It was 2002 when it all started. The company that was now the only show in town was fresh off the heels of a failed WCW/ECW invasion program. What looked like it would be two companies under one roof was now a jam-packed roster in need of resuscitation in the aftermath of the Monday Night Wars. WWE’s came up with an idea to overhaul the way they ran the company. Instead of the same guys on the same two shows every week, they created the brand extension. With so many competitors on the roster, splitting the roster into two parts, one with their one weekly show, was a brilliant move. A move that has changed the way fans view WWE. Eight years later, the brand extension is the only WWE incoming fans have ever known.
The first draft was a huge night for the business. As the owner of Raw, Ric Flair made his number one pick the Undertaker. Meanwhile Rock and Kurt Angle were drafted to Smackdown. In the first year to year and a half, Raw and Smackdown functioned as two separate yet equal brands. Even better, they were able to differentiate themselves from each other. Smackdown was more wrestling focused with men like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and Edge showcased every week while Raw featured the glory days of Triple H as World Champion and the heavy emphasis on adult-oriented storylines.
Soon the brands began to run separate pay per views. Even a third brand, ECW, was given its own ppv. After a couple of years the brands could not sustain pay per views on their own and all brands were sharing shows again. At first it seemed to push down the lower mid card as only the upper mid card and main event talent made the pay per view slots. While the first few shows after the consolidation felt bigger than normal, it eventually lost its luster. It now feels that overall the roster depth has greatly decreased during the brand extension.
When the extension first started, it was a big deal when wrestlers appeared on other brands. It was even a huge deal when combatants shifted brands in between drafts. Today it matters little when Smackdown stars appear on Raw and vice versa. Last Monday with Smackdown taking over Raw should have felt like a big deal. Instead it felt like just another show. Gone are the days of different brands. Gone are the days of the prestige of the brand extension. Today all we are left with is a meaningless draft that takes place every year to create interest for one night. There has got to be a better way to showcase the roster than this.
One possibility to fix this problem is to create a brand freeze. WWE can stop shifting wrestlers every month or so and recreate the fascination it had before when Raw and Smackdown stars appear on the same show. If the company had was in better shape, it may be able to begin running separate pay per views again. This couldn’t happen every month, but maybe once or twice a year it could happen.
Another possibility to generate interest is to unify the two big titles. Splitting the brands with their own championships was a good idea in 2002, but today it seems the titles are less significant and watered down when there really isn’t anything to say just who the best is. It also becomes a problem of putting one belt over the other (usually the Raw title) when headlining pay per views, especially Wrestlemania. WWE can still have a champion that represents each brand, but why can’t those titles be the I-C and US titles? Not only would that life the intrigue in who gets the World title shot at each pay per view, it would elevate the mid carders that hold the I-C and US championships.
One other possibility is to cease and desist with the brand extension. If you think about it, there really isn’t enough roster depth to keep the two-brand company intriguing long term, hence one of the reasons for so many brand trades. Knocking down the wall allows more possible matches. It also allows those who can’t catch Monday nights to see John Cena when they watch on Friday or any other star they might be missing out on. An issue you come into with this scenario is overkill. You cannot have Randy Orton appearing on both shows every week. Fans would quickly grow tired of him and the character would run its course. What they could do instead is have Orton show up on Monday and then appear again a week and a half later on Friday. This allows flexibility with stars they feel need a rest as well as the chance to showcase hot feuds that deserve two shows per week.
So should WWE end the brand extension? Not necessarily. Ending the brand extension is not necessary to generate interest. They can still keep both brands, but they do need to do something to make it special again. There needs to be some difference between the brands other than the obvious fact that one is given priority over the other. WWE has been doing the draft for so long that maybe they have begun to rest on it. No too many other companies are running themselves like this. If they continue to do so, something must be done, whatever that may be, to make it meaningful again.
Thanks for reading.