WWE will officially enter a new era this week when Raw and NXT continue on USA Network and SmackDown makes its highly anticipated move to FOX.
With those changes comes a world of pressure. By 2021, WWE will be making more than $540 million per year for Raw and SmackDown in TV rights fees alone, and the company could rake in close to $100 million per year for NXT for the next two years. Given the significant drops in TV ratings that WWE has experienced for Raw (down 13%) and SmackDown (down 11%) over the course of the past year, whatever the creative team has been doing just won’t cut it as both NBCUniversal and FOX will have lofty expectations for their respective shows moving forward.
In recent months, the quality of WWE’s programming has been all over the place: Some weeks, it’s very good, but other weeks, it’s, well, not. WWE will need to produce more consistently entertaining programming in both the immediate and long-term futures, and that may necessitate a series of wholesale adjustments to the way WWE produces and books its product.
Here are five huge changes WWE must make ASAP to ensure successful futures for Raw, SmackDown and NXT.
Sparingly Use Main Roster Stars On NXT
At least initially, NXT is expected to be the same brand that diehard wrestling fans have grown to know and love.
According to Pro Wrestling Sheet, “The current plan is for NXT to remain as the same show it’s been for years and that moving to USA Network was only done to get more eyes on the product.” That may very well remain true for an extended period of time, but what if NXT struggles to generate a strong audience-or experiences noticeable viewership dips as it did in week two-on USA Network? Expect swift changes to be made. Truth be told, there should be one major change made to NXT, as long as it’s done tactfully: Using top main roster talent to help grow NXT’s fan base. Admittedly, WWE will be walking a delicate line here between ensuring that NXT doesn’t change so much that it alienates its loyal audience and doing the same thing it’s been doing on the WWE Network only to find out that’s not what the audience wants.
The best way to ensure that NXT is still NXT but that it maintains its audience is for WWE to sparingly use top Raw and SmackDown stars to help the brand grow and to draw more fans to the product. We’re not talking WWE using floundering midcard stars like Tyler Breeze or Fandango on NXT. Rather, WWE should use the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, etc. on a very limited basis-especially in the early stages-to ensure that fans who have traditionally only watched Raw and SmackDown begin watching NXT rather than All Elite Wrestling.
As long as WWE carefully uses main roster stars on NXT without overdoing it, then NXT should benefit tremendously from the added presence of some of the company’s top main eventers.
Disband 205 Live And Spread Out The Talent
There is chatter within WWE that 205 Live, which has long been plagued by poor viewership on the WWE Network, could be ending soon. Even after WWE announced that the show will now air on Fridays, that isn’t necessarily a permanent move as it’s not set in stone that the show will even exist much longer.
It’s been quite a while since 205 Live and the Cruiserweight division as a whole had any sort of buzz, and WWE has reached the point where it’s probably time to cut bait. That doesn’t mean just releasing all of the Cruiserweights under contract, though. As recently demonstrated by stars like Cedric Alexander, Buddy Murphy and Ali, the Cruiserweight division has definitely been valuable to WWE in that it helped serve as the launching pad for a handful of stars who are now making some noise on the main roster, including the hilarious Drake Maverick.
There are at least a few stars currently working as Cruiserweights who, with the right booking, could certainly add some depth to Raw, SmackDown and/or NXT, with names like Drew Gulak and Akira Tozawa instantly coming to mind. The best way for WWE to maximize the use of their talents-as well as those of others on the main roster-is to disband the Cruiserweight division and then disperse the show’s stars among Raw, SmackDown and NXT accordingly, the latter of which has already begun happening. This would provide depth to the main roster, give those stars a chance to sink or swim on their new show and disband a show that has been disappointing almost since its inception.
No one should be clamoring for any of these 205 Live stars to lose their jobs, and seeing them get a chance on a bigger stage is better than WWE being done with the division altogether.
Differentiate Between Raw And SmackDown
WWE recently (very briefly) tried changing up Monday Night Raw by making the show’s third hour “grittier,” which really only meant that the show was darker (literally) and slightly edgier.
