Submitted by Ben Miller
Oh, what a great time of year. Baseball is in full swing, motion-enabled comics are packing the theaters and middling pro wrestling companies are eating up the news cycles. What does that mean for you, loyal readers? Why, it means that it is time for another edition of Fact or Fiction (a.k.a Coors Light Cold Hard Facts [because Bud Light doesn't pay me]).
The gimmick of "Fact or Fiction" is that I present four straw men statements, and then determine/predict whether the statement is factual or not. The previous Fact or Fiction covered an MMA-related topic, so I wanted the next one to be on wrestling. And boy, oh boy, did the wrestling Gods give us a ridiculous/interesting/ridiculously interesting topic to discuss: ROH, TNA and Destination America.
Fact or Fiction: ROH is now the number two wrestling company in North America
How does one define success in promoting wrestling? TV viewership? Live attendance? Revenues? Profits? Positive cash flow? Awareness in the culture? "Cool" factor? Least risk of going out of business? Arguments can be made for any or all of these metrics. If ROH has a claim on any of the aforementioned success metrics, it is a tenuous claim. My overall promotional rankings would have ROH below number two: 1) WWE, 2) NXT, 3) TNA, 4) ROH.
It should be pointed out that almost nobody in wrestling would consider NXT to not be a part of WWE. WWE corporate funds NXT, WWE PR publicizes NXT and WWE management schedules NXT shows. WWE talent has no ability to field competitive offers from NXT and NXT is not allowed to air on networks that compete with NBC Universal, which has a contract with WWE. From the inside looking out, NXT is part of WWE.
From the outsiders' perspective (aka the fans' perspective), however, NXT is viewed as mostly a separate promotion. NXT runs its own shows. There are numerous fans, myself included, who love watching NXT, but have a hard time stomaching what airs on Raw and Smackdown. And I don't think that WWE's ownership of NXT should disqualify them from being viewed separately.
Even if NXT is not considered a separate promotion from WWE, at best ROH has a tenuous case for number two. ROH may be profitable and a have lower risk of going out of business, but they lag in so far behind in revenues, talent payroll and other areas that ranking them above TNA in overall promotional capacity is a stretch.
Still, though, there are television ratings. Television ratings are a very sexy metric for measuring promotional success in the wrestling world. NXT does not have a rated television product, so they cannot be number two by that metric. TNA has a rated television product, but they will soon fall behind ROH technically.
Fact or Fiction: ROH's television ratings will equal or surpass TNA's.
Fact. (but fictional)
Once ROH begins airing on Destination America, their aggregate viewership in the United States will surpass TNA's. According to Dave Meltzer, ROH was viewed in 350,000 households in Neilsen's top markets over the weekend of May 9-10. At 1.2 to 1.5 viewers per home (a good estimate based on typical pro wrestling viewership), ROH probably drew in the range of 450,000 to 550,000 viewers. That range of viewers is also the range of viewers that TNA gets on Destination America in a typical week for the Wednesday, 9-11 pm (Eastern time) show. So, by adding Destination America and NESN, ROH will draw more total eyeballs each week than TNA.
ROH's impressive viewership numbers, however, are a house of cards. ROH's 350,000 households includes viewership for multiple airings of the same show. (To be fair, TNA's weekly viewership numbers also aggregate audiences from multiple airings.) ROH's show on Sinclair is broadcast on major local television stations, many of them affiliates of NBC, Fox or other large networks. TNA's show airs on a little-known, under-distributed cable/satellite network. The fundamental difference is that almost all of TNA's audience comes from TNA, not the network it airs on. ROH operates with the safety net of popular local television stations that help bring in viewers. On Destination America, ROH will essentially be in TNA's predicament: whatever viewership they draw will be because of them, and them alone.
This whole thing feels like the Delusional Television Ratings Predictions epidemic of 1999 all over again. In 1999, WCW stunk. The Internet wrestling community loved to hate WCW (and for good reason) more than just about anything. By fall of 1999 WCW ratings had sunk to right around the 2.0 mark. Also in fall of 1999, TNN (now Spike TV) agreed to begin airing ECW's weekly TV show.
WCW sucked, and it drew a 2.0. Good wrestling, like Raw and mid-90's WCW, drew way above a 2.0. ECW had a good wrestling product on a relatively well known network. 2.0 was seen (by some Delusional Televisions Ratings Prediction sufferers) as a realistic possibility for ECW's debut rating.
In reality, what happened in 1999 vis-a-vis television ratings ended up being one of the sad, sad stories in modern pro wrestling history. TNN bigwigs started to believe the Internet hype, and were hoping for a debut that would rival WCW's 2.0 ratings. Word leaked out on the Internet that ECW's debut show on TNN was a barnburner, with WCW signee Raven making a shocking return to win a share of the ECW tag team titles with his long time storyline nemesis, Tommy Dreamer, thus stoking expectations ever higher. Then the show aired, and it looked like it could've been produced by first-year film school students.
After that, the ratings came out and it did a 0.9, well below even the most pessimistic expectations at TNN. (Memories of certain Internet wrestling journalists' literary contortions in attempting to spin the 0.9 as a positive still hold a fond comic place in my heart to this day.) TNN almost immediately lost confidence in the show. ECW petulantly blamed the network. The supposed three-year contract between ECW and TNN ended after less than 60 weeks with ECW's arena and pay-per-view levels lower than before making national television, and with Paul E.'s dream on a clear path to insolvency.
