Sunday Sermon: State of Wrestling Address

Craig Wilson, Brian Damage & Jamie Lithgow

Last week saw a drop of some 44% in the value of WWE stock. The plummet in the share price reportedly cost Vince McMahon $350m and, as a result, his place in the billionaires club. Things are even less rosey over at TNA as cutbacks continue and Impact seems a distance from 1.0 in the ratings. On the face of it it’s not the time to be starting a wrestling promotion but that is exactly what Jeff Jarrett is doing with Global Force Wrestling.

In this week’s Sunday Sermon Craig, Brian and Jamie discuss the state of the wrestling world today.

Craig: For starters I definitely don’t think it’s time for anyone to invest in wrestling or start a wrestling promotion, certainly if you want to make money as a result. Let’s not try and paint the WWE in a position similar to TNA. After all, WWE is still worth $750 million, is the top wrestling promotion in the world and will undoubtedly bounce back from this. It’s been there and done it before.

I’d be far more concerned if I worked for TNA and even more concerned if I was in the Jarrett household. I just don’t see a way that TNA will survive. It’s almost at the stage that it’s kicking TNA when they are down but that’s a promotion that is on the ropes. More and more of the group’s best talents have been let go and frankly, I have zero interest in what they have to offer.

Recently Jamie and I went to see TNA Impact when it was recorded in Glasgow and despite that I haven’t watched a single moment of TNA programming since – not even the broadcast of the shows I was at. Everything that I read online about them doesn’t do anything to change my mind. There was barely enough time to watch everything the WWE produced let alone watch a second rate product and that was before the launch of the Network.

In a wrestling world where the WWE dominate to the extent that they do and, despite this recent setback, have such an extensive on-demand and streaming service, it doesn’t seem that any other promotion stands a chance.

Brian: I will agree that this past week was horrible for both the WWE and TNA with the stock dropping and TNA ratings suffering. I have to disagree with a bad time to invest in wrestling…from a business standpoint, the best time to buy stock is when it is down…so that’s my first and only business advice I’ll give. Secondly, while ratings are way down for TNA, the product is not as bad as some make it out to be. It’s really not that times entertaining.

I think fans get into certain viewing habits. The stigma with TNA is that it is a horrible product and it is really not. I don’t know if TNA can rebound because of the negative stigma. At least with Jeff Jarrett and GFW….they can start fresh and have a clean slate.

Jamie: Brian makes a good point. If i’m looking to invest in GFW then it’s relatively low risk in the current environment – things can only get better, and all that.

I’m surprised TNA are still going to be honest. I will echo Craig’s point about seeing them live and still not being enthused enough to watch the TV show. There was a time a few years ago when I did watch TNA regularly and it felt like an alternative to WWE, something different. These days it just feels like a cheap, sad, jaded imitation.

As for WWE, I wouldn’t panic. The company is in a state of flux. The Network has been launched and TV rights are up for renewal at a time when WWE – genuinely for a change – are trying to establish new stars. It’ll take time for the likes Daniel Bryan, The Shield and Bray Wyatt to make a significant impact on company profit margins. I will say that WWE’s one mistake over the last few months is to give PPVs away with a Network subscription. Let’s face it, the Network is for geeks like us and even without the free PPVs it’s a brilliant service. I think WWE have been too kind to their fans, they could easily charge a discounted rate for their PPVs, at least.

Brian: Well Craig was kind enough to share the WWE’s Conference call with us and it’s obvious that Vince was not at all pleased with the TV deal he just signed with NBC. Obviously the network launch played a part in getting a lower deal, but the WWE has more positives than negatives working in their favor. According to reports, the WWE signed two of the top Indie wrestlers in the world last week…Fergal Devitt and KENTA. Their talent pool is deeper now than ever before. What they need to do is continue and try to develop main event stars to succeed John Cena.

Mind you, I have no problem with Cena being the top guy…but you must always plan for the future. Cena won’t be the WWE’s crutch forever…

Craig: I was wondering what impact the diminished pay-offs for superstars will have on the WWE’s fortunes. I imagine if you were a WWE performer that featured midcard or upwards on the Wrestlemania card then you got a bumper cheque. What difference does the Network subscriptions on that? After all, it’s $60 for the first six months of the Network including all the PPVs. Wasn’t it previously around $60 a PPV? That’s quite a dip in returns. Isn’t that going to create a miffed roster?

