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On Friday night, WWE will be having their second roster shakeup of the year, with the rosters set to split once again into two separate brands. Currently the rosters are still supposed to be separate, as the previous brand split that began in 2016 and led to subsequent "Superstar Shake-Ups" during each following year, is still in effect. However, in 2019 the company introduced a Wild Card rule which allowed wrestlers to appear on whatever show was convenient for them, ending the idea of a brand split for all practical purposes.
However, there is reason to believe that WWE is taking this new draft seriously. With billion dollar deals from both FOX and USA, there is much more pressure for WWE to deliver big viewership numbers for their broadcast partners. Given that the second episode of SmackDown on FOX is going to be the first night of the draft, it can be expected that FOX and USA (but especially FOX) are interested in having unique rosters for their respective shows. The question is though: What the hell are they thinking?
The history of the WWE Draft, brand extension, superstar shakeup, whatever you want to call it, is a history marked by failure. Each and every time WWE has attempted to separate the brands, viewership has gone down for WWE and they have been forced to end the split and merge the brands back together in some fashion.
In 2002, during the original WWE Draft, RAW and SmackDown both saw steady declines in viewership, although it is possible that decline was more because there was no way for the company to sustain the highs of the Attitude Era and the departure of major stars (Steve Austin, The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Eddie Guerroro, etc.). In 2016 when the WWE Draft was reintroduced, WWE continued to see declines in viewership, and this time out of all the major draft picks (Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Charlotte, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and The New Day made up the Top 10) only Ambrose and Cena are no longer working regularly with the company.
Most importantly, the shakeup that took place in April was pretty dramatic, with a lot of big names switching brands. What happened? Viewership immediately went in the tank for both brands and WWE had to hastily make up the inane wild card rule to make sure the big names were on each show.
So let's think about this for a second: WWE needs to increase viewership for RAW and SmackDown now that the new TV deals have kicked in. WWE's solution is to split the rosters and have another draft, even though every time they have split the rosters viewership has declined, showing that when you need to raise viewership that split rosters is actually something you should expressly avoid doing. Earlier this year, WWE tried to do the exact same thing and it immediately failed, yet WWE is going to try it again, this time hoping for a different result. What is the definition of insanity again?
On paper there are some benefits to having split rosters; each show feels unique because different stars are on it and if you have a deep roster (and WWE does) a greater variety of talent has a chance to get ample TV time and possibly get over. The idea is that if you want to see all of the stars WWE has to offer, you have to watch both shows each week.
The problem is that has never turned into a successful increase in viewership. WWE doesn't have enough major, difference making stars to spread themselves thin between the two brands, and expect people to tune into both shows. The simple fact is that by cutting the star power on each show in half, they are less likely to draw with the fractured rosters.
Some people may argue that the reason the brand split hasn't worked is because WWE has still always pushed RAW as the "A" show and SmackDown as the "B" show, which is certainly true when it comes to SmackDown's failure to grow viewership. However, that doesn't explain why RAW's viewership has declined as well, in fact since 2016 RAW has lost far more viewers, both in total and by percentage, than SmackDown, all despite RAW being consistently promoted as the "A" show.
I'm not sure if FOX and USA explicitly wanted their own separate rosters, and if that is the case then the blame should be on them when this inevitably fails to increase viewership. If it is WWE's idea, than it is just another one of their many mistakes that has caused their viewership to decline over the years. Either way, separate brands haven't proven to be the solution to anything in WWE history and it is unlikely they are going to solve anything now.
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