(Oy. What a disaster. Let's hope that ROH and Destination America have a much better marriage than ECW and TNN.)
So, no, it is in fact unlikely that a relatively unknown wrestling promotion with substandard production values is going to draw more viewers on Destination America than an established product with acceptable production values.
Despite ROH's impending lead over TNA in aggregate national viewership, an apples-to-apples comparison of television numbers is almost certain to look bad for ROH. There are also worrying parallels between Destination Americaâ€™s gambit with ROH and that sad, sad story about ECW on TNN. And that's what leads us into Coors Light Cold Hard Fact number three:
Fact or Fiction: ROH moving to Destination America is a no-lose situation
Read the following, and try to think of where you might have read this before:
In the mid twenty-teens, TNA stunk. The Internet wrestling community loved to hate TNA (and for good reason) more than just about anything. By summer of 2015 TNA viewership had sunk to right around the 300,000 mark. Also in summer of 2015, Destination America agreed to begin airing ROH's weekly TV show. While ROH had begun showing signs of decline from it's peak in the late double-ohs, it was probably still the only thing the Internet wrestling community loved more than hating TNA. TNA sucked, and it drew 300,000 viewers. Good wrestling draws way above 300,000 viewers. Even the very first episode of TNA on Destination America drew decisively more than 300,000 viewers. And ROH has a good wrestling product on the same network.
Got the answer? Give up? That was a condensed version of the ECW/TNN debacle of 1999, with a few substitutions made. I took out WCW for TNA, ECW for ROH, TNN for Destination America and 2.0 ratings for 300,000 viewers.
Most likely ROH's relationship with Destination America is going to be less of a mess than ECW's relationship was with TNN, but it is far from a no-lose situation. Destination America execs could freak out when they see ROH's amateurish lighting and presentation. TNA's ratings from 9-11 pm Eastern Time could double or triple ROH's ratings in the eight o'clock hour. ROH's viewership could be good enough for Destination America to choose them over TNA in September, but only if ROH gets Sinclair to spend more money on production. (Something that Sinclair is unlikely to do.) Jeff Jarrett could swoop in and make a deal to replace ROH in December. None of those things would be good for ROH. All of those things would likely have a chilling effect on locker room morale and possibly lead to bigger problems in the future.
Adding ROH to the schedule is also far from a no-lose for Destination America. Unless ROH has made an astonishing leap in production quality in one week, Destination America is about to air a television program that looks like it came straight from a student film festival. Ad buyers -- who are the people who really run the television business -- might notice that. If the ad buyers who had already been avoiding TNA see that the added wrestling product looks rinky-dink, they may start to wonder if Destination America is a network that is advertiser-friendly.
But at least Destination America heeded advertisers in canceling TNA, right?...
Fact or Fiction: iMPACT Wrestling will no longer air on Destination America after September.
Fact. (But it's close.)
It seems very unlikely that TNA is going to be on Destination America past September. The move to make ROH's weekly TV into a lead-in for iMPACT appears to be one last chance for TNA. If Internet hype and a wrestling lead-in and maybe a little bit fresher product can't boost TNA's viewership over these last few months, then what would? In September Destination America would be able to cancel TNA with a strong feeling that the network gave the best effort they could at making iMPACT a success.
The problem is that ROH is fool's gold as a lead-in. Yes, it's wrestling. But it's wrestling that has never had a national television presence, that features (talented, enjoyable-to-watch, friendly people, but) relative unknown talent on a show that will instantly be among the most cheap-looking in all of prime time cable television. So, it's unlikely that the ROH lead-in will boost TNA's ratings to a level that would ensure iMPACT's survival into autumn.
There is, however, a more morose scenario that could keep iMPACT on Destination America: ROH's viewership could be so ugly that it makes TNA look good by comparison. On Destination America, a network which appears to have never had a single hour of prime time television make the top 100 in daily cable/satellite TV ratings, ROH's viewership could be downright miniscule. Sinclair claims that ROH draws around 500,000 viewers per week. That is viewership on over-the-air television stations, some of which air hit shows from NBC, Fox and other networks that draw over ten million viewers per week, nationally.
Now ROH is on a cable/satellite television network that has no signature shows, 60% distribution and a name that the average ardent television watcher is unfamiliar with. In short, an ROH number in the five figures is quite possible. In fact, if you asked me whether I thought ROH would beat UFC Tonight on Fox Sports 1 (which drew 85,000 viewers this week in the time slot that ROH is going to be in) head-to-head, I think I would say, "no".
A five-figure viewership number for ROH would be bad for ROH and Destination America, but it would not guarantee TNA's survival on the network. And ultimately, I do think that TNA will be off Destination America after September. I think that TNA's best chance is the possibility that the ROH lead-in will boost TNA's viewership enough to make the network reconsider. I think that ROH will flop, and then the network will look elsewhere for what it perceives to be red-state programming.
This is all very negative. ROH's ratings are going to be awful, the move to Destination America could hurt the company and those events still won't keep TNA on the network and in a solid number two position. Those are the Coors Light Cold Hard Facts, as I see them.
There is also hope. Some other company (one with a higher quality production) could emerge. TNA could view these events as a warning sign, switch to a fresher product and find a different network. And, of course, there's NXT (and PWG for us Los Angeles area wrestling fans). As long as NXT keeps producing killer shows in a style that is different from WWE, I'm happy to have them as (what I would consider) the USA's number two wrestling promotion for English-speaking audiences.