In 2002 the WWE came up with an innovative business strategy. They split their company’s roster of talent into two separate promotions, or brands. The Raw brand and its opposite, the Smackdown brand. By 2011 the initiative had run its course and the two shows’ rosters were merged once again. However, with the recent return of Shane McMahon, rumors are abound of a possible return of the “brand extension.”
On February 22nd, the prodigal son, Shane McMahon returned to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The objective of his return was to secure his family’s “legacy.” Which included making his intentions known that he had his eyes on attaining control of Monday Night Raw. He was subsequently put into a “Hell in a Cell” match against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. If he won, however unlikely it is, Shane would get control of Raw.
With “Shane-O-Mac” making his return and wanting control of Raw, and not the whole company, a question comes to mind—is a brand split (or brand extension) on the horizon? There is a real likelihood that Shane continues to appear on WWE programming even if he loses at Wrestlemania. And the vibe of this whole storyline makes one feel like there is much more to this than one good tale for the big event. There were a plethora of directions the WWE could have gone in. But they chose to bring back the once heir apparent to the company, after a seven year hiatus. It just seems too perfect of a set-up for laying down the bread crumbs towards an eventual split.
While not everyone’s favorite time period, there were many positives that came out of WWE separating their rosters for nearly a decade. The biggest positive was more opportunities for the talent and a greater chance at reaching for Vince McMahon’s legendary “brass ring.” Stars of the 00’s like John Cena, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and John Bradshaw Layfield all benefited from increased chances that the roster split afforded them. Even top-level talent like Kurt Angle, the Big Show and Brock Lesnar—who were liable to get many opportunities—had an even better chance of success and growth while not having to elbow their way passed established stars to get TV time.
Without a doubt, the current WWE roster is one of its deepest in history. With ambitious creations like the performance center and NXT, the company is willing to bring in the best talent the world has to offer. Be it from other sports or the domestic and international independent scenes. You would be hard pressed to find an era where the WWE was more accepting of bringing in non-traditional performers than now (See: Nakamura, Shinsuke).
With so much depth, there are will always be talented men and women who will not be allotted the necessary “playing time.” Former NXT and WWE champions such as Neville, Wade Barrett, the Miz, Alicia Fox, Natalya Neidhart and Cesaro are talented individuals that often find it hard to get long-term footing on WWE programming. How much would a split better help their chances for real success?
What about the performers that are on the cusp of bigger things, but are stunted by other names already filling roles in the main event? What could Raw and Smackdown be like if Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor were in key storylines every week on your televisions?
Also of note, is the WWE’s signing of veteran sports announcer Mauro Ranallo. As long as Raw is viewed as the premiere show for the company, Ranallo will always just be the mouthpiece for the number two show. The man who has been the voice of MMA promotions like Pride FC and Strikeforce, along with being the current lead announcer for Showtime Boxing, should be able to shine on a bigger stage and commentate on pay-per-views. Which he has not been allowed to do since his well-publicized signing in December.
However, doing the brand extension the same way again may not be the best tactic. Like inter-league play in baseball, it was a success early on, but ran its course and became a stale concept. To freshen it up, some adjustments need to be made to what is an already sound idea.
Having both shows claiming their own world heavyweight, tag team, and secondary title champs was fun in its inception. The former WCW world title wasn’t retired into a warehouse in Stamford, Connecticut and it gave multiple superstars the chance to wear gold. Yet, the redundancy became confusing and watered down all of the titles in this writer’s opinion.
My concept to freshen it up? Make certain titles exclusive to a specific brand. Now this may sound radical, but what if Raw was the only show where you could find the WWE world title? Along with the divas and intercontinental (IC) title? While on Smackdown the United States championship was the main title, accompanied by the tag team and returning cruiserweight title? A returning cruiserweight title could make sense since the WWE is creating a new show centered on the division for their network.
If they really wanted to make each brand special, having championships exclusive to those shows would truly make them feel like separate promotions. If you could only see the New Day and Kalisto on Thursday nights, while Monday’s were special for getting to watch Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns, it would make both shows appointment television. Instead of Smackdown being a second-rate show that isn’t a big deal to miss.
Also it is an avenue to bring greater prestige to the belts that aren’t the world championship. Since exclusivity would breed much more dedicated TV time. And just last year there was a strong push to make the US and IC titles matter again when former world champions John Cena and Daniel Bryan won them at Wrestlemania. Cena having the US title and re-instituting the US open challenge as a main event story would surely make the title mean more than ever before.
In the end, a second brand split may never come to pass. But if it did, it could be the opening to the next wave of future WWE hall of famers getting the opportunities to showcase their talents on a more consistent and permanent basis. Here’s hoping it does.