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TNA and Lucha Underground: How viable is their long term future?

With recent negative reports about both TNA and Lucha Underground's financial situation, the long term viability of each promotion is sadly questionable.

Smiles have quickly turned to frowns in TNA's relationship with Destination America.
Smiles have quickly turned to frowns in TNA's relationship with Destination America.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

With recent negative reports about both TNA and Lucha Underground's financial situation, I have to question the long term viability of each promotion.

This month has been very damaging for TNA in terms of both company morale and their public reputation. Earlier this week, it came out that TNA was two to six weeks late in paying their wrestlers. Their long time announcer Taz refused to fly out to Nashville for a recording session over these late payment issues, which led to Taz leaving the company. Unsurprisingly, Brian Fritz revealed that TNA's production staff were being screwed over worse than their performers. Not only were they over 60 days behind pay, but they had also been shorted payment by more than $1,000 each on average when they were eventually paid for TNA's UK tour in late January. Such horror stories will make it more difficult for TNA to hire freelance production personnel in the future, as those that have worked for the company are advising others to steer well clear of working for them.

However, this shouldn't be seen as a sign that the company is on the verge of going out of business, as the Carter family have a long track record of treating their TNA workers appallingly. This is just business as usual for them.

More worryingly is that TNA's honeymoon period with Destination America is already over. In February, the first airing of TNA Impact Wrestling averaged 381,000 viewers, 30% of the audience that they obtained on Spike TV in the same month last year, and their viewership hasn't grown much since then. Although they still have an automatic replay of Impact on Friday nights, Destination America has moved the timeslot of Impact Wrestling: Unlocked several times before settling on the graveyard position of 1am on Friday mornings and has already cancelled the TNA Greatest Matches show. Thus, much of the shoulder programming that Dixie Carter pushed as the main benefit of the Destination America deal is already gone.

According to Dave Meltzer in this week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter, TNA's broadcast partners are already viewing them as an experiment gone awry despite being the highest rated show in the history of the station, because they can only get very cheap advertising rates when TNA programming is on their airwaves:

"The Discovery channel signed TNA as an experiment and I was told that the experiment turned out very bad when it comes to generating ad revenue (and you can watch the shows and see the ads) and they expected far more viewers."

From TNA's perspective, there's also frustration that "the people from the network, unlike with Spike, have no clue about wrestling" and are putting pressure on them to push people purely based on looks and fame, on top of the station already dropping and rescheduling content.

Although it would be shocking for Destination America to cancel TNA before their deal comes due, it's hard to see how this is a tenable relationship past that date, unless ratings increase to an acceptable level. The news that Billy Corgan was at the TNA offices last week, who had been rumoured to have expressed interest in buying TNA when the Carter family considered selling the promotion 18 months ago, leads to the obvious speculation that the Carters may be having second thoughts about their wrestling investment once again.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking much better for Lucha Underground either, whose ratings on the El Rey Network have been disappointing too and according to Meltzer need to find new funding for a second season:

"There is a lot about the second season in question, due largely to financial questions. Between the amount of money spent on production and the number of viewers this reaches on El Rey, there are obvious economic issues. At least a few people we know of who have negotiated with the promotion have been told that there's no budget right now and they are trying to get new funding for a second season. That is one of the reasons prospective major deals, both with [Jim] Ross and Rey Mysterio Jr., have been held up."

At least with Lucha Underground, there is the hope that Mysterio could be a game changer and that he is a big enough name that they could profitably run house shows with him as their top star, plus the cinematic quality of their programming could lead to being able to sell the show to stronger television partners, but it's never a good sign when news leaks that a promotion's money is running out and they need to find new investors.

It should be noted that Lucha Underground Co-Executive Producer Chris DeJoseph tweeted the following about the Observer's reporting:

Hopefully he is right, for Lucha Underground's sake.

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