In my last column, I discussed ideas that Impact could do to ensure they didn’t become a casualty of the upcoming Wednesday Night War between World Wrestling Entertainment and All Elite Wrestling.
One of my ideas was not, “Have Your Parent Company Get Majority Ownership of a Network” – should have thought of that. Because that’s what Anthem Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of Impact Wrestling did when they announced that they had taken majority ownership of AXS TV and HDNet Movies in a deal that has them doing business with everyone from Mark Cuban to Steve Harvey.
For the first time in a while, Impact is in a position of stability with regards to their television home. With that no longer a point of concern, or topic of conversation for the wrestling and social media sites, the question becomes what now?
I have some thoughts:
Harvey, the entertainer, producer and businessman, knows quite a bit about establishing a brand as host of the hit game show Family Feud and his own popular syndicated radio show “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.” He could help Impact and some of their talent in building their brand as well.
Picture Rich Swann or Willie Mack doing guest spots on Harvey’s radio show and gaining a whole new audience of fans from telling their life stories of growing up in Baltimore and South Central Los Angeles respectively to becoming pro wrestling stars.
Another partner in the Anthem AXS deal that could greatly benefit Impact is the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company, and an equity partner in the deal.
AEG could open doors to venues they own both in the United States (including Nashville Yards in Impact’s home base of Nashville) and abroad with their many global partnerships. Return tours to the U.K. and India seem much more possible now.
However, one of the biggest relationships Impact needs to build on is actually a previous one that is in need of repair.
It also resulted in Impact talent like Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle, Team 3D and the Motor City Machine Guns traveling to Japan for New Japan’s signature show, Wrestle Kingdom, at the Tokyo Dome.
However, that relationship soured during a period when Okada was serving a developmental tour in the US with then Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (which would later become Impact Wrestling). Questionable booking by then Impact creative head Vince Russo that had Okada play a stereotypical character “Okato” (based of the Kato character from The Green Hornet series), and rumors that Okada was not well taken care of during his time in the states (those rumors have not been proven), led to fractures in the relationship and it dissolving.
New Japan would start a partnership with another US promotion in Ring of Honor, which led to great success – however New Japan has backed away from the ROH relationship recently.
Now, Impact and New Japan are soon-to-be neighbors on the same network (maybe on the same day, more on that in a second). There is reportedly still some bad feelings (mostly on the side of New Japan) and those need to be smoothed over sooner than later.
With no one from the regime that was in power when Okada did his excursion currently being involved with Impact (and New Japan having a new President/CEO in Harold Meji), it seems like a simple matter of getting all parties together for a sitdown and pointing out how they need to work together and how they (and AXS) will be better for it.
Currently, AXS has a Saturday wrestling block of New Japan and Women of Wrestling (WOW). It would not be a surprise if Impact is added to that block, which would make cross-promoting synergy a must.
Impact Executive Vice President Don Callis also serves as the color commentator for Impact, but was once the color guy for New Japan with play-by-play commentator Kevin Kelly. The duo was one of the best in wrestling and this is a chance for a reunion.
Speaking of a Saturday wrestling block.
Anthem President Len Asper has said that he doesn’t plan to make changes to the AXS TV lineup, but the one change that is known to be happening is that Impact will move to the network. It makes sense to put it with the other wrestling properties.
I could easily see Impact being 7-9 PM EST, New Japan being 9-10 PM and WOW being 10-11, or some variation of the formula. WOW, being a seasonal program, will be on hiatus part of the year and allow New Japan to grow to two hours during the G-1 tournament season.
While some view this as negative and could possibly hurt Impact, I think it’s potentially the best spot for them.
The best example of why is what New Japan has done on Saturdays on AXS. Even before the show was moved there for the Saturday Slam block, they did live shows and all-day marathons (hosted by stars of New Japan) leading into the live show on that day.
It’s been a long time since Impact has had anything like that. Along with the possible synergy with NJPW and WOW airing in the same block, it could be the strongest Impact has been since the Spike TV days.
Well Mr. Asper, if it is content you’re looking for, you may want to take a look at one of Impact’s competitors, Ring of Honor. A year ago, the idea would have been unfathomable as Impact was well below ROH in the pecking order, however the departure of some of ROH’s biggest stars (the “Elite” of Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks and Adam “Hangman” Page along with New Japan choosing to do their own shows instead of co-branded shows with ROH) along with ROH’s inability to develop new stars to fill those holes has left the company vulnerable.
Much like Impact, now that Anthem is majority owner of AXS, ROH’s TV situation is stable as they are owned by their TV partner, Sinclair Broadcasting. However, Sinclair has never put a significant amount of money into the company and has treated it like cheap original content for their affiliates.
If cheap original content is what Sinclair needs, then Anthem has come into possession of a great deal of it with AXS. There could definitely be a deal to be made that would get Sinclair plenty of additional content for their channels and provide Impact more talent to solidify their spot as the number three pro wrestling promotion in the US.
Win-win all around.
While they languished on the Pursuit Network, Impact has tried a few things to gain attention to the brand – the biggest being intergender wrestling, men wrestling women, which none of the other national promotions do.
The company’s biggest star is arguably Tessa Blanchard (also the star of WOW), so it has basic logic in the interest of giving their biggest star the most exposure. However, as they now reach more eyes, will intergender appeal to a more mainstream audience that Impact will no doubt try to draw?
If not, and even if it does, Impact must decide what its identity is going to be on AXS as they possibly try to find their place on a four-hour block of wrestling on Saturday – much less nine or more hours of wrestling throughout the week.
Who are your franchise stars? What is the fate of the X division (which has long been a key piece of the company’s identity)? How will their identity relate or interact with fellow AXS wrestling properties New Japan and WOW? Where will Impact fall on the argument of wrestling as performance art or performance sport?
These are just some of the questions Impact creative will need to answer as they enter the AXS era.
The answers, like this new era of Impact, should be pretty interesting.