TNA Impact Wrestling starts its annual UK and Ireland tour on Wednesday, 29 January, with Maximum Impact VI events scheduled for Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester, London and then Birmingham. The global Impact Wrestling TV show will also be broadcast live to the US from the Glasgow event for the first time, which shows just how far the company has come in just 12 years of existence.
Part of that success can be put down to sheer persistence, part to the talented roster of wrestlers, presenters and backroom team, and part down to keeping ahead of the game when it comes to the use of social media and other means to engage with an audience between shows. TNA still lives in the shadow of pro wrestling industry giant WWE, but it is steadily growing and in no small part thanks to a cunning use of the digital tools at its disposal.
On the eve of the tour, Pocket-lint sat down with TNA star Kurt Angle, no stranger to the other side of the fence having been one of WWE's biggest draws before his 2006 switch. We also had a chat with Jeremy Borash, Impact Wrestling presenter and the company's leading authority on its digital strategy. And even though they each have differing levels of technological know-how, they agreed as one, social media is vital for the continued success of professional wrestling.
Times they are a-changin'
"We even have to take briefings on how to tweet and what’s the most effective way to tweet," laughed Angle. "I just never thought it would get to the point where we have meetings on the technique of tweeting.
"Times are changing. We’re getting more pressure from the networks we’re on. We just had a meeting with Spike TV and their representatives on who to tweet, how to tweet, when you should retweet. They want us to talk about things that are storyline driven in character."
Kurt Angle at work
This is vital, explained Borash, to help develop storylines while not on air. Unlike WWE, TNA Impact Wrestling is on once a week. And although some exclusive content is also featured on TNA Xplosion, it is mainly a highlight programme. That means feuds and individual character development each need to be worked on outside the confines of television broadcast. Social media is ideal for that.
"Twitter has been a great tool to develop interaction with our larger than life personalities and the conflicts between them," he told us.
"Often, when wrestlers get back through the curtain after a match, one of the first things they do is pick up their smartphones and gather immediate feedback from fans watching the show live. For our antagonist characters, that interaction can range from an all out Twitter war to something simple. Take Rockstar Spud, for instance, his Twitter account gained massive amounts of followers when he simply started correcting grammar and punctuation of people who criticised him via Twitter. It became his thing and fans ate it up.
"Every member, referee and announcer is on Twitter and is encouraged to interact with fans on a daily basis. Can you imagine fans being able to get in a Twitter war with Giant Haystacks back in the day? Now that day is here and has become a huge part of our wrestlers marketing themselves to fans across the world."
Putting yourself over
Certainly the younger wrestlers have realised that this could be a way of growing in the industry quickly.
"Casting agents in movies even check actors for the amount of Twitter followers. So let’s say you get into pro wrestling and you’re pretty decent and you have a million followers already, you probably have a better chance of getting a job than somebody who has no followers," explained Angle.
"So it’s pretty important now. Social media has become the 'it' factor in everything."
TNA Impact Wrestling presenter Jeremy Borash
Borash agrees. "For years, we would often hear disgruntled wrestlers complain that they didn't get enough TV time, or opportunity to 'get themselves over' as characters," he told us.
"Now the ball is in their hands and many wrestlers have utilised this to gain attention from both fans and management behind the scenes.
"We recently implemented an initiative called Impact365, where our wrestlers are encouraged to send in videos of themselves outside of the show itself. Again, this gives the wrestlers the forum to get themselves attention and get noticed. Some have really excelled and broken out just by utilising these various social media outlets."
And it's not just the young guys that embraced technology and its ability to enhance reputations. While Angle admitted that he is still learning the ropes when it comes to Twitter, other TNA legends latched on to it quickly. "There are guys that are on it all day long. I remember Jeff Jarrett. Gosh, I've never seen anybody on it as often," he revealed.
"I always thought he was checking text messages but he was tweeting. He has a good amount of followers and he responds to all of them. I don't know how you do that. It would drive me nuts. He's there all day."
Kurt Angle and our own Rik Henderson discuss some of the questions after the interview
Another area of digital expansion for the industry has been prompted by TNA's major rival, WWE. During a press event at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, the WWE announced plans to launch its own online paid network. And it's a new business model that TNA will watch keenly, just don't expect it to follow suit in the near future.
"Are we going to see a TNA network soon? No. But we have a lot of room for growth and we have a lot of ability with our roster," said Angle.
Borash explained further, "We have always been a company that has evolved and advanced with baby steps, and not to do what our competition is doing for the sake of it."
"We do what is best for TNA Wrestling first and foremost, and if that means a streaming subscription service is something that our fan base demands, we will follow suit accordingly."
But like with a majority of his matches, the last words go to Kurt Angle: "We've taken chances, we've made mistakes, and we're still here. That shows that we're here for the long haul."
Tickets for the TNA Impact Wrestling Maximum Impact VI UK and Ireland tour are still available from Ticketmaster and gigsandtours.com. You can follow Kurt Angle on Twitter at @RealKurtAngle, Jeremy Borash at @JeremyBorash or his UK account @JeremyBorashUK. Find out more about Impact Wrestling at impactwrestling.com.