“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
My research tells me that quote was from a French writer, but in true pro wrestling fashion, I remember the term from a Christopher Daniels promo in 2003 when his Prophecy faction was involved in a rivalry in the early years of Ring Of Honor.
However, French writer or The Fallen Angel, that quote describes night one of the WWE draft very well and more importantly, it highlights the basic reasons why the concept of a brand extension hasn’t and won’t work within the WWE landscape.
The overall ideology of a brand split is to present two different products among shows to give WWE programming more variety. Aside from the initial “Smackdown six” era in 2002-2003, Raw and Smackdown have generally been the same presentation with the exception being that Raw was usually given more star power until last year’s mega TV deals evened the playing field, specifically because the monetary value for the blue brand in terms of TV rights fees was now in the ball park of the original flag ship show.
In truth, the “WWE style” is going to be a part of the fabric of all WWE content because it’s obviously all under the same umbrella so the production and final stamp of approval go through the same process. Even with its best efforts to try to differentiate the shows, the product across the board is similar because that’s how the system is designed. Plus, Raw and Smackdown, the two main stream brands of WWE TV still have the same overall goal, market to the casual fan and the general public so there’s only so much variety that can truly take place as far as the form of wrestling within those parameters.
Granted, some will cite that NXT is a different show so it’s theoretically possible to feature something outside of the usual WWE realm, but its also the lowest rated show on WWE TV, which isn’t a knock, but rather to point out that when the goal is to sell to the causal fan, you can’t focus on just the in-ring action.
For jaded fans on social media that might automatically assume that Smackdown could easily be a different show than Raw, what exactly is the plan? How does a show on broadcast TV, a network that has more clearance than cable, market to the general public without being similar to the show that was always geared toward the casual fans?
Despite the attempts to use it to create variety, I’ve always thought that the concept of exclusive shows is too “inside baseball” for the general audience. Keep in mind, there are diehard fans that follow everything weekly, but the majority of the WWE audience are casual fans that might skip a week or two, especially now with so many sports jammed onto the television schedule because of the delay caused by the pandemic. A generic six man tag that doesn’t have much consequence to the overall status of the show isn’t going to take priority over a Stanley Cup or NBA Finals game. Quite simply, when a casual view asks, “who’s the champion?” They want to know who’s the top guy, not hear an explanation about how there are two champions that each represent a specific brand.
The results for night one were nothing too memorable outside of one exception, but more on that later. The fact that Drew McIntyre, Roman Reigns, The Hurt Business, and a few others were drafted to the shows they were already a part of anyway created a rather flat environment for the draft. Along the same lines, Rey and Dominik were drafted to Smackdown, but so was Seth Rollins, which means the only thing accomplished was management took an angle that was drawing some numbers on Monday and shifted it to Fridays. The argument could be made the office wants to take some of that boost and move it to Smackdown, but how do they retain viewers for Raw? Furthermore, are they attempting to establish two different fan bases for each show? The sluggish ratings suggest that there’s a core group of fans that watch every week regardless, while a portion of the casual fans hasn’t been drawn to the product during the pandemic era.
With the key players more or less in the same spot, this all seems like an attempt to shuffle some pieces around to create the illusion of something new, but there wasn’t a dynamic shift within either show based on this draft. More importantly, a “new era” was promoted several times in the past few years and each time it’s just an artificial attempt to try to jump start viewership instead of building compelling television that can draw viewers on a weekly basis.
The glaring exception to the lack of any change within the status of the brands is that Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were sent to Raw while Big E. will work Smackdown. Despite nearly six years as a trio, I think it’s more than fair to say that The New Day as a group could remain a stable for the rest of their careers and it wouldn’t be a stale act. They organically fit together about as well as any stable in the history of the industry and are just pure entertainment, which is the entire point of why something is booked in the first place. The New Day are money. Obviously, there will still be a dose of The New Day with Kofi and Woods as a unit, but I still don’t agree with the decision to split the crew, unless there’s something major on the horizon for Big E. Still, even if a main event slot is next for him, his stablemates alongside him would still work. That being said, I don’t have much optimism with the prospects of Big E in the title picture because of how ineffective the sum total of Kofi’s run was before. More specifically, after the emotional title win at Wrestlemania 35, which included the classic moment of Kofi celebrating in the ring with his friends and family, the next thing people remember about that title reign is that Brock Lesnar beat him for the belt in seven seconds on Fox.
If Big E. has a better run at the top remains to be seen, but with a heel Roman Reigns doing the best work of his career as champion, it doesn’t make sense to derail that anytime soon, and without something as big as a potential title run for Big E, was it really worth splitting one of the most popular acts of the modern era?
The entire process becomes moot if and when stars randomly jump back and fourth among shows when management tries to get a boost in the ratings on a certain week. If the writing team tries to add in more “brand invitation” rules similar to what they did last year, it’s another aspect that is too inside baseball for the general viewer. Fans shouldn’t have to keep track of how many wrestlers from Smackdown can show up on Raw in a particular week. Considering the continuous low points on each show on a regular basis, the argument could be made that perhaps, WWE brass should focus on putting the best talent possible on every show instead of trying to scatter talent across multiple brands. Yes, there are too many wrestlers on the roster to completely dissolve the concept of exclusive brands, but on the flip side, even after the extensive cuts this year, how many currently under WWE contract were signed simply to keep them from inking a deal with another organization?
Again, this entire draft seems like an attempt at manufactured buzz as a substitute for compelling feuds. Ratings have shown that the Mysterio/Rollins angle gets fans to tune in, but shifting that over to Smackdown doesn’t add anything that isn’t already a part of WWE programming. Raw Underground seems to be on its way to being phased out of the show, and if that’s the case, what was the end goal? Who actually got over because of Raw Underground? If there’s not some type of payoff then Raw Underground was just throwing something at the wall to see if it sticks, which could speak volumes about the WWE booking process. Right now, Roman/Jey and Drew/Orton are booked as the top matches at the HIAC pay-per-view, both rematches from just a few weeks ago so at this point, the draft didn’t create any specific change to the main event scene.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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