In 2011, the WWE’s brand split was effectively put to an end when COO Triple H announced that the RAW and SmackDown! rosters would be featured on both shows full-time. At the time of the decision, RAW and SmackDown! had interacted with each other quite a bit for the last few years. With RAW being the main host for all of this interactivity, the gap between RAW and SmackDown! had expanded to such a degree that it was hardly a competition. Therefore, the SmackDown! stars might as well just moved to RAW full-time and vice versa. In 2013, the merge was cemented by the merging for the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships to from the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
To be honest, I originally was all for the two brands coming together again. If everyone is fighting for one championship and everyone is on the same level, surely it’d promote competition within the superstars to get their time in the spotlight. On RAW and SmackDown!, it was much easier for these wrestlers to get time on television with a smaller roster to compete with. Now, the roster is so huge that it could have been an incentive for everyone to step up their game. However, my feelings about the decision have seemingly reversed.
I mentioned earlier that the roster is so huge that it could have been an incentive for everyone to step up their game. However, those wrestlers are now having to work a much more intense schedule. They’re not just working on one or two shows every week. Some of them are wrestling on ALL of their shows! Heck, we’ve seen a number of NXT stars like Kevin Owens and Sasha Banks having to appear on the main roster and NXT at the same time. The main wrestlers are now just physically and mentally drained by the heavily demanding schedule.
On the flip side, there’s the wrestlers that are barely getting a sniff of the action on the flagship shows. These active and healthy wrestlers are all backstage for the flagship shows but are hardly ever used. If their lucky, they might get an appearance on SmackDown! but Main Event and house shows are their usual schedule for the week. This is very alarming.
It’s no surprise when taking this into account as to why stars like Randy Orton are asking for lighter schedules. They just can’t give it their all when their schedules are this intense. A lot of these stars are working with injuries, which is further risking the well-beings of these wrestlers. Even with the brand split, wrestlers were working 300+ days a week. However, the WWE roster nowadays aren’t just working with one show as mentioned earlier. With the WWE Network also in full swing, the demand of content from these wrestlers are now just becoming too much.
What another brand split can do now is re-motivate those stars that are currently lost in the shuffle. What the brand split can do is re-energise those stars that are battered and bruised from working these hard schedules. Alright, it might feature a lot of hard work at first in order to get the brand split running. However, the long term benefits could be worth that initial short-term hardships.
Jim Ross mentioned this on the Q&A part of this website when he said: ““I’ve said it many times but if the brand split was truly a split and no cross booking occurred then it would be tough over the short term but would be a benefit in the long haul. I don’t look for it to happen.”
Daniel Bryan also mentioned his desire for a brand split and wanting to work exclusively on SmackDown! Not only would this spare him an extra three hours of work on RAW which is obviously much better for his well-being, the pressure would really be off him working on a show that wasn’t as micro-managed as RAW by the powers-that-be. With the ratings of RAW taking hits, all eyes will no doubt be on RAW internally.
With that being said, Jerry Lawler has actually mentioned that SmackDown! could possibly be going live in 2016. Therefore, interest in the product internally could end up being just as important as RAW. The flagship show RAW is obviously their main priority as it attracts the most viewers and is the main driving force for their WWE Network. However, now WWE are adding more pressure on themselves by having SmackDown! potentially go live as well. The SmackDown! scripts would be a lot more micro-managed with the pressures for it to succeed.
I don’t think WWE should take that mentality for RAW and duplicate it for SmackDown! SmackDown! doesn’t fit the same mould as RAW any more and is not possibly going to get their ratings as good as RAW’s. If that’s the case then what is there to lose by having SmackDown! being a lot more experimental than RAW. The pressure is not as extreme so let the writers have a bit more fun with the roster it has. If a brand split was introduced and the writing staff was once again split up, the SmackDown! writers could be more ambitious which is not a bad thing. Writers would be ambitious to beat the competition which Paul Heyman always stated was his driving force as SmackDown!’s head writer. He wanted to make new stars and beat RAW in terms of it’s programming. He wanted to break the mould. If the brand split caused the writers to act this way, how is that necessarily a bad thing?
Bleacher Reporter’s Andy Soucek highlighted how damaged the narrative had become for WWE with so much to keep up with for the viewers.
He said: “What is maybe the most damaging aspect of the end of the brand split, is that WWE has now made it painfully hard to follow the entire narrative of WWE. When Raw and Smackdown were separate rosters, a viewer could keep up with their favourite wrestler in two hours a week.”
This is a move that would benefit the wrestlers. This is a move that would benefit the writers. This is a move that would benefit the TV Networks that are getting better programming and possibly better ratings. There’s a lot of people that would benefit in the long run from the brand split being re-introduced. The question is would WWE ever consider doing it? I’d like to think that they would when the over-flowing roster and burned out writers start to seriously effect the product. What I’m really concerned with is whether they’ll do it before it’s too late. What if SmackDown! is taken off the air before this brand split could even happen? Then what? Will they introduce NXT as their second show? That’s all filled with developmental stars and wouldn’t solve the over-expansion issue. Before this all goes down, something’s got to give. The brand split must go down.