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Wrestling Bodyslams Recession


Down economy produces demand for stupid human tricks.

Pro wrestling is enjoying some surprising success, with one upstart organization leading the way.

While the New York Yankees are having trouble selling $600,000 luxury boxes in their new stadium, the big-money world of professional sports is seeing fans find their way back to one of its guiltiest pleasures. That's right, pro wrestling is back and it's ready to run wild over you, brother. Ohhh, yeah!

The industry has come a long way from its 80s-era moments of infamy, such as this one:

"Wrestling is kind of a dirty word to a lot of people," says Dixie Carter, the president of Total Nonstop Action (or TNA) Wrestling. "Here I am, a young woman not [originally] from the industry. I don't represent the perception of wrestling."

That she doesn't. A Dallas marketing and publicity veteran, the self-confessed wrestling philistine has built TNA into an entity whose numbers have absolutely defied prevailing economic trends. The league's revenue has doubled every year since 2006, while their broadcast viewership on Viacom's (VIA) Spike TV has doubled in the past year.

TNA's merchandise sales in December 2008 alone surpassed 2006's full-year sales - and at a time when salary caps in the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association were poised to drop.

Carter scoffs at the idea that wrestling is blue-collar, although TNA has positioned itself as an affordable sporting alternative. Its Family Plan ticket package for two adults and two children costs less than a night at the movies.

"At a time when people can't buy expensive items, wrestling is a good way of suspending disbelief for just a minute," says Carter. "It can be perceived as blue collar but if you look at our audience you have guys who work at a bank and grandmas and kids and guys getting their masters degree. It's so much more diverse than people perceive it to be."

While TNA has grown, industry leader World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) fourth-quarter net revenue dropped more than 5% -- to a still-impressive $125.4 million -- from the same period in 2007. Chalk this up, at least in part, to growing competition: UFC's mixed-martial-arts showcase consistently breaks its own pay-per-view records with every broadcast. These figures, along with the success of The Wrestler, have even created a bizarre industry trickle-down phenomenon.

Despite reportedly marginal attendance figures, a wrestling organization called Ring of Honor recently announced a national TV deal through HDNet - and the Iron Shiek, a former wrestler whose career high happened more than 20 years ago, just signed a 3-year licensing deal for iPhone (AAPL) applications.

It all adds up to an industry growing despite an economy that's suffered more than its share of pile-drivers.

For more on grudge matches and big forearms to the face, check out Hoofy and Boo's always astute report.
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