Back on the 25th March 2002, on Raw, the landscape of the WWE changed completely. That was the date of the inaugural WWE Draft – and the beginning of the Brand Extension.
In June 2006 the Brand Extension changed again with the revival of ECW as the third brand in the company. As I’m sure we all remember, it started out as a tribute to the extreme style of the original ECW with the return of various ECW alumni, but it quickly developed into a watered down, generic WWE TV show. It still served a purpose though as an enhancement show. It was eventually replaced in February 2010 by a purpose built development show known as NXT.
And the final nail was hammered into the coffin of the Brand Extension in August last year, as Supershows became the norm, allowing superstars from both brands to appear on both shows. The concept of each show having exclusive rosters was just quietly dropped, but the absence of the annual draft from 2012 was the final confirmation – if it was needed – that it was no more.
The very existence of the Brand Extension has been a contentious point since then, with some arguing that it is needed for the good of WWE television, while others argue that it was never necessary in the first place. Here I try to look at both sides, and weigh up both arguments.
We start off with something that will matter so much more to corporate WWE than the casual fan. Promoting each brand as separate entities allowed the WWE to encourage fans to spend money on both brands because they were seen as something different. Back when PPVs were brand-exclusive there were more events to hand over the cash for, and arguably more reason to. You had to pay to see the top stars on Raw and Smackdown in the top matches and in the top storylines. Compare that to nowadays where you have top quality matches given away for free on TV and both sets of stars on one show.
The other main change to revenue after the Brand Extension was the changes that would be made to house shows. Instead of having around 200 shows a year featuring all of the talent in the entire company, having two rosters allowed the number of live events to increase to 350. That is 75% more shows, and theoretically 75% more income. The more shows also meant they could tour in more places and reach more fans across the world – for example right now the WWE is doing shows in Egypt. Surely more opportunities to interact with their fanbase can only be seen as a good thing for the company?
Also theoretically, as you can never be sure how creative will book each superstar, but having two separate brands should mean there isn’t nearly as much talent congestion on each show. There shouldn’t be 4 or 5 people in the same role in the same spot. Recently you could have put Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler, Wade Barrett, Alberto Del Rio and The Miz all in the same position on the card. That is too many to focus on at once, and with the Brand Extension in effect you could argue that it wouldn’t have happened.
The mid-card especially can be focused on more with the brand separation in place. Thinking back a couple of years, would CM Punk’s Straight-Edge Society have been given as much attention if it had the entire Raw roster to compete against? Would Cody Rhodes’ broken nose have led to such great things? Would winning King of the Ring in 2010 have meant more for Sheamus?
The best example I can give for how the Brand Extension helps build new stars centres around Wrestlemania 21. At that event a new era broke in the WWE – and that is no exaggeration. John Cena and Batista both won their first world championships at the event. This could obviously not have happened had there only been one brand, and one champion. Batista’s victory centred around the Royal Rumble winner turning on his mentor, HHH. Cena was the new star who ended JBL’s 280 day reign of terror over Smackdown. The two of them went on to become two of the biggest names in the industry, mainly because they were kept apart. That also meant that when they were on the same show, especially if they teamed up, it was treated as a huge occasion. Then when they eventually faced each other, that was the 2008 version of Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock. The biggest stars in the industry fighting each other for the first time in the 5 or 6 years they were kept apart because of the Brand Extension. Which leads me nicely into my next point…
Would the shows have meant so much if you were seeing everyone together twice a week? Thinking about Wrestlemania 21 again, you had Batista, HHH, John Cena and JBL in each brand’s main event. But you also had interpromotional “special attraction” matches between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels, as well as Randy Orton against The Undertaker. If you saw all 8 performers on 5 hours of TV every week, having them all in one show isn’t a break from normality. It’s for this reason the WWE is forced to bring in celebrities or legends to give shows a special feel to them.
Even remembering the Royal Rumble – commentators used to support their brand’s superstars in the Royal Rumble match. It used to be a point of pride that a superstar from that person’s roster came out triumphant in the biggest match of the year. And I may be one of the few, but I liked the concept of Bragging Rights. The execution of it was poor, but an annual match between the brands to find out which one was the best is fine. If they really wanted to push the idea, they could have had the captains of the match be each brands’ respective world champion. It would be a break of up to a month where the focus, for once, isn’t on who holds the titles, it would be all about brand supremacy. Plus there could be plenty of storylines where people have to prove themselves in order to get on the team. These storylines should transcend the general faces vs heels, because they could put personal differences aside for the good of their show, and being the winner of the Rumble, or being the sole survivor for their show, should give them a higher standing – it should be made to mean something aside from the hunt for championship glory.
