There was but one question he left unasked, and it vibrated between his lines: if gross miscalculations of a person's value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or undervalued, who couldn't?
The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.
- Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
TNA has been on something of a roll lately. They have become stable in the ratings, and their live Impact! shows have been critical successes as of late. Specifically, the company has scored critical hits with characters like Joseph Park, the excellent title reign of Bobby Roode, and the ascension of Austin Aries to the top of the company.
This is not to say that TNA will now (or will ever) challenge WWE for supremacy in the American wrestling landscape. However, as one of only two major companies with a national television deal, they are in a prime position to soak up some of the more disenchanted American wrestling fans who find WWE television to be bland or unsatisfying.
WWE style is not inherently bad, but it is unmistakably homogenized. Matches tend to be worked with the same ebb and flow depending upon the time allotted to the match and the stage that it is worked upon. In other words, all RAW main events won't look like all WrestleMania matches involving the Undertaker, but all RAW main events end up looking quite a bit like one another.
Likewise, the higher-ups at the WWE have been known for favoring certain types of wrestlers in order to fill their roster: men over women and jacked-up bodybuilders over more regular-dude types. As Geno Mrosko wrote about at this very site, Paul "Triple H" Levesque himself downplayed the "Waffle House short-order cook" body type that beloved wrestlers such as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan sport. When a person in a position of power within the company buries the body type of the champion in the company's own magazine, it seems to indicate that the Punks and Bryans of the world are not long for prominent main event positions within the company - or if they are, that it will be likely that other wrestlers with the same body type are likely to get the same opportunity.
In fact, Austin Aries himself, the current TNA champion, was cut from WWE's own Tough Enough show. Aries is a good talker and quite the ring general, but he is also well under six feet and he does not sport the muscular physique preferred by the company. Considering Triple H's comments (as well as the comments and hiring tendencies that the WWE has displayed in the past), it's quite possible that Aries was cut at least in part because he did not have the physique that the WWE looked for, other abilities be damned. In the aftermath, TNA was able to sign Aries and turn him into a legitimate main event star for their company.
In short, TNA played Moneyball and, in this instance, won. They would do well to learn from the case of Aries, and from Michael Lewis' seminal book about the nature of market value, if they want to carve out a comfortable niche as a genuine alternative to WWE programming for American wrestling fans.Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, was first published in 2003, and it essentially turned the world of professional baseball on its head. Author Michael Lewis followed the Oakland Athletics' General Manager, Billy Beane, as he discovered how a team with a much smaller budget to spend on players than stalwarts like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox was able to be as competitive as the big boys.
Many people who read the book latched on to the idea that there was a new statistic (OBP) that would be better than old statistics for telling which players are good and which are not. However, that was not Lewis' main point. His main point was that Oakland did two things which helped them compete against teams with much higher budgets:
1. They were open to hiring players that did not look like prototypical baseball players as long as those players had skills that would help the team win.
2. They looked for players that had skills or attributes that the bigger and richer teams did not think were worth paying for. They were then able to afford those players because the players were not at all in demand.
Herein lies the rub: The Oakland Athletics were not necessarily smarter than every other team (though they were on the cutting edge of statistical analysis in many ways). Billy Beane and the Athletics were simply willing to overlook the typical biases that other baseball teams had, and they were willing to take quality players that other teams did not have a vision for using on their teams.
Likewise, TNA has a limited budget: They are barely a decade old and they don't have the cash flow of a publicly-traded company like WWE. However, they do have the fortune of being able to pluck talent from promotions that are smaller than them such as Ring of Honor, SHIMMER, CHIKARA, and Pro Wrestling Guerilla.
Even more importantly, TNA has not been around long enough to ingrain themselves with certain prejudices that the WWE has. They have a chance to sign wrestlers with value that the WWE will not touch because of their looks or their gender.
Therefore, TNA should look at certain classes of wrestlers that the WWE tends to dismiss out of hand. They should sign the best wrestlers in those classes and use them on television. Not only will this allow them to find value for cheap, but they can also fill niches that the more watered-down WWE product cannot fill. For example:
Women's wrestlers: At one point, the TNA Knockouts were consistently producing the highest-rated segments on Impact! This was not simply due to T&A; while The Beautiful People were a central part of the show, feuds like the ones between Awesome Kong and Gail Kim or Kong and Taylor Wilde were a major part of the reason that the Knockouts were such a ratings-grabber. TNA has treated their female wrestlers deplorably in the past, as in the case of Shannon "Daffney" Spruill, but they have an opportunity to rectify those transgressions and fill a niche all at once. They need to move on this before WWE starts to hire more wrestlers for their theoretical network - as they did with Sara Del Rey - but as the WWE tends to be more interested in hiring models to wrestle as opposed to great women's workers, TNA has an opportunity to snap up the top female workers from around the globe. It probably would not hurt to get Scott D'Amore to book the division again, as he was a key part of the division's success in the past.
Luchadores: Beyond the near-disastrous signing of Mistico, the WWE has not attempted to strongly push a luchadore-style wrestler since Rey Mysterio Jr. However, at the very least this style of wrestling would be a great addition to the WWE's shows in order to change up the commonality of WWE-style matches that are the norm. WCW used luchadores to great effect on WCW Nitro; they wrestled hot openers that got the crowd amped up for the action ahead. TNA should consider using quicker luchadore-style wrestlers to do the same, and they should do so before WWE snaps them up for their own cruiserweights show on the oft-delayed WWE network.
Anyone who is short, undersized, fat, buck-toothed, or otherwise outside of the WWE mold: I am convinced that one of the reasons that Brodus Clay initially got so over is that, besides having a distinctive gimmick, he possesses a body type something like that of King Kong Bundy. That sort of oval-shaped size is not normally what WWE wrestlers look like as of late; he stood out in a sea of Mason Ryans.
Likewise, Punk and Bryan are more than likely appreciated because of their skills on the mic and in the ring, but it's also quite possible that they are also more relatable to fans. They look more like us (though I personally would love to be in the shape that either of those guys is in). However, WWE sees this as a hindrance. TNA should take the opportunity to use WWE's short-sightedness for their gain. They have been able to capitalize on WWE's passing over of Austin Aries; they should consider other wrestlers that don't have the look of the WWE mold.
One thing that I think helps TNA's show is that they have a variety of different-looking wrestlers. They have hicks and former Olympic athletes, goths and skinny guys who work hard and wear cool robes. They have guys who look like Joseph Park, guys who look like Bully Ray, guys who look like Zema Ion, and guys who look like Bobby Roode. There is a certain variety there that keeps things interesting. Mick Foley once likened his ideal wrestling show to the circus; to paraphrase, there is enough variety in a circus to please everyone. People who don't like the clowns might like the acrobats. People who like neither of those might like the fire-eaters, and so on.
TNA has a unique opportunity to offer this sort of variety, both in terms of looks and wrestling styles, to wrestling fans that are craving it. They can seize this opportunity by playing Moneyball with the WWE. The Oakland Athletics never toppled the giants such as the New York Yankees with their strategy, but they won many games and were extremely successful in their own right; this is a goal that TNA can reach if they follow Billy Beane's example and take advantage of WWE's prejudices causing market imbalances.