Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Jeff Jarrett Interview

lfonso Castillo: When we last spoke years back we talked about how the business model of TNA may have been more attractive to wrestlers in that it didn’t have the hectic road schedule. You guys were primarily running out of Orlando so your wrestlers only had to work a couple days a month. Now you are going out on the road a lot more and I’ve heard some grumbling that that’s turning off some wrestlers who came to TNA just because they thought the schedule was going to be so much better. I heard that might be one of the things that factored into Christian’s decision to leave the company. Is that something you’re aware of and concerned with – changing the business model of TNA and maybe making it not as attractive as it was to wrestlers before who weren’t looking to travel as much?

Jeff Jarrett: Without a doubt, you can look at every one of our wrestler’s schedules, and we’re very, very, very conscious of that. I think, more so, we’re aware of it. I once worked for both companies – WWE and WCW – and I realized what working over 20 days a month could do to, not just your body, but almost your mental outlook, your life, your family life. You’ve got to be able to balance everything in life. And we’re well aware of it. And I don’t believe there’s a guy in the company that’s on the road more than 15 days a month, and I certainly know they’re not wrestling more than 15 days a month. So, we’re very conscious of it, and it’s something that we’ll always keep a pulse on.

We’ve got a tour coming up in the early fall – late September, early October – and just this week, we’re making sure that the schedule around those two weeks is very, very light for everybody, and certainly the guys that are going to be on that tour. So we are very cognizant and we’re in the process of looking at ho we do business in Orlando, as far as our taping dates and at a few house shows. The short answer is we’re very aware of it and we’re making a concentrated effort for every individual, whether you’re on top of the food chain or on the bottom of the food chain, we definitely keep aware of how many hours are logged and how many days.

AC: So even as TNA continues to expand, your ultimate goal is not to run shows at the level of what WWE does is, where guys are on the road, whatever it is, 25 days a month or something like that?

JJ: I think it’s counter-productive to the entire organization, but first and foremost to the individual. The guys who need to be on all 25 shows, they’re the ones that are in theory making you the most money or are the biggest draws or the most accomplished. And there comes a burn out factor. There comes a time when the body says, “No more.” Or the wife, and family and kids say, “No more.” That’s just as important. So, we’re definitely aware of that. I’m certainly aware of that, because I’ve lived both sides of it. And I know that, for the long-term viability of an organization, you have to keep that in check.

AC: Do you think TNA remains a viable alternative for guys coming up, whether they’re coming up through the ranks or they’re in WWE and want a change? Or is some of that changing? You’ve now gone from growing to the point where you did see some guys defecting from WWE to TNA, and now you’re seeing some go back to WWE – Christian and Gail Kim. Is TNA becoming a less attractive place to work?

JJ: I don’t think at all. I think we’re very, very attractive. Just because those guys have left doesn’t mean… There are reasons for them leaving, whether the contract negotiations went south for one reason or another. Let’s not read into it that they just jumped ship because they wanted to. I think our roster right now is the best roster in wrestling today. I’ve always said it takes some prime time players, it takes some veterans, it takes some up and comers, and it takes some strictly real young, youthful talent. And I think that’s what we have.

From top to bottom, I’m very, very proud of our roster. And I think our growth – It goes without saying – we’re on a network that we are the highest rated show. Our ratings are growing. Spike’s primetime average is, I think, a .9. And we’re doing 1.3’s. I think USA’s primetime average is well into the 2’s, and Vince is above that. So comparatively speaking, on the network we’re on, I think we’ve done very well. Are we bigger or better than them in the ratings? Absolutely not. But we continue to climb that ladder.

We continue to grow in all aspects. Internationally, in several markets, we not only tie WWE, but we beat them. So, from an international standpoint, we’re doing very, very well. The videogames, the iPhone game. I was just in a discussion about the iPhone game. We’re doing remarkably well in that… The DVD is doing well that came out this past Tuesday. I think our overall growth – we’re very pleased with it. We’re continuing to grow. And as far as the talent aspect – I want to make sure to answer your question – we are a very, very attractive place to work, due to not just the freedom we give our guys in their schedule. Take Team 3D. They’re the tag team champions in Japan. We have working relationships with organizations all around the world, and I think that’s very beneficial as well.

AC: You mentioned your ratings. Over the last several months, you’ve set records a few different times. Consistently, they seem to be up, and kind of staying up to where you’re now consistently in that 1.3 range. What do you think has been the change in the last several months? Is it something you’re doing? Is it just the economy – people are staying home more and watching television? Or, is it more a product of maybe you guys banging on all cylinders now?

