Q&A with TNA star Jeff Jarrett
I conducted a phone interview earlier this week with TNA founder and star Jeff Jarrett, who is scheduled to face TNA world champion Mr. Anderson in the main event of two TNA house shows this weekend in Maryland – Saturday in Upper Marlboro and Sunday in Hagerstown.
Baltimore has a long tradition of being a wrestling town, and even though it's a traditional WWE market, Baltimore was a big city in the '80s and '90s for other promotions such as the Crocketts and WCW. Now that TNA is coming to Maryland, could we eventually see a TNA show — perhaps a pay-per-view event — in Baltimore in the future?
I've always looked at Baltimore — WCW and the Crocketts, as you know, had monster shows there — as one of those unique cities where both promotions [WWE and whatever its chief competitor was at the time] worked very, very well. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I've always wanted to bring a big event to Baltimore since TNA was founded, and I definitely think it's in the works. Is it going to come this year? Probably not. But I can't tell you how many tweets I've gotten and how many fans that come from Maryland to see us in Pennsylvania and Virginia say, “When are you going to come to Maryland?” The Maryland wrestling fan — there's a lot of them.
For fans who have never seen a TNA house show, how would you describe it and what makes it different from other wrestling companies' shows?
There are two things that make them stand out. We literally put on the very best live, in-ring wrestling show in the world — and I'm third-generation, as you know, and have probably been to more live shows than anybody my age , so I have a pretty good perspective. We offer four distinct styles — from X Division to tag team to Knockouts to heavyweight. Then at times we have a little touch of hard-core on the show. So our in-ring product is second to none. And something just as important — you know, fan-friendly has been used as a term a lot, but not only are we fan-friendly, but we are the most fan-interactive professional wrestling show that I have ever witnessed or been a part of. Back in the day we used to say, “What time does the show start?” Well at TNA, I like to promote the time that the doors open. And they open up an hour before showtime, and you have autographs and pictures from the time you come in the door. We'll have somebody at the [merchandise] stand — Don West — literally doing deals on the spot that are very unique. During intermission, we reward the loudest, rowdiest fans with backstage passes, so we have a meet-and-greet, and then at the end of the night we give all the fans an opportunity to actually get up in the ring and have their picture taken with a TNA star. So we're very, very fan interactive.
Without getting into specifics, is TNA profitable at this point?
Absolutely. We turned that corner four or five years ago. Like WWE or any other business, would we like to be making more money? Sure, but the reality is that the U.S. economy is still in a recession, and internationally we have different economies to deal with, but all in all, we're pleased.
Wrestling fans and people in the industry often get caught up in TV ratings and pay-per-view buy rates, and in those two areas TNA is far behind WWE. But there is certainly more that goes into having a successful wrestling company — other revenue streams, other things to consider. What are some aspects of company business that you're the most happy with?
[Toy manufacturer and licensee] Jakks Pacific comes to mind, and international television. That's probably the first two off the top, and then the [merchandise], and Don West is a huge part of that. He is so in tune and in touch with the TNA fan — what they like, what they don't like. He's an absolutely great salesman, great marketer — that's his background going back to the Shop at Home Network days. There's also the live events. We're not a huge touring company — we do between 80 and 100 shows a year, but we'll call it a lean, mean machine when we take it on the road, and they're very entertaining and they're profitable.
Do you have any specific goals for TNA in 2011?
We want to grow the brand globally. We've got a tour of Europe coming next week. We're looking at taking it potentially to a couple other sites overseas. We want to see the live events continue to grow, [merchandise] to grow. We just want to continue to grow on everything, and that's sort of a broad answer, but it's the truth.
It’s been a little over a year since Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff came on board with TNA. Are you happy with where the company is at this point?
We have people in positions now more than ever to succeed. And I’m talking about behind the scenes and as far as our roster goes from top to bottom – Kurt Angle, X Division, the Hardys, RVD, Mr. Anderson. We’ve got an incredible roster. Short answer: Yes, I’m very pleased with where we’re headed.
I know that pretty much since the beginning of TNA that you wanted to one day see the company go head-to-head on Monday nights against Raw. That happened in 2010, but, obviously, it didn’t turn out well for TNA. Is that something that you would look to do again at some point in the future, or is it kind of “been there, done that, it didn’t really work so we’re going to stay where we are?”
We learned, just like the wrestling fans learned, that the world has changed. Back in the “Monday Night Wars,” that was before our good little friend called the DVR was around, and you had to flip back and forth. Nowadays, the viewing habits are just entirely different and we found that out. The landscape has changed, so we’ve planted our feet in our ground and we’re making it grow, and that’s our strategy right now. Had we not tried it, though, we would have never found out.
We know that you’re the TNA founder, but beyond being talent, what is your role at this point? Are you involved at all in business decisions or creative decisions?
Thank God, not in creative [laughs]. That is a thankless job, and if you do it right, the talent gets all the credit, and if you do it wrong, you get all the blame. But as far as my role, I’m very involved in the live events, the marketing, and the licensing program – I worked very, very closely with Jakks when that lifted off the ground. The live events business takes up an enormous amount of time, so those are the three hats that I would say that I wear the most.
You were out of the spotlight for a while as a performer. As a viewer, it looks to me like you’re rejuvenated and you’re really enjoying yourself out there. Is that an accurate assessment?
Absolutely, that’s a very accurate assessment. Every year, I sort of look at where I’ve been and where I’m headed. I’m coming up on my 25th year. Rejuvenated, I guess, is one way to look at it. I’m absolutely having a blast with what I’m doing. Performing in the ring has always been my first true love, so I’m very, very pleased with where I’m at. I think the more dimensions you have, the better performer you are, and I think this is an avenue that I’ve walked down that the viewer has really latched onto. It’s a win-win – a win for me and a win for the viewer.
What’s it like working in a story line with your wife and her ex-husband, Kurt Angle?
Well, story line is a word that doesn’t quite actually apply if you know what I mean. Me and Kurt – on a personal note, we’re good; on a professional note, I don’t think we’ll ever be on the same page. But it’s very unique, real, raw emotions. He’ll say his piece, and I’ll say my piece, and probably more importantly, Karen’s going to say her piece. It’s going to be very, very interesting.
I have to ask you about Jeff Hardy’s legal situation. Did that play a part in the decision to take the TNA world title off him? Is his legal situation a concern at all for TNA?
Respectfully, no comment.
Another think I need to ask – and this is sort of old news – but there was so much talk over the summer about Paul Heyman coming to TNA. Was that ever close to happening?
Paul brings a unique skill set to the table, but I don’t think it ever really got serious, to be honest with you. That’s a difficult question, because obviously there are two sides – his side and TNA’s side – but it never really developed into anything serious.
Photo courtesy of TNA Wrestling