Scott D’Amore is looking to swing the wrestling pendulum back in Impact Wrestling’s favor.
The 43-year-old from Windsor, Ontario, is no stranger to wrestling or Impact. D’Amore first broke into the business at the age of 16, and some of his most successful years in wrestling occurred while working for Impact, then known as TNA, from 2003–2010, including his appointment as the head of creative in 2005.
Yet D’Amore is not looking to go back to the future to make Impact great again. He is part of the company’s three-member executive committee with fellow executive vice president Don Callis and Anthem Sports and Entertainment president Ed Nordholm, and his goal is simple: invest in the fanbase so that the fans will want to invest in the product.
More from SI
“There is no short game to this, there is no magic pill or snapping of your fingers,” said D’Amore, who is looking to rebuild the promotion with a patient approach rooted in compelling storytelling, athletic matches, and creative digital delivery of the product. “Our goal is to make a bunch of small decisions, and those small decisions are going to slowly lead to things getting better and building a little momentum.”
Impact returns to pay per view this Sunday, and the previously advertised main event of Austin Aries vs. Alberto El Patron has been replaced with a triple threat match between Aries and a pair of Lucha Underground stars in Pentagon and Fenix.
After the company endured a challenging business year in 2017, it appeared that history was ready to repeat itself in April of 2018. Impact delivered a successful press conference on Twitch, an emerging live streaming video platform, in New Orleans on the Friday of WrestleMania weekend, that was punctuated by some physicality between Impact champion Austin Aries and El Patron, who is better known as Alberto Del Rio from his time in WWE.
Yet the wave of momentum was derailed by Del Rio’s subsequent no-show that night at the company’s wildly successful inter-promotional show with Lucha Underground, a move that potentially hijacked all of the goodwill that Impact has started to build over the past four months.
“It was obviously an unfortunate situation,” said D’Amore. “When Alberto failed to show up to the event, we made our decision on a new main event for the show. It was important for us to give our fans, in a capacity crowd at the Sugar Mill in New Orleans, a great event, and we did not want them to focus on someone who wasn’t there. We wanted them to focus on the match we were giving.”
A late decision was made to close the show with a triple threat match between Aries, Pentagon, and Fenix, a rematch of which will main event Sunday’s pay per view.
“Those three guys went out, were so professional, and put on an amazing match,” said D’Amore. “Then we sat down and huddled.”
The life of a wrestling promoter, at any level, is simplified when there are no issues. When the talent arrives on time and the crowd is hot, the table is set for success. But what happens when an international, mainstream star like Del Rio no-shows your event? Ultimately, Del Rio was let go by Impact, and the main event of Sunday’s pay per view was changed.
“One of the things we need to do as a company is build trust,” reiterated D’Amore. “We need the fans to know that when we say we are going to deliver something, that we’ll deliver it.
“We did not feel good about advertising something and not delivering it, and we were not going to put ourselves in a situation where that could happen again at Redemption. We saw a match that had people buzzing with the live crowd and had feedback through the roof on our live Twitch broadcast, and we decided to go with that as a rematch for our pay per view main event. Austin Aries, Pentagon, and Fenix squaring off in a three-way for the world title gives us a great main event on top of an outstanding card.”
Del Rio’s absence from the pay per view altered future plans, especially for a company that records its programming weeks or even months ahead of its scheduled air date. Quietly and effectively, Impact’s broadcast crew rebuilt the Impact Wrestling shows that have aired each Thursday on Pop TV leading up to Sunday’s pay per view, and the company made the decision to focus on the future instead of airing grievances with Del Rio.
“There is enough negativity in the world, we’re not going the negative route,” said D’Amore. “When people watch wrestling, they want to be drawn into an intriguing fantasy world. Nobody wishes anyone ill will, but this is part of building trust.
“Anyone can make good decisions when everything falls into place. You really start to judge people on how they react when there are obstacles and adversity. It was important to us to show that we were going to deal with the situation and not go on with business as usual. He’s our biggest mainstream star, so the wrestling answer is to work through this and try to deliver the advertised match at all costs. But that’s not what is best for the fans or the product.”
D’Amore’s return to Impact after a seven-year absence is worth examining. He has already had successful forays into a multitude of industries, including food and beverage as well as construction. He also runs the Border City Wrestling promotion in Ontario, but is by no means beholden to the business.
Yet D’Amore felt compelled to return to Impact, which was the company that once afforded him his biggest break. In a story that genuine wrestling fans will appreciate, he thought back to advice from a former mentor in retired wrestler Jody Hamilton, who was one-half of the Masked Assassins.
“Jody used to say, ‘Scott, the great workers don’t look to go to the territories that are on fire; the great workers want to go to a territory that is on their ass, because they can build it up,’” said D’Amore. “Coming back here is a chance to build something, it’s a chance to make a difference.
“This is probably the only job that could get me back into the wrestling business on a full-time basis. An opportunity with Impact is an opportunity to make things better.”
D’Amore and Callis have quickly implemented plans toward a slow build for process. Callis also broadcasts for New Japan, and his dual-roles in wrestling typify the evolving nature of the business in 2018. D’Amore has also leaned heavily on Sonjay Dutt, who is an accomplished wrestler and occasional broadcaster, as the head of Impact’s creative team, as well as Jimmy Jacobs, who helped write some of WWE’s most memorable segments over the past two years, including the highly-entertaining “Festival of Friendship” between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens.
Surrounding himself with people who complement his knowledge and skillset is a key part of D’Amore’s modus operandi.
“We’re looking for ways to establish a better network,” said D’Amore. “Historically, this company often wasn’t the most open to working with other people. Part of our changing philosophy is being more open and collaborative, which you saw with our WrestleCon show with Lucha Underground, which was a success for both companies and the fans.
“We’re rebuilding relationships within the industry and with the fans, and we’re letting everyone know—whether they are a talent, promotional partner, or fan—that if Impact Wrestling says its going to do something, they follow through and do it.”
Part of that evolving philosophy is also transparent when D’Amore discusses the success of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, as he is looking to learn from the success of others and gauge which direction best fits his promotion.
“New Japan tells great stories in the ring, and look at what they’ve done with the Bullet Club storyline,” said D’Amore. “Kenny vs. Cody is the hottest thing in wrestling right now, and it’s driving New Japan’s business and Ring of Honor’s business. They did a lot of that through the ‘Being The Elite’ series, which is cutting-edge, and also the stories they tell on their shows in the ring.
“When I hear Ring of Honor sells out a 5,000-seat venue, that’s good. It means people are willing to invest and follow wrestling if you give them a product that they want to invest in. If you watch New Japan World, their shows go off the air and they go to a press conference. We did a press conference that we streamed on Twitch. We’re taking a more realistic sports approach to it, like New Japan, but we’re also using digital delivery with Twitch to get that content out there.”
D’Amore and the Impact team are working to converge the best of the old with the new on digital platforms like Twitch. There are so many wrestling fans following independent wrestling that are passionate and invested, which D’Amore sees as a phenomenal opportunity for Impact.
“Twitch is a cutting-edge platform, and our digital numbers so outweigh linear TV and celestial TV,” said D’Amore. “More people consume content now on their smartphones and their tablets than they do on their television. You can hit a button on your phone and watch Twitch on your high-def TV. That game is still the same, it’s getting the product out in front of the fans.
“If you look at numbers for digital imprints, they’re vastly superior to most of the companies in the wrestling business, even still today. What we lack isn’t viewers, what we lack is fans, which is short for fanatics: people that are passionate and invested in our product. So if we can convert viewers and make them invested in our product, then we’ll grow this company back to where it should be.”
There are certain standards equated with every major wrestling promotion in the world. WWE offers production values that are the best in the industry, while Ring of Honor and New Japan are praised for their in-ring product. Impact needs an established calling card in order to draw fans.
“Taking an athletic, modern-style product and applying some good old-fashioned storytelling to it,” said D’Amore. “We can have more of a guerrilla approach and be more gritty. We can do some things that WWE is never going to do because they have such a high standard of production and it’s just not going to work for them.”
Impact will film its next nine episodes of weekly television in Orlando, then film four episodes in Windsor, Ontario leading up to July’s Slammiversary pay per view. D’Amore is constantly seeking to find advantages where others see problems, and the chance to experiment is a strength of Impact’s.
“We have the ability to take a little time,” said D’Amore. “We’re going to film nine episodes after Redemption. The Rock, if he showed up today and was Rocky Maivia, would they cut his legs off and send him back to developmental? It took time to find himself and get over. We have the opportunity to allow talent to find themselves.”
The return to pay per view this Sunday marks a significant opportunity to show the wrestling world that Impact is a product worth watching. The company has moved in a different direction than years past, when it signed major free agents to exorbitant contracts, and instead is narrowed in on finding the next major star. In addition to the main event with Aries, Pentagon, and Fenix, the card also features Brian Cage, Moose, Eli Drake, Trevor Lee, Sami Callihan, and Eddie Edwards, along with longtime stars in Tommy Dreamer and Scott Steiner.
“You’re not going to get where you want to be by doing stuff you did in the past,” said D’Amore. “There is certainly a place for throwbacks from the past, but you have to keep moving forward. We need to look and see what’s going to work in the future, and try to get there.
D’Amore has fully invested in the rebuilding process, and while he knows the process will take time, he believes that Impact will prove to wrestling fans that its product is worth watching.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but hopefully at the end of 2018, we can look back on where we were at the start of 2018 and say we’ve come a long way,” said D’Amore. “We need to make smart decisions. WrestleCon in New Orleans was our fifth live event in the past six weeks, and it’s the fourth one that sold out. Those are babysteps. Ring of Honor went out [WrestleMania weekend] and sold 5,000 tickets, and good for them. But we’re not at that stage. We’re at a stage where we need to get out and connect with every individual fan.
“Historically, this company hasn’t always done that. We need to say we’re going to do something and then do it. If we keep constantly being honest and working hard, then hopefully the fan base will come back. We’re going to have to earn back one fan at a time.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.