It’s time for an end to the WWE brand split nonsense
WWE is reportedly under pressure from NBCUniversal and Fox to get its rating for weekly TV staples “Raw” and “Smackdown” back to where they’d been when the broadcasters signed multibillion-dollar deals to air them.
OK, so, the first stab at a solution, the clumsy “Wild Card Rule” that Vince McMahon seemed to concoct on his way out to the ring at the start of “Raw” on Monday night, that’s not going to cut it.
The rule, as made up on the spot by McMahon, allows three – then amended later to four – superstars to appear on the TV show of the other brand, which, like we care what brand they’re on, or are supposed to be on.
What NBCUniversal (which currently broadcasts both “Raw” and “Smackdown,” and will continue airing “Raw” in the fall) and Fox (which gets “Smackdown” starting in the fall want is an end to the brand split, for the logical reason that, they each want to be able to have WWE’s biggest stars on their network, all of them, every week.
For the duration of the NBCUniversal era of broadcasting both weekly TV shows, they got both “Raw” and “Smackdown” stars, first on Monday, then on Tuesday, so, no big deal, that they were only on each individual show once a week.
I mean, I can see it, if I’m NBCUniversal, that, if you gave me the option to have Roman Reigns, A.J. Styles, Daniel Bryan, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair on once a week, or to have them on twice a week, I’m going with twice a week, thanks for asking.
But, anyway. Starting this fall, the two shows are on different networks.
So, I’m an executive at either one. You’re telling me, we’re paying you billions, your ratings are down a third from when we signed the contracts, and you’re giving me half the star power.
I think we’re at a stage where we could actually see the possibility of one or both shows being at risk of being canceled, and ending up on the WWE Network, though, yes, possibility doesn’t mean likelihood.
McMahon didn’t get to where he is with scripted sports entertainment to give up the ghost that easily.
Another part to the brand split is the live-events aspect to the business, which, with two brands, means the possibility of two shows on the road running different cities in different parts of the country on the same night.
In the best of times, this means double the money, double the fun, except that these aren’t the best of times.
The live-events business is in the crapper, too, according to WWE’s most recent reporting to investors, which McMahon addressed on a conference call, saying cryptically that the company was acknowledging the issue and working toward solutions.
It’s not hard to see what a big issue with the live-events business might be. It’s the same issue as is killing ratings. The brand split means you only get half the stars of WWE at your house show, if you’re even that lucky.
The solution is obvious: the brand split needs to come to an end.
We’ll eventually get there, but in the meantime, enjoy the “Wild Card Rule” era, for the next couple of weeks, until McMahon pulls something else out of his ass, and probably a third thing, before acceding to the reality.
Column by Chris Graham