JJ: I think if you look at our history – don’t really look at that week-to-week-to-week snapshot – if you look at where we started three years ago at a .7 or a .8, and we’ve grown to a 1.3. And it’s been a steady growth… It went from Saturday nights for one hour, to Thursday nights to one hour, to two hours. There’s momentum being built behind us. The addition of certain key members of the roster - On one side you’ve got probably the greatest conglomeration of a faction, if you want to call it that, the Main Event Mafia. Kurt Angle, every member of the Main Event Mafia has been a world champion and has a storied career. And on the other side you’ve got Mick Foley and myself and 3D.

And so, I think the talent is there. You’ve got A.J. Styles and Samoa Joe who are in the mix and are youthful and young. You’ve got several other young pieces of talent. You’ve got the X Division. And also you have – We’re in the television-viewing season, so to speak. January, February, March – ratings are always higher. You’ve got American Idol. You’ve got ER. So I think it’s a combination of everything I’ve said and what you touched on, as well – the economic factors. And then, quite frankly, you’ve got to toot your own horn and wave your own flag. I think our television programs have been very, very, very compelling and every week it’s more and more of must-see TV.

AC: Are you satisfied with the progress you’ve made in ratings so far over that time? I know you’ve heard criticisms that, yeah, you’re doing well, but by this point you should be doing so much better. Or do you think it’s unrealistic to think that you could consistently have been over the 2’s now?

JJ: You can look at it from a number of factors. You look at where we’ve come. We’ve gone from a .7, .8 to a 1.3 on Spike network. You can look at ECW. They started in the high 2’s, and now they’re in the 1.2, 1.3 range – a tremendous drop. Smackdown you can’t really count because they’ve changed networks. They’ve had their issues, but as a matter of fact, they’ve done extremely well. You look at Raw. They went, over the last three or four years, they went from the 4’s to the 3’s, and now they’re back up there. So it’s an ebb and flow. And they tout themselves as the longest running series. It’s phenomenon that from 1993 to 2009, they’ve been on 17 years. They’ve got a 14-year, 15-year head start on us.

So am I satisfied? Absolutely, I’m very satisfied. Talk to the network heads at Spike TV and ask them. Am I happy? As a businessman, we’ve got to keep growing. We’ve got to keep growing the product internationally, domestically. We’ve got to keep hitting on all cylinders. So I think that’s maybe a two-sided question. I hope I’m articulating myself right.

AC: Absolutely. How about now the emergence of a third national wrestling company on television with Ring of Honor? I know it doesn’t have the clearance that Spike or USA or even Sci-Fi does, and there’s nothing in the way of any kind of ratings out, but there’s this notion that they’re doing OK. I spoke with some HDNet people last week and they said that they’re satisfied with Ring of Honor. I know that, just after they debuted, TNA pulled some of its talent from working for Ring of Honor. So do they become competition for you – even closer competition than WWE?

JJ: If you’re in the game on national, network television, for us to say it’s not competition, that’s just being blatantly arrogant. I think the facts sort of speak for themselves in that their distribution is just a fraction of what ours is, so you can’t really put it in the same game. Is it competition? Yes. Is there a wide tremendous gap? The reason we have to pull talent is contractual issues, not, “Oh boy, they’re on television.” Any exposure for your talent is good. But, from a contractual standpoint, the contracts are in place to keep the business in line, and that’s all that is.

AC: Are you monitoring Ring of Honor for talent? This is a place where, I guess you could say, a lot of guys are coming up and maybe they’re the closest thing to the old territorial system where guys come up through the ranks.

JJ: You wouldn’t believe what we monitor. We monitor every possible piece of talent on the landscape, and that’s not just domestically. From Mexico to Australia, to the British scene, the German scene, the Canadian scene. We monitor any and all talent.

AC: Is it frustrating for you that this chronicling of your career is inevitably going to leave off so much because you don’t have access to the work you did in WWE and WCW?

JJ: I call it the “Bret Hart syndrome.” Bret has literally, probably laid awake many, many nights. His entire career is gone, or owned by Vince McMahon. Bret, he worked for WWF for all those years, and then briefly for WCW. But Vince owns it all. So, it’s a little bit frustrating, but that’s the business. Vince is smart businessman, and that’s why he bought the libraries. The way he acquired WCW, it nothing short of sheer genius. But he did his maneuverings, and got what he wanted. And he got that library, because that’s all he bought.