Brian: That has been a burning question for many since the launch. I am afraid some speculate he is pocketing the returns. If that is true and who knows if it is….that is a major problem. These guys bust their asses day in and day out….they deserve the extra bump in pay.

The same has been reported over at TNA…wrestlers getting paid late…production staff not getting paid at all…etc. I have always said in the past that TNA if nothing else…gives wrestlers another venue to make some money and get exposure…but if they are getting paid late or not getting paid at all…what’s the sense???

Craig: The WWE have all but admitted that PPVs are a thing of the past so will be interesting to see how any future contract negotiations go – will superstars want a bigger downside or a bigger percentage of merchandise sales. Curious to see which, if either, the company would prefer.

Even with that said, surely GFW aren’t going to be in much of a position to even tempt TNA contracted performers to jump ship let alone WWE stars, right?

Brian: Word has it that the current TNA champion…Eric Young is very good friends with Jeff Jarrett, that may be why they put the strap on him in the first place. I think Jarrett needs to make a big splash to get his product buzzing. Who knows?

The issues with the WWE to me is simple…it is time for Vince McMahon to step down as boss. I have all the respect in the world for Vince, but he is becoming what he destroyed as a young man. A stubborn, old promoter who likes to continually change ideas before they can come to fruition. It’s time to let Triple H and Stephanie to run the show completely.

Craig: You think Vince is basically now what people like Verne Gagne was in the 80s? That’s probably a position worthy of a post of its own.

I’m not sure I entirely agree. After all, the Network – regardless of the ramifications on wrestlers’ pay – is pretty innovative and the performance centre is going to lead to new talent whilst Gagne kept the same guys at the top at the expense of new stars.

Brian: All true Craig..I don’t want to be misunderstood and say Vince has degenerated (no pun intended) as bad as Verne had gotten….but at the same time, he needs to let Triple H and Stephanie see their visions out without constant changes as has been reported. Vince needs to take a few steps back…at least creatively.

Craig: I wouldn’t disagree with you on that point. Although I think the product has largely been fresher than it has in a while, it would benefit from Vince releasing his grip on it.

TNA have rightly started focusing more on younger talent but I imagine that’s more to do with budget restraints than anything else. Either way,both companies have a younger talent pool to draw from. That’s a good thing.

Not that I saw it but last weekend’s ROH show has received a great deal of praise with many online commentators musing as to how they can best build on that. Could ROH become a credible alternative to WWE?

Brian: Absolutely it can….if it can somehow secure a TV deal. TV rights is what makes these wrestling promotions tick…without them…you are just spinning your wheels. Ring of Honor has been around since 2002 believe it or not….largely due to its concept and talent pool. I’ve always said that if ROH had TNA’s TV deal…it would do so much better. ROH always focused more on the wrestling product than the “entertainment” aspects. Without a TV deal of some kind though…Ring of Honor is just talked about by word of mouth.

Craig: Whenever I’ve tuned in to ROH I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve felt, however, it’s been hampered by iPPV problems which undoubtedly will put folk off purchasing some of their events.

I agree though regarding the talent pool. It’s certainly the best “wrestling” promotion in the WWE. I’d love to see a TV network take a gamble with them. How willing, though, would a TV station be in getting involved with wrestling? The plummeting ratings for TNA will surely make people think there’s only one game in town and that’s the WWE.

Brian: Well if you look at the TV landscape….a network has just picked up Billy Corgan’s wrestling reality show which will feature his company Resistance Pro. Also, Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor) had a wrestling project picked up by a network. Global Force Wrestling is rumored to have a TV deal in place with CMT network in the states…so there is a market out there for wrestling.

Craig: It’d take quite a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the wrestling world to get to the Monday Night Wars heyday but maybe things aren’t as bad as I’d originally made out. The Billy Corgan association will definitely help bring in a new audience. It will be interesting to see how these promotions can capitalise on whatever TV deal they can get. I would love to see Pro Wrestling Guerrilla get a TV deal of some sorts.

All previous Sunday Sermons can be found here.

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