April 16, 2010

Market Wrestling, Not Sex

"We don't settle grudges with pillow fights. Bikinis and lingerie? Screw that!"

-SpikeTV promo advertising the TNA Knockouts.

"Just watched from my DVR the Knockouts match. Wow, WTF is happening to our division?"

-ODB, facebook, 4/13/10.

Oh, how I love this new comments feature and the instant feedback it allows. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to work hard to provide intelligent, thought-provoking commentary for our readers, week after week, only to have my diligence rewarded by some 12-year-old on his daddy's iPad, who has yet to master the art of spelling and punctuation, accusing me of giving Vince McMahon a rimjob. Is it any wonder why I do this for free?

[SIDENOTE: This is in reference to the comments section of TNAwrestlingnews.com, for which this editorial was written.]

Anyway, I suppose I should be nicer to my small, yet vocal contingent of haters out there on the interweb. After all, this follow-up to the Shame On Dixie column was partially inspired by them and their undeniably charming brand of uninformed stupidity.

Last Sunday, I saw a movie called the Runaways (good movie if you're interested), a biopic about the 1970's all-girl rock band of the same name. The most interesting scene in the film to me, and the one that made me want to write this column, was one that took place after the Runaways played their infamous gig in Japan where the group's lead singer, Cherie Currie, performed their hit song, Cherry Bomb, in skimpy lingerie. After the show, she was confronted by the other members of the band who had just seen an alarming sexually provocative photo shoot the underage Currie had done for a Japanese magazine without their knowledge.

Lead guitarist, Joan Jett, informed Currie that, while such publicity would make their manager and record label happy, this would cause the fans to view them as sex objects when they have always faced an uphill battle to be taken seriously as musicians. Jett then vehemently stated that Currie should publicize their music, not her crotch.

Does this remind you of anything?

Replace music with wrestling and Cherie Currie's crotch with Lacey Von Erich's chest and you'll see the point I was trying to make before.

Previously, some oh-so-eloquent people in the comments section informed me that my criticism of the atrocious lockbox/striptease angle was taking things too seriously, and since the ratings went up for the segment, TNA likely didn't care that it was in poor taste, robbed the Knockout singles championship of any prestige it still had, and made absolutely no damn sense. After all, ratings are what's most important, right?

Maybe... if TNA wasn't shooting themselves in the foot to get them.

Once upon a time, TNA marketed the Knockouts as a group of women who were athletes, serious competitors, women who were completely opposed to the WWE's philosophy of ignoring whatever wrestling ability their female talents might have, and instead using them simply for titillation.

As luck would have it, this strategy payed off. Only a few months after its creation, the Knockout division segments were routinely drawing the highest ratings on iMPACT nearly every week. Shockingly, they didn't have to take their clothes off to do it either. They didn't have to be exhibitionists to get viewers to pay attention to them. All they had to be was what TNA advertised them as: wrestlers.

I think TNA still tries to market the Knockouts like this to some extant, but it's a different ballgame now. Ever since Hogan & Bischoff joined TNA, the treatment of the Knockouts has gone through a very unfortunate and disturbing transformation.

Not only has their screen time been reduced to a mear fraction of what they were getting before -- a stupid move, since they draw ratings better than virtually anything else TNA has going for them right now -- but the very thought process with the way they're booked has changed, and if the lockbox/striptease angle wasn't proof enough of that, then I don't know what is.

Their matches are much shorter and of much lower quality now, since the best workers on the Knockout roster are being ignored in favor of far less talented model-types like the Beautiful People. And more often than not, these model-types are used in ways obviously meant to do nothing but attract the most fickle of audiences (casual fans and horny teenagers) to the show, and are pushed in ways completely disproportionate to their talent.

Remember the Beautiful People mud wrestling match from a few months ago? My point exactly.

And all this begs an important question: if the Knockouts had already proven that they could consistently draw ratings as wrestlers instead of eye candy, then why have them be eye candy?

First of all, it goes completely against the way TNA marketed the Knockouts by having them indulge in behavior which they claim to be above.

Second, the WWE already does this. The WWE Divas are a joke. Very few of them can actually work a good match, and the ones that can almost never get a chance to show it. Many of them can't wrestle their way out of a paper bag, but get pushed anyway because of their looks (ex. Maryse).

And yet, all indications are that this is the direction that Hogan & Bischoff want to take the Knockout division in -- emphasizing the women's sex appeal and to hell with their wrestling. They want to turn the Knockouts into the WWE Divas.

Why? Why needlessly change it when TNA had something that was a true and effective alternative to a key weakness in the WWE's product that was already a proven success, just the way it was? If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

I ask you, if fans have a choice between watching glorified models who can't wrestle on Raw and glorified models who can't wrestle on iMPACT, which show do you think they're going to watch? Wouldn't presenting something different be a better idea? Don't you think fans would rather watch women who can wrestle than women who get in the ring and fall all over themselves?

Memo to TNA: you can't out-WWE the WWE, so stop trying.

If you market the Knockouts as one thing, you can't have them be something completely different on the show. You can't call them serious athletes and then book a Beautiful People mud wrestling match. You can't write promos for them where they take potshots at the WWE Divas for being all about looks and then have Lacey Von Erich perform a striptease in a desperate attempt to pop the rating.

It makes your female talents, not to mention your entire company look like a bunch of hypocrites. It engenders a great deal of frustration from fans like myself and others who tune in to see a certain type of product and don't get what you promised. And it probably discourages potential advertisers as well, when you market one thing and then present something else entirely.

And perhaps most importantly, doing that completely destroys the way TNA branded the Knockouts in the first place. Things like this are why people in the business are always saying that TNA has no brand identity, which could hurt the long term prospects of this company more than anything else.

By the way, following that infamous photoshoot, Cherie Curry left the Runaways and eventually faded away into obscurity while Joan Jett went on to have a successful music career with her new band.

Take a lesson from Joan Jett, TNA. Market the wrestling, not the sex. It was working perfectly well before, and it still can.

And now, in one final act of PWNage, I present to you, the aforementioned frontwoman for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts as she delivers an important message...

Just close your eyes, listen to the song and imagine this is me singing about TNA.



Costa said...

You are the man Ed. Let me ask you this question and maybe you can respond in a youtube video, if TNA ends up folding their tents and shutting down, can ROH take their spot as a viable alternative to WWE.

Dustin said...

Hey, Costa!

Sorry for the late response, but to be brutally honest with you, as much as I'd LOVE ROH to be the #2 promotion, there are still a few things they need to do before they can take on that role. Ed even addressed this last year in the following YouTube video:

ROH vs. TNA/WWE & TNA HD iMPACT! The family reigns supreme


Copy and paste the link into your browser, and you'll probably get the idea.