TNA are many, and these are the ones that helped ensure that not only would they never be even close to competing directly with WWE, but also seriously jeopardized any chance they may have had of surviving.
12. The Name On The Marquee
The worst thing TNA did, right out of the gate, which repeatedly prevented them from being taken seriously, was name their company TNA. Sure, they constantly did their little song-and-dance about how it stood for “Total Nonstop Action”, but when it got right down to it, they were a wrestling company that deliberately decided to use a dirty pun as their name, in order to pretend that they were edgy and cool. As a result, they instantly made any dealings with legitimate businesses much harder than they needed to be. What company wants to sponsor something that sounds like a porn magazine? What TV networks would want that name airing on their channels (the answer eventually turned out to be Spike TV, back when it was deep in its “we’re the manly channel for men, which means boobs and guns and curse words” phase that had a similar grade-school mentality as TNA)? Did they think ESPN was ever going to utter the words “TNA” in anything but a derogatory fashion, no matter how many baseball players and race car drivers they got to appear on Impact? For years, fans hoped that the next re-branding of the company would erase the name and change it to something more befitting a serious wrestling promotion, and every time, they were denied.
11. Repeatedly Trying To Make The nWo Happen Again…And Again…
For everyone who accuses WWE of trying to recapture the magic of the Attitude Era, we give you TNA, which spent most of its life going even further back and trying to recapture the magic of the initial incarnation of the New World Order. To be fair, that stable turned the wrestling world on its head, propelled WCW to the #1 organization in the world, and made lots and lot of money. And then it dragged on and tanked the company, but assuming that someone had learned from those mistakes, it’s not the worst idea to copy. Except TNA just kept going back to the well. From Sports Entertainment Xtreme to Planet Jarrett to the Main Event Mafia to Aces and Eights, and another half-dozen incarnations, TNA just wouldn’t get away from the idea of a heel faction that dominated the company as a major part of their storylines. And then, just like the original nWo, they would always forget two things:
1. Building up a babyface or group of babyfaces to topple the faction with a decisive victory
2. Not dragging the angle out for months on end because you didn’t do the first thing, and then just abandoning the entire thing without a resolution
Every single time, TNA would build up this massive, unbeatable evil faction, and then continue to deny fans a big blowoff where the group was destroyed forever, delaying endlessly until nobody cared, and then having the faction simply disband and go away, only to be replaced, sooner or later, by another one. Hey, if we told you that the writing staff for TNA included regularly over its lifetime names like Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, and Vince Russo, would you be horribly surprised?
10. The Monday Night “War”
Thanks to several months of decent shows that had the company making significant gains in public perception, TNA developed more than a little hubris and decided that the time was right to take the fight directly to the #1 show in town. And in a mistake that everyone except TNA management and Spike TV saw coming, an announcement was made that the company was going to compete directly against WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw. TNA Impact became a live show that would air on Monday nights, with the first hour airing unopposed, then directly competing with Raw for the second hour. It was a formula that WCW used when they were beating Raw in the Monday Night Wars, and TNA somehow believed that they could find similar success. Except TNA wasn’t WCW, they had neither the fanbase nor the industry-changing angle of the New World Order (although they did sign Hogan, Hall, Nash, and Sean Waltman to deals that began with the first Monday show), and WWE was now a massive corporate megalith that was never going to be dumb enough to let another promotion even try to compete with them. Now, it didn’t help that TNA put on a terrible first show of the supposed new Monday Night Wars, but even if they’d put on a great show, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, as WWE countered by promoting the first appearance of Bret Hart in a WWE ring since the Montreal Screwjob. TNA’s attempt to compete was dead in the water before it even began, and after several weeks of floundering, they were forced to give up and move back to a different night, losing a significant portion of their audience in the process.
9. Hulk Hogan
Remember when we offhandedly mentioned that TNA signed Hulk Hogan as part of their attempt to compete with WWE? Well, they didn’t just bring Hogan in to be an on-screen character, they truly believed he (and Eric Bischoff, because at that point the two were a package deal) was the big name and the wrestling mind they needed to get to the Promised Land. Honestly, if Hogan had only been involved to appear on TV, things might not have gone quite as horribly, because his on-screen character while working for TNA wasn’t bad once he slipped into a non-wrestling authority figure role. But no, Hogan was also involved heavily in a behind-the-scenes role in TNA, and while nobody was going to let him book himself as the World Champion or anything, his influence did still lead to many decisions that helped cripple TNA in a variety of ways. The most obvious, of course, was that he brought in a bunch of his friends, many of whom were years (and in some cases, over a decade) past their prime and actively detracted from the on-screen product, and one of whom, radio shock jock Bubba The Love Sponge, actually ended up repeatedly giving TNA bad PR due to his actions, most notably his goading of TNA Knockout Awesome Kong, who had literally been the face of the women’s division, which was seen as a bright spot in the company, that ultimately drove her out of TNA. But Hogan also pushed for TNA to leave the Impact Zone and start touring, incurring massive production expenses that the company was unable to offset with ticket sales, and which also left them without a home once the experiment failed, thanks to Universal Studios giving the building to someone else in the interim.
