Nearly two years after it was announced that the accomplished Scott D’Amore and Don Callis were the new management team for Anthem’s Impact Wrestling project, another recent announcement could have a major effect on the wrestling organization in the future. After negotiations that reportedly started at the beginning of the year, Anthem, the parent company of Canada’s Fight Network, bought the AXS TV channel along with HD Net as well, both properties of Mark Cuban, the very successful businessman that is known as the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. As apart of the transaction, Anthem will partner with Cuban, who will still lend his expertise to the next phase of programming on AXS. While the clearance doesn’t reach as far as other channels, the prior Cuban-owned network is a known commodity, specifically because of its association with the basketball owner. In the wrestling world, AXS played a key role in New Japan’s American expansion as it became the Japanese league’s TV distribution in the United States with the recognizable voices of Jim Ross and MMA fighter, Josh Barrett. The network also airs the women’s show WOW, but as of now, it’s unknown how or if this Anthem deal could affect other wrestling ventures on the network.
As far as a pro wrestling prospective, what does this acquisition mean for the Impact Wrestling brand?
Obviously, the major piece of the puzzle for this deal was it clears the way for Impact Wrestling to move its television show to AXS, which is key, considering that the availability of the show on the Anthem-owned Pursuit channel is almost non-existent. In fact, while there were rumors of a possible Anthem/AXS deal late last year, supposedly, the only reason that Impact was moved to Pursuit was to keep it on television in some form after it wasn’t renewed by Pop TV. Numbers for Pursuit aren’t often available, but a mere 12,000 viewers were counted for a particular episode in February of this year. The simulcast on Twitch in the Friday night time slot did very little to help the situation, drawing roughly 10,000 additional viewers weekly. Media properties being sold, repackaged, or redistributed isn’t anything new, but what counts is the availability for the Impact product as the sports entertainment industry has new dynamics ahead of it.
Unfortunately, a look at the actual numbers indicates that this might be more of a lateral move for Impact in terms of its distribution.
As an example, when TNA debuted on Destination America following its nine-year run on Spike, that channel was available to 57 million homes in the United States. After a year on that station, it moved to Pop TV, which has a clearance of 74 million homes. The Pursuit Channel can be seen in an estimated 45 million homes. As of now, AXS TV is available in roughly 50 million homes, putting it in the middle in terms of distribution of Impact TV outlets in the past five years. While those sound like big numbers, to put it into the proper perspective of the TV industry, Spike TV has a clearance of an estimated 93 million homes in the country. As mentioned, AXS is more well-known as a commodity because its under the Cuban umbrella and it also has the New Japan deal, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to actual availability to viewers. The numbers are the numbers, and on paper AXS only puts Impact TV in a slightly better spot than it is now with the Pursuit Channel. That being said, the upside is, the potential for expanded coverage for AXS is much greater than any other avenue that Impact had so if AXS expands to more markets then obviously, that will be a valuable increase for the wrestling program as well. In fact, the most important part of this deal for the wrestling league could be the potential of the expansion of the AXS network. Plus, it’s undoubtedly a better choice than the Pursuit Channel, considering that something like “Big Bob’s Bass Fishing” isn’t exactly the best complimentary programming. The limited clearance could allow someone in the witness protection program to appear on a show on the Pursuit Channel and still be in no danger.
As far as the other wrestling shows on AXS, I would say that if at all possible, they should be maintained on the channel, as a wrestling programming block with such contrasting products might actually be a unique set up for the network.
The other side of the coin are the sports entertainment aspects of this scenario, specifically the depth or lack thereof for the Impact roster after some key departures, including LAX and The Lucha Brothers, two of the organization’s best acts under the Anthem regime. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some very talented athletes under contract with The North, Elgin, Tessa, Callihan, Su Yung, Cage, and others signed to deal, but the crowded wrestling landscape might eventually squeeze them out if the competition for talent continues among WWE and AEW. Right now, Sami Callihan is probably their best bet as champion, considering that his persona and in-ring ability are at a main event level. Keep in mind, the infamous “baseball bat incident” last year got the company more press than they had in years prior to that.
While I understand the promotion has to do something different to standout in the previously mentioned crowded field, I don’t think their current direction will necessarily resonate with fans that are looking toward a new era of the industry in the next few months. Ken Shamrock, former early UFC grappler and WWF star, returned to the sports entertainment scene at a recent Impact TV taping, setting up a match against Moose at Bound For Glory next month. The 55-year old Shamrock actually has a brief history with NWA-TNA, winning the NWA World championship at the first pay-per-view in 2002 before he dropped it a few weeks later to Ron Killings. While “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” had a memorable run in sports entertainment because of his transition back to the squared circle in the late 90s after he garnered notoriety from the then-relatively new sport of mixed martial arts, he didn’t really have an extensive run in the WWF. His nearly three years under contract only saw him near the top of the card for a short time and injuries put him on the shelf prior to his exit. More importantly, Ken Shamrock was past his prime as a fighter 15 years ago and had some embarrassing moments inside the cage since then, including a lackluster loss to former rival Royce Gracie in his most recent MMA contest in 2016. Shamrock’s last victory in mixed martial arts was at a regional event in 2010.
Stephan Bonnar is another MMA name that resurfaced at the recent tapings, but he worked for Impact in 2017 so he’s not totally new to the ring. Bonnar has a place in the history of MMA because of his epic and influential bout against Forrest Griffin. He also had a solid career, but hasn’t fought since 2014. Bonnar is a recognizable name among MMA fans, but I’m not sure he’s much of a draw at all for the pro wrestling demographic. Frank Trigg, another former UFC fighter, also made an appearance, but Trigg is more or less irrelevant in both sports. The point being, WWE has used Brock Lesnar’s UFC background as the foundation for his mega push in the past several years so another MMA angles with be minor league in comparison, simply because of the scale of WWE’s platform.
That being said, AXS is definitely an improvement for Impact Wrestling, but it doesn’t automatically put them on a successful path either. As mentioned, with the addition of AEW on TNT next month, there will officially be another national promotion on the map, is there really enough room almost half a dozen companies on some form of TV in the United States? There’s no upside for Impact Wrestling to shut down because then talented performers wouldn’t have the stage to showcase their talents so if nothing else, at least the move to AXS is progress toward better distribution for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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