AC: Did you even reach out to WWE and make an attempt, or did you just feel it was impossibility?

JJ: (Laughs) It’s a business. When Vince wants to make money off Jeff, he’ll make money off Jeff.

AC: Do you have any kind of working relationship with Vince McMahon and WWE? I know when it was revealed back in the day that WWE was subsidizing ECW and they had this working relationship, it was something of a shock to some people. I imagine some people have wondered over the years if there’s ever been any kind of link between TNA and WWE.

JJ: I’ll say there’s a personal relationship with the entire McMahon family and Jeff Jarrett. As far as a working relationship – absolutely not. We’re competitors. But a personal relationship? Without a doubt. The entire McMahon family was very, very good to me during the passing of my wife, and that’s something I’ll never forget.

AC: Well then, let me call you out on something. You say you’re in the professional wrestling business. I think Impact last week had something like four minutes of wrestling in the first hour. I know you hear criticisms about that all the time. How do you find that balance where you want to be a wrestling company, but you also have a lot of other things to do as far as interviews and angles and all that?

JJ: I’ve been around this business a long time, and I’ve seen episodes in Puerto Rico and right here in Memphis, Tennessee as a child – There used to be a 90-minute show in Memphis, Tennessee and my father and Jerry Lalwer would have entire 90-minute shows with maybe one match, maybe two wrestling matches out of the 90 minutes. It’s the same argument. You’re never going to please everyone. That’s the unique thing about our wrestling fans. They have the ability, and they used to back in the territory days, to come to the arena and bitch all they want. They can do it online now. They can do it in blogs. That’s what makes our business great. Wrestling fans are so passionate about it. There are people who want to see wrestling for two hours. And there are other people who don’t want to see any wrestling. They want to see the talk. It’s the nature of the beast.

AC: Do you listen to those criticisms from the fans, whether they’re on the blogs or whatever. Do you monitor it and appreciate it and address it?

JJ: I grew up in a business, and the fundamentals of this business are very, very, very much the same. My grandmother taught me at a very young age, and Toby Keith on the very first episode of TNA reinforced it – He will tell you this, my grandmother will tell you this, and I believe in this: Know your audience. Know what they want. And the only way you can do that is listen to it. You can’t listen to one segment of it. You have to listen to the entire, broad segment of your audience. You have to weigh out your internet crowd. You have to weigh out your television ratings. You have to weigh out your feedback at live events. You have to take in all the massive amount of feedback we get, and weigh it out. And at the end of the day, Alfonso, if you’ve got black ink or if you’ve got red ink, it’s your bottom line. It’s really all that matters. If you’re not in business, you’re really not going to make nobody happy, because you’re out.

AC: How do you react when some of the criticism comes directly from your live fans? You hear chants like, “Fire Russo” and that kind of thing. Obviously it’s a response to this notion – they don’t like what they’re seeing. What the criticism often is that’s it just all sort of too much. Some of these gimmick matches go too far, they’re too complicated. Angles that should take three months to play out sometimes play out over a single night, as far as a team getting together and breaking up or something like that.

JJ: I’ll tell you this: Without risk, there’s no reward.

AC: Mm-hmm.

JJ: I’m going to tell you that one more time: Without risk, there’s no reward. So if we don’t risk trying anything – if we just sit back and keep ourselves in a little box and just give them a very cookie cutter, a very non-exciting, non-suspenseful – If you just give them a very straightforward product, that’s very, very boring. I’ve seen that. I’ve done that. I’ve been a part of that. It’s not successful and it’s never been successful. Do we bat 1000? Absolutely not. A great hitter in baseball – what do they hit the ball, one out of three times? So you have to try things. Do we bat a thousand? Absolutely not. We never will. But we need to try things. And have we screwed up? Absolutely we have, but we’re going to keep on keeping on. And I’ve always believed that, if I didn’t risk everything I owned, TNA wouldn’t exist today. That’s the risk, and that’s the only way you’re going to get a reward. That’s the thing I’ve always lived by.

AC: Do you want TNA to kind of be your legacy? Even after having as long and accomplished a career as you had before you even came up with TNA, when your dead and gone, do you want this to be what you left behind?