8. Not Understanding Their Audience
Aside from WWE ruthlessly crushing their attempt to compete on Monday nights (and after a couple weeks, WWE didn’t even bother to pay attention anymore), running the same night as WWE was likely foredoomed to failure in the planning stages. The problem was, TNA saw ratings from the original Monday Night Wars and assumed that by being an alternative to WWE, they had cornered the market on disaffected WCW fans who had stopped watching wrestling altogether when WWE bought the company, and that formed the majority of their fanbase and television viewership. However, as the move to Monday nights proved, a large percentage of TNA’s fanbase was actually just wrestling fans who watched both WWE and TNA, and when forced to choose, ultimately sided with WWE. One of TNA’s strengths was, in fact, that they were a wrestling show which aired on a night when there wasn’t competition with WWE, which meant that fans who just wanted to watch a wrestling show had another option. If they had been satisfied with that, and not tried to start a war with WWE when they were massively outgunned, there’s a very real chance they could have continued to survive and even make small gains, rather than suddenly flush away all their progress from the past year thanks to ridiculous delusions of grandeur.
7. WWE Lite
In order to compete with WWE, you have to offer a wrestling product that is somehow unique, and different from what they provide. And in the early stages, it seemed like TNA actually knew this, by their establishment of the X Division at the inception of the company, a division which provided some of the most exciting matches on a weekly basis, without limiting who could participate due to size (the division’s motto was “It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits”). Some of the biggest stars and best matches came out of the X Division, and several wrestlers, such as AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe, then moved on to the main event, seemingly guaranteeing TNA’s future as a company that focused on great wrestlers and fantastic wrestling. Similarly, years before WWE’s “Divas Revolution”, TNA jumped onto the concept of making women’s wrestling legitimate again, bringing in top stars like Awesome Kong, Gail Kim, and WWE’s Victoria (under the name Tara), leading to a Knockouts Division that often brought in the highest TV ratings on a weekly basis. However, after leaning on those divisions to build the company, when TNA decided to go up against WWE directly, they stopped trying to be unique and instead tried to emulate their competitors. The X Division was relegated to a sideshow for wrestlers deemed “too small” to hang with the “real” wrestlers, and the Knockouts division regressed as well, with catfights and undertrained models replacing legitimate wrestlers. By presenting something that wasn’t any different from what WWE was offering, only on a smaller scale with a lower budget, TNA made themselves look like inferior copycats, instead of a true alternative.
6. WWE Castoffs Over Homegrown Talent
Speaking of TNA copying WWE, one of the biggest factors working against TNA was its massive inferiority complex. Nobody is saying they shouldn’t have signed former WWE Superstars like Christian, Kurt Angle, and The Dudley Boyz, because obviously when you’re a smaller promotion trying to get attention, having wrestlers on your show that people already know from WWE is a good way to do that, and many of the wrestlers they picked up still had a lot to offer as characters, and from an in-ring perspective. However, the real problem was that almost without exception, whenever a former WWE Superstar came into the company, they were instantly portrayed as being far more important and better than wrestlers that had been with TNA since the beginning. Wrestlers like AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, and Samoa Joe (who, ironically, are now well on their ways to becoming even bigger stars in WWE) were often shunted aside at a moment’s notice in favor of whatever WWE Superstar had been released on a given week, and those former WWE wrestlers were often put in prime positions on the card and given wins and titles over loyal wrestlers who could have been stars capable of carrying the company into the future. By the time TNA figured this out and turned to their homegrown stars (i.e. when they could no longer afford to pay big-name talent), it was too late, as many of them had grown tired of playing second fiddle to WWE cast-offs, and began deserting the company en masse.
5. Killing The Bound For Glory Series
One of TNA’s greatest ideas was the Bound For Glory Series, which was essentially a round-robin tournament leading up to their biggest PPV of the year. Basically, a dozen of TNA’s top wrestlers would take part, and in the months before the PPV, every match they were involved in was worth various numbers of “points”. Points were tracked, with a leaderboard displayed regularly during Impact, and most of the weekly programming was devoted to the Series. At the final PPV before Bound For Glory, the top 4 wrestlers, ranked by points, faced off in a single elimination tournament, with the winner earning a TNA World Title shot at Bound For Glory. Many fans, over the years, have begged wrestling companies to occasionally treat their product somewhat like a legitimate sport, and the Bound For Glory series did exactly that. Plus, because wrestling is pre-determined, and thanks to a high level of parity and talent on the roster, things were always interesting, as people moved up and down on a weekly basis, and things stayed tight right up until the final show, trying to make the Top 4. Plus, it meant that once a year, for several months, Impact was full of matches with good wrestling that all had legitimate stakes, and an obvious reason why they were happening, taking some weight off the booking team, and making Bound For Glory legitimately feel like the climax of TNA’s wrestling calendar. It was a unique and enjoyable yearly event that truly set TNA apart. And then, for no reason, they just stopped doing it.
