Thursday, April 19, 2012

TNA Makes An Impact On The Fanfest Scene

It's hard to believe, but 2012 marks the 10th year of TNA/Impact being part of the professional wrestling landscape. Through countless changes in presentation, personnel, and even ownership, the company has continually served as an alternative to WWE. Although the company has not always done it's best to differentiate itself from the often wacky land of the WWE Universe, the fact that there is a viable alternative at all can, at times, be very comforting.

TNA has always had one area where it has shined far brighter than WWE: fan friendliness. Some might argue that a smaller company has to be fan friendly in order to grow, but TNA has often gone above and beyond in this area.

With the rise of wrestling fanfests and conventions in the last decade, TNA went ahead and merged the concept with that of a traditional wrestling show. At even the smallest TNA house show you are nearly guaranteed to meet a few of the stars. Some old school fans may scoff at the idea of being able to actually meet the stars of the evening, but kayfabe isn't quite as healthy as it was years ago. It has been said that WWE still does not care for the concept of fans being able to meet the stars at their shows. While they do run their Axxess event during WrestleMania weekend and infrequently sponsor appearances (always run by "representatives" whose drill sergeant-esque actions would make Adolf Hitler blush), the company truly lacks where "meet and greet" concepts are concerned. This is where TNA picks the ball up and runs with it. Far.

Although I had attended several TNA house shows in the past (one of which I documented here), I don't feel that I truly witnessed just how fan friendly the company was until I attended their Bound For Glory Fanfest in 2011. Autographs and photos with nearly their entire roster of stars, including Sting, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan.

To put this in a monetary perspective one only has to do simple math. Hulk Hogan is in many categories all his own and that includes appearance pricing. A serious autograph collector already knows that Hogan has never actually appeared at a wrestling convention. His signings have largely been limited to sports shows with appearances from baseball and football legends. The price? Usually between $100-$200 per autograph (usually depending on the item). A photograph? If you're lucky, the organizers of the show MAY allow a lean-over-the-table photo.

The price to attend a TNA Fanfest? $200. Included on the lineups of both that I've had the pleasure of attending? Hogan. Flair. RVD. Kurt Angle. Jeff Hardy. Bobby Roode. James Storm. The Knockouts. I will stop there, as it already speaks for itself.

This past weekend I was once again able to partake in this incredible deal by attending the Lockdown Fanfest in Nashville, Tennessee. The event was organized identically to the Bound For Glory event in that you are permitted two autographs and a photo with any of the stars in the first three signing sessions and one autograph and a photo with the legends in the "Main Event Session" which features Hogan, Flair, and Sting.

It was announced prior to the doors opening that Sting would not be part of the event as advertised. In lieu of his appearance, TNA allowed fans to get two autographs from Hogan and Flair and gave out an Impact Wrestling t-shirt that would be signed by all of the stars in addition to your own items. To many of us in attendance, the announcement boiled down to this: three autographs each from Hogan and Flair. No matter how long you have been collecting wrestling autographs, you know that multiple signatures from these two is a real treat and made an incredible bargain all the sweeter.

Before entertaining the convention room, the employees at registration hand each fan a package of official 8x10 promotional photos to be autographed. Fans also have the opportunity to purchase many other items, including the current Impact Wrestling program, to be signed. One qualm I did have was that the company only had action figures available of stars that are no longer on the roster, much less at the event. Don West told me personally that the figures of Matt Morgan and Rob Terry were "down the road" at the warehouse. Why they were not available to be purchased and signed at the event as opposed to figures of Kevin Nash and Shark Boy is a mystery that we'll never have the answer to. Luckily many of us came already armed with the new figures of many current roster members.

At the house show signings it seems that security is occasionally instructed to refuse items for talent to sign. While it isn't a major problem, I have seen WWF/WWE items turned away. This "rule," if it is indeed official, is completely ignored at these pay-per-view fanfests. This allows many collectors to get classic items signed by stars like Hogan, Flair, RVD, Taz, Hector Guerrero, and even agents like Al Snow, Bruce "Brother Love" Prichard, and D'Lo Brown.

In a special surprise, TNA President Dixie Carter arrived early on in the event. Although she was not advertised, Carter quickly found a spot and signed autographs, posed for photos, and talked graciously with fans for hours. Ms. Carter was also very interested in what the fans thought of the current product and asked for opinions and suggestions. If the company truly listens, I think that it can become what the fans want it to be.

On this afternoon, I cannot imagine a wrestling fan in attendance who wasn't feeling pure happiness. Seeing the stars interact with the fans, parents sharing these moments with their children, and an overall feeling of "Damn...I love wrestling" filled the air as the autographs piled up. Even taking into consideration events like Axxess, a wrestling company has never held an event with such a casual feeling. From witnessing some interactions, it seems as if many fans follow the company around to various cities for these events. After attending even one, it's easy to understand why.

As mentioned above, the "Main Event" session is held at the end of the show. Although the line can last a few hours, it's truly worth the wait once you are in the presence of these legends. I've met quite a few wrestlers in the past quarter-century, but meeting The Hulkster is really an experience unlike any other. Love him or hate him, looking into his eyes and having a short conversation is somewhat surreal. Much to his credit, Hogan does indeed take that time with each and every fan and knows how to make the meeting extra special. Brother.

If this were a review, I would absolutely have to grade an A+. TNA goes above and beyond with these fanfest events. Some would say that they have to. I say that they don't have to do anything of the kind. Are they making money? I'm sure that they are. They also have the means to have names like Hogan and Flair at a more than reasonable price for fans. If you ask me, everyone benefits. If you have the opportunity, don't pass it up. It may be a once in a lifetime shot. And if the parting shot below doesn't make you want to go, nothing will...

****"From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..."****

Inside Wrestling, May 1978, Page 39 & Wrestling Revue, March 1973, Page 56

If you've followed the blog for any amount of time, you're probably familiar with our recurring "bonus" feature called "From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..." where we look at items found within the great old wrestling magazines.

It was about ten years ago that I first found "Lil Taz" in the Pen Pals section of Inside Wrestling. Yes indeed, Taz himself was once 9-year-old Pete Senerchia, a fan of Bruno Sammartino. Last year it become our very first "Musty" feature. Upon looking through a 1973 issue of Wrestling Revue, I discovered a great young shot of his current broadcast partner, Mike Tenay. Seeing that they would both be at the Lockdown Fanfest, I decided to pack the magazines and get a reaction...and hopefully an autograph.

Both seemed to really enjoy seeing their first magazine appearances. Tenay, who ran a newsletter of his own in that era, claimed that he did not even have the issue himself. Both agreed to sign and pose with the classic issues. Just another magic moment from the event...and luckily I didn't become "just another victim."

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