JJ: You know what? That’s a chapter unwritten. If there’s a legacy to be written, it’s that nobody ever worked harder than me. No one ever looked at things as positive as me. And no one ever had as much passion about what they woke up and did every day. So as long as I’m doing TNA, I’m very passionate about it. Who knows what the future holds, but I’m pretty proud of where we’re at right now.

AC: With all the criticisms that have been leveled your way, I’ve always been taken by the fact that there was this kind of void in wrestling after WWE bought out WCW and ECW went out of business. There was this one dominant monster in WWE and it seemed like there was no changing that. And this little group out of Nashville that had this unorthodox business model of running weekly pay per views for $10, and with a shoestring budget and all that, became what it has. It struck me when I went to – I forget what pay per view it was. Was it Hard Justice, the one you did in Jersey?

JJ: Yeah.

AC: Here’s an arena that WWE runs, and here’s a pay per view that I’m watching in 2008, and it isn’t WWE. And with Spike TV, and the audience that you’re getting, and how the great the product looks as far as production standpoint with the HD and how much the product transformed. It’s very, very major league. You’ve managed to stay afloat, which again, seven or eight years ago when WCW when out of business, seemed like an impossibility. If there is one thing, what is it that you hit upon that allowed you to stick around?

JJ: I think we’ve been extremely blessed. On the DVD, I say this – TNA was destined to be. We’ve got absolutely the best financial partners in the world. We may not be the smartest and we may not have the most, quote-unquote, “wrestling knowledge,” or sports entertainment knowledge. We’ve only been in business seven years. But we’ve got the hardest-working, most passionate individuals involved in our company. And I’m not talking just our wrestlers. I’m talking the front to office staff and back office staff. They’re very, very passionate. And if you work harder than anybody out there, good things are going to come your way. The definition of look is when preparation meets opportunity. Some say, “Oh, you were lucky.” Well, we were prepared, and we had the opportunity.

AA: As far as your own return to the ring recently, can you talk a bit about that and the thinking that went behind that. You were out of the ring for the better part of more than two years after the passing or your wife. Did you think it would be therapeutic, and has it been, going back to what you do and who you are?

JJ: I never thought I would wrestle again, probably, for maybe a year after the passing of Jill. I just had moved on past that phased. But as time went on – I’ll leave a few names nameless, but there were four or five individuals who really came to me, and not in passing, and sat me down and said a variety of things from, “I need you,” “We need you to come back on the roster,” to, “Jeff, I think this would be good for you” to, “You can help the young guys. You’ve got to pass on your knowledge.” You can preach that for so long, which I have behind the scenes with the older guys. But the only way the younger guys are going to learn is if the older guys sit them down and, not cuss them out, but say, “Hey, this is how you do it. This is how you do it.” Even if the young kid doesn’t listen, you’ve got to go back to the well and teach him again, just like you do young kids.

So I had probably, I’ll say six individuals, who really were on me for a number of months, saying that it was time to get back to the ring. And I was very reluctant at first. And then as time went on, and being part of the day-to-day product, immersing myself and all that, you can just see that, OK maybe they’re right. Once I sort of mentally made my mind up that, “I’m ready to do this” – and I’ve always kept myself in really good shape, but I had been out of the ring for two years – I’ve never trained harder in my life. And I was stepping back in against Kurt Angle. To me, he doesn’t have any peers, even though he is broken down in some aspects. You know, he’s just had a lot of injuries. But on his worst day, he’s still better than 95 percent of all the wrestlers. He’s nothing short of incredible. So, I sort of thought to myself when I was standing backstage before I went out in Chicago, “Man, what the hell? Did I bite off more than I can chew?” But I’ve been very happy so far, and I guess you could say I’m back in the swing of things.

AC: What was the thinking behind finally now sort of coming out of the closet and acknowledging your behind-the-scenes role in the company, and was there a lot of concern about how that might turn out?

JJ: Those six individuals who came to me, that was the role from the beginning that they thought was needed. I have always been against that, but as time went on, you know Mick [Foley] came in as the executive shareholder. The timing of it – I’m not a 37-year-old, young kid. I’m certainly not a 20-year-old. I’m 40. And so, as far as the role of the founder, I’ve always believed that a guy who plays an extension of his personality, by far, is much more successful than if you’re trying to be something you’re not. So it worked.
Credit: Alfonso Castillo

1 comment:

Timothy Kendrick said...

Absolutely incredible article. Shows a very positive side of Jeff that you don't get from the dirt sheets.
Thank you