4. Losing The Support Of Panda Energy
Let’s be frank: the vast majority of wrestling companies don’t make money. WCW only showed a profit for two years of its entire existence, and those profits were wiped out almost instantly when the company started going downhill. WWE is the exception, not the rule, and it took ruthless business practices, getting into the PPV market before anyone else knew how lucrative it was going to be, and about sixteen other factors, including an incredible amount of luck, to get to where it is today. So, when you want to start a wrestling company, what you need more than anything else is a “money mark”, that is, someone with very deep pockets who doesn’t mind losing money because of the theoretical “prestige” of ownership, and for a while, TNA had that, in the form of Dixie Carter and her family’s business, Panda Energy. Now, when TNA had the near-bottomless resources of Panda Energy behind it, financial losses were a relative drop in the bucket, but after years of losing money on a product that didn’t seem like it was headed anywhere near a profitable direction (or at least becoming less of a money sink), Panda Energy cut off the funding. And when Dixie Carter was suddenly forced to make her vanity side project profitable on its own, the fact that the company actually had no real ways to make any money became a huge issue. So, let’s take a second and look at exactly why TNA was actually never in a position to make money, even when the on-screen product was actually fairly good…
3. Lack Of Revenue Streams
Anyone who has paid attention to WWE’s quarterly financial reports ever since it went public knows that they make most of their money from a combination of live event ticket sales, their lucrative TV deal, merchandise, and PPV buys (which were eventually replaced by profits from the WWE Network). When you look at TNA in terms of those potential revenue streams, you can see that even when it was doing well, it couldn’t possibly have been profitable. While TNA had a secure home at the Impact Zone in Universal Studios for years, admission was free to anyone already paying to visit the theme park, meaning TNA didn’t make a single dime from live event ticket sales. And when TNA tried to run live events outside of the Impact Zone, they booked arenas far too large to fill with their actual fanbase, making the shows money losers instead of revenue generators. To be fair, their international shows actually did quite well, but those were only a handful of events every year. Meanwhile, even when they had a deal with Spike TV, that was less about Spike paying for the rights to Impact, and instead mostly took the form of Spike itself paying for some of the larger talent contracts, such as Sting and Kurt Angle, in a quest for better ratings for the show (again, some of the gap was made up with decent international TV deals, but those still couldn’t keep the company out of the red). In addition, TNA was charging the same price for their monthly PPVs as WWE, with a fraction (of a fraction) of the buyrates, which didn’t even cover the costs of running the show in the first place. And while TNA tried their best at merchandise, even getting their DVDs into major chain stores at one point, it simply wasn’t ever going to be enough to cover all the other shortfalls of the promotion.
2. Dixie Carter Or Bust
Several times after TNA’s failed attempt to compete directly with WWE cost them a large chunk of their fanbase and sent them into a slow downhill spiral, there were reports of people willing to step in and save the company by providing necessary funds and support to keep it running in exchange for a stake in the company. Unfortunately, those same people were regularly driven away by a single factor that scuttled every single attempt at a deal: Dixie Carter. The problem was, any sale of TNA always came with a caveat that would see Carter retain a role in the company, and given that her actions had regularly put the company into bad financial positions, anyone attempting to buy the company almost certainly did not want her having input into how it was run. In addition, Carter had transitioned into an on-screen role that she reportedly did not want to give up without a fight. Thus, any potential saviors disappeared as quickly as they came, due to Carter’s refusal to fully let go of the company she was driving into the ground. Even when TNA was literally bankrupt and forced to sell stakes in the company in order to pay bills, even at the eleventh hour when it looked like TNA’s only options were to sell their remaining stake to investors or go out of business, reports continued to flood in that Carter’s involvement in negotiations were making what should have been relatively simple decisions far harder than they needed to be.
1. Too Much, Too Fast
Ultimately, TNA was a victim of trying to be something they weren’t, which was a legitimate competitor to WWE. Certainly, there is room for a #2 promotion in North American pro wrestling, and more than that, many independent promotions have managed to survive for years in WWE’s shadow. At times, TNA even had plenty of wrestlers who were comparable in skill to those in WWE, as evidenced by the fact that many of them are now significant parts of WWE’s current roster. However, rather than stay small, develop their own homegrown talent along with a mix of veterans from WWE and the independent scene, create a loyal fanbase in a dedicated territory, and absorb some early losses in what would be a long and difficult journey towards even moderate success, TNA tried to have everything right away. They weren’t content to wait for “someday”, they wanted to be the new WCW to the modern WWE, and they wanted it now. So they tried to jump the line, signed a TV deal with a network that had recently been spurned by WWE, signed top former WWE talent to lucrative deals, shelled out money for expensive guest stars, and tried to appear to the world as if they were ready to compete on the big stage, while underneath, their tenuous financial situation that relied largely on the generosity of Spike TV and Dixie Carter’s father basically ensured that the company was always one bad day away from disappearing. By trying to compete at WWE’s level before they were financially able to do so (and it’s unlikely they ever would have been), TNA was a company that couldn’t afford to make a single mistake, because they had no safety net if things didn’t go as planned. Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes.