“We want to be part of a new revolution of how wrestling can be consumed by fans and matches can be presented,” said Corgan. “This NWA brand dates back to 1948. The past few years have not been as kind as we would have liked, but we plan on building this into a powerhouse over time.”
Corgan purchased the NWA over the summer amidst a throng of questions–and even scattered laughter–due to the fact that the brand has not been relevant since the late ‘80s. But many discount Corgan’s vision.
Another important note is that Corgan retained the licensing agreement on the Boesch Family Houston Wrestling video library, which is still owned by the family, featuring nearly every major star from the ‘70s and ‘80s. By no means is the success of the NWA a certainty, but Corgan has a 20-year business plan that he believes will allow his company to thrive.
“People asked, ‘What are you buying?’” explained Corgan. “We’ve looked at how the WWE has positioned itself and how Anthem has positioned Impact Wrestling, and now a brand like the NWA, which has built-in recognition value and a history that is unmatched, suddenly starts to become more valuable in this shifting landscape. Maybe we’re not so crazy for buying these three letters after all.”
The wrestling business, with industry-leader WWE producing live programming twice a week, as well as increased popularity from New Japan Pro Wrestling during its voyage into the United States this past summer, appears robust.
There are a plethora of independents operating around the country, as well as television programs from Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, and Anthem’s Impact Wrestling, but wrestling’s overall numbers, including attendance and ratings, are down significantly from the turn of the century. In addition to the decrease in viewers, the market is flooded with professional wrestling.
“I faced similar circumstances and odds when I entered the music business in 1988,” said Corgan. “It wasn’t like I looked on MTV and saw a million bands playing the same kind of music that bands like us or Nirvana or Pearl Jam were playing. We knew there was a market out there that wanted a different type of product for a different set of reasons.
“The numbers show that wrestling, at its peak, was averaging eight-to-ten million people a week on television. Where did all those people go? I think they’re still out there, and there always new fans to be made.”
The NWA’s former owner, Bruce Tharpe, leased out affiliated licenses that expired on Oct. 1. The promotion, and its vision, is now entirely in Corgan’s control.
Vince McMahon clearly has a plan of where he wants to bring WWE, with a yearly benchmark at WrestleMania. Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff has also developed concrete goals. Anthem Executive Vice President Ed Nordholm, who oversees Impact Wrestling, admitted that his company did not have a plan upon its purchase, which has continued to lose money over the past 12 months.
“Our focus is on the NWA plan, and we have a 20-year plan,” said Corgan. “We’re not going to just come in and throw money around for two years. We’ve learned from the past mistakes of TNA, which we have intimate knowledge of.”
The NWA initials are far from unknown in the wrestling community, though not nearly as powerful as it was decades ago. Corgan has a plan in place to rebuild the brand.
“We’re armed with this knowledge, and we’re setting out to rebuild the brand so a fan that currently doesn’t know anything about the NWA will respect the tradition and also respect what we’re trying to accomplish, like a Ring of Honor or a New Japan. That’s where we are starting, and we’re building from there.
Corgan’s intimate knowledge of TNA dates back to his time as president of IMPACT Ventures, which he was named in Aug. 2016 and saw him oversee daily operations of TNA/Impact Wrestling. However, he was no longer associated with the company by that November, and an ensuing court case ruled that Impact’s new owners, Anthem Sports and Entertainment, would repay Corgan’s loans to the wrestling company.
“I was very, very frustrated by the obstacles I faced internally, both culturally and fiscally, at TNA,” noted Corgan. “I dealt with a lot of backstabbing and lies.
“I was able to push through some things that ended up being successful at TNA, and I was very frustrated because you would think the success would have led to more leverage and further opportunities. But it was exactly the opposite. People were out to get me because I had power. At least now, in this situation, I am my own boss.”
The NWA has a vision, dovetailed with a business plan and concern for the wrestlers’ bodies, and Corgan is moving toward the future of the entertainment business.
“You have to build your own infrastructure from the bottom up and work with people you really trust. The traditional ‘carny’ aspect of the wrestling business that plagues a lot of companies, and has plagued a company like TNA, are problems that hold the business back. You can’t run an effective business if it’s like Game of Thrones every week.”
The fundamental goal for the NWA is to create a 21st century entertainment brand very much pointed at the digital realm.
"You have an aging fan base that has shown in the past few years that it is willing to pay more to have access, but it’s a shrinking, aging fan base,” noted Corgan. “For probably the first time in wrestling’s history, it seems to be moving away from youth where every other entertainment culture is obsessively focused on youth to create their next generation of fans.”
Corgan explained that he has read a plethora of different reports, including a study that reported the average age of the wrestling fan is 57 years old.
“That does not bode well for any business,” said Corgan. “If you’re going to target a younger audience, knowing full well that you don’t want to lose the audience that you do have, the question then becomes how are you going to find them? Is it behind a pay wall or is it free? That is the fundamental question.”
Corgan shuttered the NWA’s on-demand system, and is planning on delivering a foundation for longevity that is an outlier in wrestling and strongly opposite to the instant gratification business plan that has doomed countless other companies.
“That’s where most people lose their nerve,” said Corgan. “Everyone wants to book the amazing card with the seven hottest indie wrestlers in the world. The bottom line of putting together those cards is figuring out who is going to pay for that.
“In the brand-building business, which I am, you have to be willing to make investments, find the right talent, and cultivate a culture resolute in believing that you’d rather have more people seeing your product and having access to your product.”
Corgan explained that he would rather have 300,000 people watching the NWA for free than 4,000 people watching behind a pay wall.
“Not everyone would agree with that, because they’ll say you are going to run out of money, but I disagree,” said Corgan. “You need to be able to command an audience in this changing television culture.”
The NWA represents a similar challenge as Corgan first faced in the music business, as doubt lingers that he will succeed. Yet wrestling is a better place with Corgan. Whether that will lead to success and longevity for the NWA remains an unknown, but its destiny is in the hands of a man who built a legacy in the face of an already crowded landscape that believed there was no space for his success.
“We could run a show on October 15 in an empty hall, but it would look like every other,” said Corgan. “In essence, there is no hurry. We want our first move to be in the right direction with a vision, and not just more wrestling hype.”