Cleat Geeks

Splitting Up is What’s Best for Buisiness

It’s not so much that Raw was a stale product, but like all goods and services, if there isn’t an update that adapts to modern times and social demands, people will begin to look for the newer, better version. So what is a CEO to do when he not only owns the number one brand going, but your next biggest competitor is arguably your own minor league training troupe? Vince McMahon could have continued plugging along the way the WWE has been during the current era, appealing to the children of those fans who used to cheer on Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, ignoring the “sex sells” mantra that so many other successful advertisers and branders have been lathering up the product-of-the-day with, YET! just recently the second coming of a brand split was announced to the WWE Universe.  Some took it as a sign that better, more current-minded men and women had gotten to the ol’ boss man, and others saw it as a desperate act of a company that was tired of being dragged on the internet and podcasts on a weekly basis.  After the debut episodes of the new Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live, a real fan of sports entertainment can only be strongly optimistic that a new day has begun.

What’s Working in Brand Splitting

The Name that Runs the Game

There was undeniable excitement as both the Raw and Smackdown Live shows opened their proverbial doors to the future of the WWE product on Monday, July 25th and Tuesday, July 26th respectively.  In complete honesty and transparency, I have not watched an episode of Smackdown in well over a year. I never felt the need to because nothing of significance ever happened, and if it did, it would be addressed on the following Monday Night Raw.  This week, my feelings were different.  A sense of urgency had been created by the McMahon siblings throughout the weeks after a brand split had been announced, and then one week prior, the General Managers were named: Daniel Bryan to Smackdown Live and Mick Foley to Raw. Bringing fan favorites to both shows was an intelligent move on managements’ part; putting THE fan favorite on Smackdown was brilliant.  “Smackdown will always be considered ‘Little Brother,’,” said a Michigan State fan, someone who knows what it’s like to always be compared to a stronger, more notable team.  Being live and pulling a decent roster would not be enough to intrigue even the most devoted WWE fan to watch a fourth and fifth hour of pro wrestling on a subsequent night.  Daniel Bryan is the one name that would guarantee a credible tv viewership turnout.

Less is More 

The classic idiom, “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth” has been plaguing the WWE for quite some time.  The full roster is jam-packed with talent, but with limited time (yes, even with a three-hour Raw) there wasn’t enough opportunity to properly develop new talent and characters, or allow the established roster to find innovative means to keep themselves fresh and relevant.  With the brand split, there is still the same amount of air time to highlight the talent.  This was evident right from the beginning of each show when the GMs and respective McMahons brought the entire rosters out.

Letting the fans see the entire roster at once was immensely impactful.  First, it creates a sense of excitement and wonders about the potential match-ups, feuds, and main events.  They’re not just names on a list anymore; these are the men and women who will be competing week after week.  Next, it literally gives the mid-card wrestlers a place to stand out and be seen, which doesn’t always happen outside of backstage, goofball segments or “jobber” matches.  Finally, we were reminded that each roster really is powerful even some have deemed one brand as the “A Team.”

Women’s Wrestling Goes Legit

Both men’s and women’s wrestling will benefit from having two brands.  Despite the attempt at legitimizing the women through the Diva’s Revolution and development of the Women’s Division, women’s wrestling has been regulated to only a few spots and C-level storytelling.  Women’s wrestling has been suffering the most: the same match ups week after week, top talent (Sasha and Natalya) couldn’t get a storyline off the ground, and singular focus has been driving the product into the ground.  This week, a message was sent, loud and clear, that another shakeup is going down.  Smackdown Live’s multi-women promo after the Natalya vs. Becky Lynch match highlighted the new names and faces, and Raw’s ROARED that it is a new era by the crowning of a new Women’s Champion.

Storytelling 101 & Classic Pro Wrestling Broadcasting

No matter how many changes are made to rosters and branding, there are basic elements that need to be perfected in order to keep the momentum going that was created on Monday and Tuesday nights. That initial pop won’t last long if fans sense things are going back into the old rut.  Based on some of the changes that I witnessed this week, I can tell that someone has finally gotten the message that good old storytelling and character development must be a priority.

6pacChallengeAfter reintroducing the rosters, both programs launched right into their main event games by announcing their championship runs.  It’s been argued that just creating a new championship belt after losing the opportunity to bring it to Raw is a copout, but I fail to agree.  If there isn’t a brass ring to fight for, according to Vince McMahon, you’re not going anywhere.  It was right and fitting that Seth Rollins, the number one overall draft pick, should be automatically entered into the championship match, and any time that you have a series of matches that leads to a grand prize, the fans are in.  The same was seen on Smackdown Live: a 6-Pack Challenge was announced but left the sixth spot open for the winner of a battle royal gave hope to both the competitors and the fans.  In an era when inside scoops can be leaked or created, then discussed ad nauseum on the internet, the element of surprise needed to be reintroduced, and that is just what happened this week.

Another old school tact that was taken during the two live shows was the on-the-spot interviews.  These were classic back in the 1980’s and even 90s.  It made the impact of the match’s outcome seem even more real as the interviews captured legitimate emotions and not just canned responses.  But on the other side of the promo argument, we were also given backstage promos delivered directly to the camera.  This also harkened back to the days of old school wrestling.

AmbroseZigglerAnd what may be the most impactful change that I noticed as the two shows closed down for the week was the element of anticipation was created for the next installment.  I truly felt a twang of agony when I realized that it would be a whole week before I would be able to tune in and see where these new storylines were going.  I loved watching Roman Reigns give his deflated acknowledgment to Finn Balor, but knew that he was not a truly defeated man because he would come back to fight another day (Monday, as it were).  Smackdown Live built this cliffhanger approach even more fully by showcasing Dolph Ziggler, the upset winner of the 6-Pack Challenge match and new number one contender for the WWE Championship at Summer Slam, and having that interrupted by Dean Ambrose, going nose-to-nose with his newly crowned opponent.

When all angles of the brand splitting have been analyzed to death, the proof that this was a wise decision is evident in the final products that were aired this week.  Kudos to management for realizing that a bigger shakeup than a title change or heel-turn was needed to make the WWE earn its number one spot in sports entertainment.  There are so many more opportunities for the talent to showcase why they on the main roster, which will allow for more authentic character development.  In this reporter’s opinion, I can only see the Women’s Division getting stronger and cannot wait to see what happens with the new Cruiserweight division and the monthly, brand-specific live events.


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