I think the key for that concept is pride in the brand. Every individual – regardless of role – needs to be seen to be passionate about whichever brand they are on. They need to care about being better than the others, they need to care if they are drafted and they need to care about representing their own. But now for the negative side…
Many would argue that there isn’t enough talent far enough down the roster to warrant their separation into two different shows. This is true to an extent – if John Cena were to get seriously injured and forced out of action for an extended period of time it is difficult to see who would step up. Punk and Orton are better as heels, Sheamus is still being built to THAT level, and no-one else even comes close. No-one else is there to take over as the face of the company. Similarly, if Punk were to be put out of action, there aren’t a lot of heels that could take over his spot. Del Rio and Miz have been played to death; Barrett, Ziggler and Rhodes haven’t been at the top long enough to be the main heel in the company and turning Orton would leave them dangerously low on top level faces.
A lot of this is a direct result of new talent not being built up properly. Since the generation of Cena, Orton and Batista’s breakthroughs; Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Edge, Chris Jericho (twice), Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy have all left, or become part-time. Who has replaced them? CM Punk, Sheamus… Del Rio was a main eventer but seems to be on his way back down, The Miz was but has already been pushed back down, Big Show is coming to the end of his career and sporadically gets pushes all the time, Mark Henry has had his “thank you” run at the top and is currently injured. But there is a lot of potential. There is talent there, and I think there is enough – if it is used properly.
The problem is, when the original Brand Extension was enforced, the WWE was trying to find a way to utilise not only their own performers, but also those from WCW and ECW, whose assets (in this case, wrestlers contracts) they had just bought. They were making cuts as it was, but they still had to find a way to make their shows work when their roster doubled in size. Now that has faded out, while their roster is still bigger than it was in, say, 2000, there isn’t as many people on WWE’s books now as there was at the start of the Brand Extension. As a result, they are sometimes forced to throw younger talent into the main shows before they are ready and the quality of work lower down the cards suffers.
Two World Champions?
Having two World Champions at once must create some confusion to the casual fan. They are told that both A and B are the best in the world because of the championships they hold. With two or more brands, it is practically essential that both brands have a top belt to vie for, resulting in two world champions, but two people cannot both logically be the best.
The way the two titles are booked in present-day WWE it is quite obvious that the WWE Championship is superior to the World Heavyweight Championship. Even just the fact that the WWE Champion calls himself the best in the world while the World Champion doesn’t should tell you that. That does beg the question of is there any point in having two apparently equal belts? They are both contested for by superstars from both brands, on any show. Wouldn’t it make more sense for there to be an extra mid-card belt and just one world champion? Not if you look at the way the mid-card titles have been booked over the last year or so.
History Doesn’t Lie
The most successful period in the company’s history was during the Attitude Era, from around 15 years ago to 10 years ago, when the company only had 1 “brand”. They had one world title – the WWE Championship – and an abundance of mid-card titles. There was the Intercontinental Championship, the European Championship, the Light-Heavyweight Championship and the Hardcore Championship, as well as the Tag Team Championships and the Women’s Championship. That is one extra belt, one less main event level title and two extra midcard belts. Yet where the attention should be more divided, and therefore the quality of each division lower, the general level of the product was at its highest, and interest and viewership was the highest it has ever been. Should the WWE keep following the blueprint for success that they created?
Despite the fact that they were so successful, I think not. Churning out the same thing year after year was sure to lose fans who would eventually get bored of it. They had to try something different to keep things feeling fresh, and it worked well in the beginning.
Of course, other factors have to be taken into consideration. I don’t think the Brand Extension can be blamed as the sole reason the WWE isn’t doing as well as it was 10 or 11 years ago.
But the question still has to be asked – and answered – as to whether or not they would be better off returning to the format from the time they were most popular.
In my opinion, if done properly, the Brand Extension can be a very valuable tool for the WWE. Over the last year or so we have been shown the perfect way to amalgamate two shows into one. But I think over the years we have seen that it can work, and with a few changes it can again. There would need to be minimal crossover between brands, and as I mentioned earlier there needs to be a sense of passion and pride for each show. It shouldn’t be a difficult story to tell, as the natural animosity that arises out of rival shows should generate it’s own passion within superstars when the two collide at big PPVs. I think – and this is a popular opinion from what I’ve read on other sites on the internet – that the best thing the WWE could do right now is hold another big draft – just reset everything. Do it the night after Wrestlemania just to give it that extra “new beginning” feel. A brand rivalry could be just the thing to pick up business during the infamously slow Summer months.
So there you have it. You now know my opinion regarding the Brand Extension, so what’s yours? Is there a key point that I’ve missed? If the Brand Extension doesn’t exist, should there be two world titles? As always, you can get in touch via commenting below or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and as always remember to like, share or recommend this to anyone and everyone! Why? It makes me feel nice. That’s as good a reason as any, isn’t it?
The plan as it stands for my next article is to put one up fairly soon regarding the top draft picks ever! I’m not sure of what criteria to use though – most shocking? Best Reaction? Biggest impact on someone’s career? If you have any thoughts on that feel free to get in touch! I’ll figure something out. That should be on here before I return with Hell In A Cell predictions next weekend, where you will find out my thoughts on the Ryback vs CM Punk match! Something for you all to look forward to over the next week I’m sure.