Last week, it was announced that Anthem Sports’ Impact Wresting television show will be moving to a new network at the start of 2019, leaving Pop TV after a two year run on that station. The fledgling brand will find itself on the Pursuit Channel, a subsidiary of the Anthem umbrella that focuses on hunting and other outdoor sports. As is the case anytime a show switches networks, there’s a risk that a portion of the audience could be lost in the transition, specifically if that particular channel simply isn’t available to the same amount of viewers.
What will this move actually translate to for the Impact brand?
First of all, as much as I’d like to see Don Callis and Scott D’Amore be successful in this venture to resurrect a brand that was undoubtedly going under until Anthem paid to purchase the rights, it must be said that this move to a relatively unknown network in a terrible time slot on Friday at 10 PM does nothing for the future of the organization. Perhaps, as I speculated when the Callis/D’Amore duo took over nearly a year ago, it’s possible that nothing could turn the Impact brand around after how tarnished it was under the Dixie Carter regime. Regardless of what happens from here, it was certainly a noble effort from the pair of executive vice presidents, and it makes you wonder what they could’ve done if given the chance before the TNA brand collapsed?
As simplistic as it might seem, distribution is more or less the key to a successful television program. Basically, you can have the best wrestling show on TV, but if fans don’t have access to it or don’t know where to find it, what difference does that make for revenue or profitability? For example, if fans don’t have access to the Impact show, how exactly does the promotion market or sell their next pay-per-view? A look at the numbers might put into perspective how much of a negative move this could be for the company. Obviously, Pop didn’t want to renew their deal with Impact so Anthem had to shop the show around, and essentially the show was put on an Anthem-owned network because there wasn’t an outside network with better distribution that offered a TV deal. It appears that Anthem chose to distribute their own product, which limits the potential advertising revenue as a way to keep the show on the air. According to The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, Anthem’s Fight Network will no longer have the rights to UFC programming after that company begins its new TV deal with ESPN so basically Anthem has a vested interest to continue to produce Impact programming as a way to provide content for their flagship Fight Network, which might be more of a priority for Anthem than the US television distribution.
As far as the numbers go, TNA’s best chance to truly get off the ground was during their run on Spike TV, a network that has an 80% TV clearance, which translates to roughly 93.4 million homes. When the show was canceled from Spike at the end of 2014, the following year, the show ran on Destination America with availability for 57 million homes or a 49% clearance. Their two-year run on Pop was had access to 74 million homes. The Pursuit Channel can be seen in 45 million homes, making it the lowest in terms of TV clearance in the history of the company’s run on a cable network. Considering that this move to Pursuit will be a 40% drop in availability to Impact, there’s really no upside to this entire situation. Again, it’s possible that Anthem wants to keep the show on the air as a way to draw a crowd for TV tapings in the United States with the greater goal of the focus of the Fight Network. With the lack of traction that Impact has in America, it would actually make sense if Anthem made the Fight Network the priority in terms of how Impact is utilized as a television product.
Unfortunately, the bottom line is, Impact will move to a channel that will yield the least amount of possible viewers in its history. That is not a scenario that will allow for the continued rebuilding process of the organization. The totality of Impact Wrestling might be a commodity for Anthem to use on the Fight Network more than any type of major entity within the sports entertainment industry. Granted, Anthem had to do a lot to clean up Dixie’s mess before they could try to progress the product, but even with a slight buzz at the beginning of the year, Impact just wasn’t able to keep pace with some of the other promotions. New Japan, PWG, Progress, and a few other groups had fans talking about fresh and innovate products. Impact didn’t really garner that type of hype, and there might’ve been a few key points that soured some of the audience.
Early within the Callis/D’Amore regime, Alberto Patron was used as the heavyweight champion, but was stripped after he no-showed an event. It was a questionable decision to put Patron in that spot because he was suspended previously for a domestic incident with Paige, and his star power diminished a lot after he left WWE so what he brought to the table wasn’t worth the risks. The whole situation didn’t help with the direction of the company and there was doubt about its progress just months into the new management. Austin Aries eventually had a run with the world title, and as is the case throughout his career, he left on less than great terms just a few months later. Aries was a decent choice in theory, but again, he didn’t have much star power after his time on WWE TV and his abrupt exit didn’t allow for any type of follow up after he dropped the title. It almost seems like Aries didn’t want to work for Impact unless he was the champion, but who knows? Ultimately, it led to a rather flat finish to the Bound For Glory pay-per-view. Speaking of the BFG event, Johnny Impact beat Aries for the belt and is the current champion, but again he’s another former WWE star that was more popular previously than he is now. That’s not to take anything away from the former John Morrison, but rather to explain that he was away from main stream television for several years so he’s not exactly a draw in 2018.
That being said, Impact had several highlights within the past year as well. The addition of Su Yung to the roster was a great decision and she continues to be one of the most compelling characters in the business. Sami Callihan and Eddie Edwards generated more press for the company with the “baseball bat incident” than the promotion had in years. Pentagon in money and he had the ability to be a major star for any promotion. I truly believe that Impact missed the boat with his title reign and he should’ve been used in a more important role throughout the year. Fenix is a tremendous talent and could be used to rejuvenate the X-Division.
Basically, instead of building the main event around former WWE guys that are arguably past their prime, Impact might’ve been better suited to focus on newer talent like the previously mentioned Callihan, Edwards, and Pentagon as the main event on the card. All of that could be debatable, though, but the numbers are the numbers. Impact will start 2019 with relatively low visibility as only Direct TV, Dish Network, and Verizon carry the Pursuit Channel. Comcast, the largest cable company in the United States, as well as Charter, and Cox Cable, the second and third largest cable distributors respectively, don’t include the Pursuit channel. Maybe Impact management should consider posting full episodes on Youtube or Twitch to allow more fans access to the show? In fact, there’s not necessarily a reason for management to keep the show as an exclusive to Pursuit. Since Anthem already owns the network, they have the rights to put Impact on other platforms, and it’s not as though pro wrestling fits within the Pursuit channel. Is the “Big Bass Fishing Championship” going to be used as a lead for Impact? If nothing else, it will be interesting to see what path Impact takes in 2019, but it’s almost unavoidable to have some gloom around the brand because as mentioned, they could produce a great show, but it simply doesn’t have the distribution to generate hype within the market of the industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta