Katz Files: The Parity Booking Controversy

The Katz Files – Arnie Katz

The Parity Booking Controversy

The Kingfish Arnie Katz probes a TNA booking policy that is the subject of hot debate.

The inability of TNA to advance significantly in TV ratings or pay per view buys over the last year or so has fostered a lot of discussion about what factors may be holding back the promotion.

There isn’t one single cause, of course. If solving TNA’s difficulties was that easy, you can bet that someone at the company would correct it. Still, a lot of attention has focused on TNA’s basic booking strategy. Supporters claim that it makes TNA a more humane and pleasant place to work, while opponents claim it is the biggest reason for the lack of progress.

Whether you call it “Equal Booking,” “Parity Booking” or something else, this approach to putting together the pro wrestling show inspires plenty of rhetoric, both pro and con. The fact that TNA uses it while WWE does not only intensifies the debate.

The Case for Parity Booking

Parity Booking originated as a reaction against some abusive booking practices of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is intended to correct the tendency for wrestlers who were also bookers to push themselves relentlessly at the expense of the promotion’s young talent.

As supporters of Parity Booking see it, this approach fights against the creation of a “glass ceiling” that keeps fresh talent out of the main events and puts them in an enhancement role much too often.

The glass ceiling has probably caused more trouble in pro wrestling locker rooms in the last 20 years than anything except possibly drugs and sexual jealousy. Wrestlers worry about their careers just like the rest of us. It only natural that the inability to move up the ladder would cause a lot of frustration.

The concept of Parity Booking is very straight-forward: Wrestlers who lose to someone will eventually win a match against that same person.

Parity Booking has always existed to some extent. Look at the pattern of NWA title changes in the 1945 to 1970 period. Over and over, a wrestler won the title in his home town arena and then lost it back to the former champion in his home town. That’s how Lou Thesz got to be a multi-time title-holder.

There’s no question that Parity Booking contributes to a happy locker room. Even when TNA was on the edge of extinction, morale and cooperativeness remained high, because everyone felt they had a chance to shy.

The Case Against Parity Booking

The destructive booking that puts a few guys on endless winning streaks is bad for business, but so is Parity Booking if it’s carried to an extreme, as some feel TNA does at the present time.

Parity Booking keeps a small group of performers from dominating the show when they may have gone considerably past their prime. No one who saw Dusty Rhodes at the end of his career welcomes the idea of someone who can no longer work as he once did staying on top.

Unfortunately, having nobody on top ends up being as bad, if not worse, than having the same guys rule the promotion for years on end. Stars sell cards. If the stars are dimmer, it usually depresses fan enthusiasm.

A happy locker room is a Good Thing, but it is not the be-all and end-all of promoting wrestling. It’s about putting on a hot show and making money on it. Parity Booking is a great leveler – and that makes it difficult for a promotion to create marketable stars.

Wrestling has always drawn a distinction between wrestlers who are good performers and practice their craft at a high level and those who “put fannies in the seats.” Parity Booking emphasizes the former at the expense of the latter. The best gate attractions aren’t necessarily the best technical performers. Ric Flair excelled in both ways, but Hulk Hogan’s drawing power wildly exceeded his wrestling skill by a considerable margin.

Eliminating the glass ceiling to give rising talent a chance is a great idea. If it also eliminates everything above that ceiling, it doesn’t do any wrestler much of a favor. Those who back traditional, WWE-style booking would say that the problem is not the glass ceiling as much as bad choices for the main event group.

TNA’s Parity Booking

The biggest knocks against TNA Booking are:

1. Inconsistency
2. Too many four- and six-man matches
3. Lack of stars
4. Two many run-ins and screw job finishes

Parity Booking can be blamed, in some measure, for all four. It isn’t the only cause, but it looks like a mighty big contributor.

A lot of the inconsistency arises from the need to even out results. Instead of one wrestler in a program getting a triumph, TNA tends to seesaw. That makes it harder to present a story in an orderly and understandable manner.

TNA presents too many tag team and six-man contests. They don’t have the marquee appeal of singles matches nor do they raise the status of the winners very much. The matches are often incredibly exciting, but fans tend to take a “what’s the point?” attitude toward them. One reason there are so many is that it gives Bookers a cheap way to give “evening up” wins while at the same time giving them a chance to keep several other guys from accumulating either wins or losses that will have to be paid back at some future date.

Parity Booking hurts the creation of marketable stars. When a wrestler loses to a wrestler the fans consider far down on the roster, it makes it harder for the fans to see the loser as a star. Paradoxically, the winner gains little, because a weak star has very little power to raise a mid-carder to star status.

Burying stars in four- and six-wrestler matches doesn’t separate the stars from the pack. Equality is nice, but it doesn’t lead to main events, big ratings or fat pay per view revenue. Cards need a focus and stars provide that focus. Parity Booking drags stars back toward the mid-card.

TNA has a number of guys who have been top-rank stars, including Booker T and Kurt Angle, but TNA’s booking has actually diminished their drawing power by dimming their stardom. They can become stars again, but it will take sustained singles programs in which they look like stars.

Stars need TV time. Sure, it’s great to give everyone a chance, but the stars should be the most visible performers, in and out of the ring.

TNA also falls down when a wrestler gets hot. When Rhino, Eric Young, Kaz or others seem to catch fire, Parity Booking leads to matches that pull them down and waste the heat.

The compulsion to balance records also leads to too many run-ins and far-fetched finishes. If they didn’t work so hard to keep everyone equal, the stars would win more matches instead of accumulating tainted defeats, which would cut down on ending every match with a run-in or weird swerve.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of good to say about Parity Booking, but it can be over-used, like anything else. It keeps the show fresh if half the roster isn’t unbeatable, but guys need to go on victory sprees in order to build fan interest.

The real story on Parity Booking is that anything taken to excess is probably not a great idea. TNA’s Parity Booking has gone too far. A tougher attitude by management would, ultimately, increase the popularity of the promotion and make everyone more money.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising daily wrestling column. I hope you’ll come back to join me – and bring your friends.

— Arnie Katz
[email protected]
(10/2/08)