That short-lived experiment didn’t work but wasn’t a bad idea either. WWE needs to make changes to the way Raw, SmackDown and NXT look on their new homes, as long as those changes aren’t so drastic that they ruin the integrity of the show. There have been reports indicating that WWE could be introducing new stages/sets for Raw and SmackDown, but the changes shouldn’t stop there. WWE needs to make adjustments to both the look and feel of its shows in a way that differentiates them from one another and makes them stand out, which is something the company is reportedly planning on doing with a “facelift” for both Raw and SmackDown
You may have noticed some slight production changes on this week’s episodes of Raw and SmackDown, including a new state-of-the-art camera, but what are some other potential changes we will soon see? New stages, other production differences (promos, camera angles, lighting, etc.), different graphics, making SmackDown more “sports-oriented” as planned, etc. The bottom line is that, especially now that they’re on completely different networks, Raw and SmackDown shouldn’t feel like the exact same show, with the only difference being that one is red while the other is blue. Fans should be able to tell that they’re WWE-produced shows, but those shows should differ in their structure, format and presentation in as many ways as possible in order to established clearly defined lines between the brands.
Raw shouldn’t feel like SmackDown. SmackDown shouldn’t feel like NXT. NXT shouldn’t look or sound exactly like Raw. You get the idea. WWE needs to make more than just aesthetic changes and also change how the shows are structured, filmed, etc. so that they aren’t one and the same.
Focus On The Women’s Tag Team Division Or Let It Go
According to Sportskeeda’s Tom Colohue, WWE never really had any serious plans for the Women’s Tag Team Championship, or really, the women’s division as a whole.
That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this as there has been remarkably little effort put into the women’s tag team division essentially since its inception in early 2019. The short-lived title reign of Sasha Banks and Bayley, combined with the laughably bad reign of The IIconics, demonstrated that WWE created the women’s tag team division on a whim without any concrete idea of where it might be headed. Although the women’s division is pretty deep these days, it’s, quite frankly, not deep enough to have two separate singles titles and a tag team division, so WWE needs to make a decision here: Does it want to put serious effort into the women’s tag team division or just end it altogether?
Overall, WWE has way too many titles, and as demonstrated by the frequent disappearances of the United States, Intercontinental and WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship, the creative team often completely forgets about those championships, which hurts the prestige of the titles and negatively affects both the superstars who are holding them and the ones who should be pursuing them. Right now, WWE is at least shining somewhat of a spotlight on the Women’s Tag Team Titles-probably because Alexa Bliss is one half of the champions-but by and large, the titles have been completely forgotten since their inception.
So, it’s decision time for WWE, which either needs to push the division as it should be or pull the plug on it and chalk it up as a failed experiment.
Firmly Enforce The Brand Split After The Draft, No Matter What
WWE came up with the Wild Card rule back in April due to pressure from TV executives to improve stagnant ratings, and it didn’t take long at all for the company to begin completely ignoring the requirements of the rule.
That rule essentially ended the brand split altogether, and as noted by Seth Rollins, it really “muddled things up,” which is a nice way of saying that it was a complete and utter disaster. Now, WWE is supposedly pulling the plug on the brand split following SmackDown’s move to FOX with a draft that will be held on the Oct. 11 SmackDown and the Oct. 14 Raw. That might be some of the best news WWE fans have heard this year as the Wild Card rule has been an unequivocal mess that-instead of creating opportunities for fresh feuds and storylines as was intended-seemed to make everything worse, mainly because it gave more TV time to stars like Shane McMahon and limited the exposure of the vast majority of WWE’s midcard and lower card stars.
For all of the perceived problems with the full-fledged brand extension that was previously in effect, the best thing about WWE having distinct brands is that it allows stars who may have been overlooked otherwise to rise up the ranks on Raw and SmackDown. After all, it’s difficult to envision stars like Kofi Kingston ever having reached the heights he did this year had the brand split ended. The Wild Card rule, for all intents and purposes, rendered the brand extension pointless and resulted in so many superstars being wasted and misused that it’s something that WWE shouldn’t really ever consider doing again, especially with Raw and SmackDown now on different networks.
WWE needs to recommit itself to a full-blown brand split, with Raw, SmackDown and now NXT all functioning as separate entities that rarely cross paths. Even when viewership sinks or the product is in a rut, WWE must resist the temptation of ignoring the brand split rules once again because of the negative effects it has on essentially anyone who isn’t a top star.