Monday night is a pivotal night in the professional wrestling industry. (Yep, talking ‘rasslin’ again…sorry…but work with me here, it’s worth it!)
Several months ago, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), the #2 wrestling organization in the world, signed without question, the biggest name in professional wrestling history, in Hulk Hogan. From the “Hulkamania” heyday of the 1980s, to an acting career in the 1990s and a family-wrecking reality TV show in the 2000s, Hogan has been a pop culture staple for over three decades now!
For most of their seven years of existance, TNA has combined young, athletic stars with a varying mix of JUST past their prime stars and WAY past their prime stars. Sure, TNA has had some major stars, like Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy and Christian, but the focus of their roster has been on introducing rising comeptitors while having “brand-name” wrestlers in featured roles.
Because of that dichotomy, TNA has gained a reputation for delivering a terrific in-ring product and some strange, nonesensical booking decisions. They are a solid #2, who had no real shot of becoming #1.
#1, of course, is the behemoth, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). With roots dating back no less than four generations, the company, spearheaded by Vince McMahon. They have been THE dominant brand in “sports-entertainment,” bringing Andre the Giant, Bruno Sammartino, Steve Austin, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, and a host of others, including Hulk Hogan himself, into our living rooms for years.
By signing Hulk Hogan, TNA hoped to make a seismic shift in the industry. And by introducing Hulk Hogan to their audience in a special way, the hoped to gain fans’ attention in a big way.
TNA’s flagship program, “IMPACT,” usually airs, taped, on Thursday nights on SpikeTV. For this occassion, they decided to run a live TV show on Monday, January 4, directly competing with WWE’s main offering, “Monday Night Raw” on the USA Network.
Here is TNA’s promo video for the special event:
A passive company would sit back and see what the competition would bring to the table. A passive company would let TNA have their moment to shine and let the fans decide after seeing what each show brings to the industry.
WWE is NOT a passive company.
They, perfectly, were one step ahead of their competition.
You see, the wrestling world changed in 1997. Amid a financial crisis, Vince reportedly told his champion, Bret Hart, that the company could no longer afford his services. Hart, who had been a top WWE performer for over a decade, capturing countless titles and earning a reputation as “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be,” signed a deal to wrestle for World Championship Wrestling. WCW, at the time, was actually ahead of WWE in many measureable catagories. There was only one problem: Hart was still the on-screen champion of the company.
At Survivor Series in Montreal, the Canadian icon Hart faced his arch-nemesis, Shawn Michaels. Hart and McMahon had come to agreement on Hart beating Michaels that night and losing the title on the next night’s Raw show. However, real life and the on-screen storyline blended in monumental fashion as McMahon instructed the referee to end the match while Hart was in a painful hold, giving the impression that he quit.
At that moment, McMahon became the biggest on-screen bad-guy in the industry and Hart became it’s lone wolf. Hart, a hero to fans of in-ring action, was gone, and the WWE turned towards crude humor and sexuality to captivate an older fanbase.
For over 12 years, Hart and McMahon have barely spoken, the anger too great, the animosity too high. Hart participated in two WWE projects: a DVD retrospective on his career and a Hall of Fame induction, where Hart could take his place in the pantheon of greats. But beyond that, no known contact.
Somewhere, behind some locked door in a dark, dark room, Bret Hart was approached by WWE about returning. A concussion and a stroke kept Hart in hiding for most of the 2000s. Word leaked out that he had agreed to host Raw…and maybe even stick around for a few months…and wrestling fans were apoplectic.
A living legend that nobody has seen in years was coming back to his old stomping grounds to confront his real-life enemy on live TV. And he would do it on Monday, January 4.
Let’s bring it back to PR: Companies have very few aces in the hole. And even fewer know when to use them and how to use them properly.
In this case, when the biggest household name in the business’ history was returning to combat them, WWE not only pulled a good card…they pulled the RIGHT card.
TNA is known for in-ring action, as stated above. On January 4th, TNA will do the improbable, by signing Hulk Hogan. On January 4th, WWE will do the impossible, by signing Bret Hart.
This was a clear case study in knowing your audience, knowing your competition, and staying one step ahead of them all.
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