This is the most important week in Ring Of Honor (ROH) wrestling history. After a four month lame duck period since Sinclair Broadcasting Group (SBG) bought the company, their new television show is set to debut on Sinclair stations this coming Saturday. I wish ROH the best of luck in their endeavours to make new fans through this opportunity. They deliver the most athletic wrestling action in North America and have the best booking too, thanks to veteran promoting hands like Jim Cornette and Gary Juster aiding the creative Hunter "Delirious" Johnson to craft consistently compelling and logical storylines. They deserve to succeed, but that doesn't mean that they will. Ever since we heard the news at Cageside Seats of the buyout, we've been skeptical at how Sinclair Broadcasting planned to make syndicating wrestling programming work after it died out 15 years ago. Unfortunately the recent appearance of ROH's new COO Joe Koff on Bryan Alvarez's Figure Four Daily radio show did nothing to allay my fears.
I think Koff is so in love with the ROH product that he seems oblivious as to how difficult it will be to turn what is basically a third tier wrestling promotion into a profitable entity. He says that all the product needs is exposure, but personally I'm not sure Sinclair Broadcasting is enough of a step up from HDNet to make much of a difference, given that over 75% of the country won't receive the show. Their television thankfully will also be made available on a delayed basis on the ROH website, but that's only a means to service their existing fan base in those markets where Sinclair Broadcasting do not have an affiliate.
When asked about how the ROH show will differ from the one that aired on HDNet, I wasn't convinced that all they needed to do for it to be a success was give it a fresh lick of paint and thought that many of the criticisms he leveled at HDNet as a station could also be used against his SBG:
"I think the main difference is the focus. The people that I have producing this program are wrestling people, so I think it brings a different spirit to the taping. You're going to see brand new graphics. You're going to see incredible action, which I think you saw on the HDNet show. You know what, I think the HDNet show was fine, I just think that nobody saw it. Perhaps if it was a larger platform we wouldn't be having this conversation, you'd be talking to Cary still. But, you know, the difference is that HDNet platform while it's worldwide and while it has coverage and carriage on most cable systems, it's just not a destination for anybody and just having an errant hour of Ring Of Honor wrestling which is hardly, you know, to the fan, to the true fan everyone know what it is, but to the casual wrestling fan, just like you said earlier, what is ROH exactly? Nobody is going to seek it out. It was also up against Raw on Monday night, there were a lot of strategic things that just didn't make sense about that, but prior to me, I don't knock it, I give Cary all the credit for even getting the clearance on HDNet. But as far as technically or as far as aesthetically, I'd like to think our program is just as pretty, but I think it's the content that's going to make us soar. I mean having Nigel in there and Kevin Kelly I think these are good additions to the program. It's well thought out, it's gonna tell a story, we're introducing our people to the non-ROH fan in the opening episodes because we have to establish ourselves as an organisation, so I think people are going to find it entertaining and I want them to just enjoy it and see the wrestling and go wow, that's really good wrestling, I can't wait to see what they have next week and then that's how it builds. Hopefully someone will tell a friend and someone will tell a friend and every person knows ten people and if then those ten people tell ten more people, then I'm in business."
Oh dear, where should I start? The problem is that there's a cap on how far just having incredible action can take you. Most casual wrestling fans will need to see at least some star power to get them to tune in for the first time and ROH has non one who fits that bill. Strategically, I'm not sure Saturday nights is a sound move either, as it's not a good night for television viewership and most weeks will have stiff sports competition from MMA and college football. Also, in many of the markets, the show airs out of prime time. It's a minor point, but unless they brought in someone with mainstream credibility like Jim Ross, new announcers aren't going to make a jot of ratings difference. Finally, if the product was that great to begin with, then word of mouth would have helped make the TV show a success on HDNet, but clearly it didn't, as it had little buzz even from hardcore fans.
I think the big idea to market their new television show is to push the program on their affiliate newscasts, but I doubt that will be very effective, as so few people watch local news nowadays and most newsreaders will either begrudgingly put the show over or do so mockingly. So what do you think Cagesiders, is ROH COO Joe Koff slipping into the same TV trap that HDNet did?