PR Buzz – The Jeff Jarrett/Kurt Angle Situation
Longtime readers of The Buzz know that I am a professional wrestling fan. Always have been, and I’m pretty sure I always will be.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is the top organization in the world. A publicly-traded company, it is a live-event/Pay-Per-View/TV machine, not to mention licensing, publishing, films and several other revenue streams. Even if you aren’t a wrestling fan, you’ve heard of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Bruno Sammartino, John Cena, The Undertaker and several others. Those are/were WWE guys.
In wrestling, storylines give context to the matches, a morality play unveiled in the ring, involving athleticism, craftsmanship and drama. Sometimes comedy, but that’s not relevant here. A writing staff (or “bookers”) come up with the stories and the wrestlers provide the action.
No writer could have come up with the current situation in the #2 wrestling organization in the United States, Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling.
Founded early this decade by veteran wrestler Jeff Jarrett, TNA provided opportunity to the emerging wrestlers. First, the company ran weekly pay-per-views featuring a mix of established stars like Jarrett, Ken Shamrock, Ron Killings, short-term guest stars like Scott Hall, Sting and Randy Savage, and the “next generation” of wrestlers, such as AJ Styles, America’s Most Wanted, Low-Ki, Christopher Daniels and others.
As the company grew, they landed a weekly timeslot on Fox Sports Net before moving their current home, SpikeTV. With Spike’s investment, TNA was encouraged to increase the budget and acquire big-name talents. Former WWE and World Championship Wrestling (the previous #2) stars like Jeff Hardy, Kevin Nash, the Steiner Brothers, the Dudley Boys and many more led that wave. Soon, some of the biggest names in the business, like Christian Cage, Booker T, Mick Foley, Sting, and the only Olympic gold medalist in pro wrestling history, Kurt Angle, found their way into TNA. Sure, some of these guys were past their prime, but they were still a big draw. Angle’s wife, Karen, came to manage Kurt.
Now, wrestling fans will tell you that involving your wife or girlfriend in an on-screen role is doomed to failure in real life. Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth divorced. Diamond Dallas Page split with Kimberley. The list does go on.
Within a year or so, Kurt and Karen filed for divorce and Karen left the promotion. Kurt’s career continued to blossom in TNA, as he was always in the World Title picture. He eventually helped create a stable of those veteran performers, the Main Event Mafia, which he currently leads.
Jeff Jarrett stepped back from his on-screen performing role as his wife fought–and lost her battle to–cancer. Once the most despised bad guy (or “heel”) in the organization, he returned as a widower, single father and TNA founder to thunderous ovations.
He has spent much of the past year or so feuding with Angle and the Mafia.
An anonymous person, identifying themselves as a TNA “employee” called into the Bubba the Love Sponge radio program. Using a voice distorter, they proclaimed that Karen Angle, Kurt’s ex-wife, was romantically involved with Jeff Jarrett and had moved into his house–with her and Kurt’s children.
Let me say that one more time: Founder of company loses wife. Star of company divorces wife. Founder and star’s ex-wife now involved.
Apparently, Kurt was aware of the situation for some time and was dealing with it professionally, to his utmost credit.
Once the word leaked out, TNA had a difficult and quick PR decision to make.
The organization immediately pulled Jeff out of his ongoing storyline and off the road. They did not confirm or deny the report, but Jarrett wasn’t behind the scenes at their big show on Sunday, while Kurt Angle walked out as champion.
As an organization, who do you side with: your founder or your top performer?
And as professional wrestling organization, while WWE has worked to shed the “hillbilly/redneck” stereotype, creating a high-profile, sanitized product that the entire family can enjoy, how do you explain the founder shacking up with his talent’s ex?
Here is my take on the situation. Performers, even the best ones, come and go. The founder of the company is the rock on which the entire organization was built. In this situation, if you must put one person in front of the entire organization, you chose the behind-the-scenes leader, even though his reputation with the rest of the company may be tarnished. Sending Jarrett home was the perfect move. However, it had no storyline reason. One week he was in the thick of the story and now he’s at home. They could have at least filmed an attack on him to explain his absence to those not “in the know” of the truth behind the matter.
Kurt Angle comes across here looking like a superstar. His boss is living with his recently-divorced ex-wife and he continued to deliver the goods on-screen without being a distraction in the company. He easily could have said “screw this, I quit!” and I doubt anyone would have blamed him. Hell, I’m sure that’s what I would have done, myself.
While TNA sends it’s founder away for a while, Angle is still the champion and star of the company. And in that, TNA made the right move. Don’t mess with the championship program, which would leave the fans feeling cheated. Removing Jarrett from the equation is the path of least resistance and the right call to make, from a PR sense.
Given these facts, even if you aren’t a wrestling fan, what do you think of what TNA did?
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