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WNS Column: Can The WWE Brand Split Breathe New Life Into SmackDown, Or Is It Too Late?
Posted By: Caylon Knox on May 30, 2016
Ever since WWE ended their Brand Extension a few years back, many fans have noted that SmackDown has essentially become nothing more than the "B" Show compared to Monday Night Raw. In fact, a good portion of an average episode of SmackDown seems to be devoted to retrospective video packages of the events from that week's edition of Raw. SmackDown never seems to get any major storylines or noteworthy events.
For many years, SmackDown seemed to be the show where you could get the better in-ring product, as well as captivating storylines that were at least sometimes, if not the majority of the time, better than what was offered on the Raw brand. Although Monday Night Raw has always been labeled as being "The Flagship Program of WWE", SmackDown was often thought of as being the better brand by a good portion of the fans.
Reports have come out a handful of times over the past few years that WWE is apparently aware of the fact that SmackDown has lost much of its appeal. They've made some changes here and there, such as moving it from Friday nights back to its original Thursday night timeslot, as well as recently moving it from the Syfy Channel to the USA Network. They've also done a few Live Special editions of SmackDown to attempt to get a boost in the ratings.
It was just announced that WWE will be bringing back their Brand Extension, as well as the annual WWE Draft, which always used to be exciting to watch. SmackDown will also be moved to Tuesday nights and will air live, just like Monday Night Raw. This means no more Tuesday night tapings that will air later on in the week and will be spoiled on the internet. Raw and SmackDown will both have their own unique and exclusive rosters once again, and SmackDown will finally air live on a weekly basis just like Raw. But could this be enough to breathe new life into the SmackDown brand? Have too many viewers already given up on SmackDown and stopped watching? Can WWE somehow manage to make SmackDown great again and bring their weekly television ratings back up to a decent number?
An obvious factor in all of this will be what the SmackDown roster ends up looking like.Imagine what the roster would be like if Superstars such as John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, and The Undertaker all ended up on SmackDown. It seems unlikely that WWE would put all of their top Superstars on SmackDown, but SmackDown will absolutely need to have at least a couple of these big-name stars. What about Dean Ambrose? What about Seth Rollins? What about Bray Wyatt and The Wyatt Family? What about some of the veteran stars such as Kane, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Chris Jericho, and The Big Show? It's anyone's guess as to what the rosters are going to look like once this Draft is said and done, but if WWE really wants to breathe new life into SmackDown, they need to put some serious thought and consideration into who ends up where, and more importantly, how exactly those Superstars will be utilized.
But going back to earlier, a major hurdle that they're going to have to try to overcome is the fact that people just flat out don't watch SmackDown anymore. SmackDown's weekly ratings and viewership have absolutely plummeted over the past few years to the point to where they are lucky if they can even break a 2.0 in the ratings anymore. But in all fairness to SmackDown, the exact same thing can be said about Raw, although Raw's ratings and viewership are not quite as low as SmackDown's. But in this day and age, it seems to be getting harder and harder for them to draw viewers. Old viewers just don't seem to want to follow the product anymore, and they just can't seem to attract very many new viewers either.
It can be debated all day long as to why WWE's ratings have dropped. Is it because the product has gotten too watered down? Is it because the fans have gotten sick and tired of WWE's bad booking decisions? Is it because people spend too much time comparing pro wrestling to mixed martial arts fighting and have decided that they don't want to watch "the fake stuff"? Is it because WWE doesn't have any real competition from any other pro wrestling companies to make them want to put out an edgier product? It could very well be a combination of all of those factors. But regardless, the fact remains that WWE programming, especially SmackDown, is at an all-time low in terms of ratings and viewership.
Even if WWE goes all out, 100% full-throttle into trying to revive SmackDown, one has to wonder if it can even be done at this point. Will old viewers be willing to tune back in and give SmackDown another chance? Would an entertaining weekly product manage to attract some new viewers? Or will SmackDown end up suffering a fate similar to TNA, in the sense that no matter who they have on their roster and no matter what they try to do, nobody will watch the program. TNA has brought in just about every big-name star who wasn't tied down to a WWE contract and they have tried every storyline and every match type one could think of, and still the ratings wouldn't rise much further than a 1.0 when they were on Spike TV.
Perception is everything. The casual wrestling fan's perception of TNA is that they are the Number Two company behind WWE and that anything besides WWE is not worth watching. Again, that's the casual wrestling fan who probably doesn't follow independent or international wrestling promotions such as ROH or New Japan. The more devoted fans, the more die-hard fans, will have a different perspective. But the average person who only halfway even follows WWE is certainly not going to follow TNA, ROH, or any other promotions. Could it be that now the perception of WWE SmackDown is that it's not worth watching anymore? Could it be that no matter what WWE tries to do with SmackDown, nobody will watch it or follow it anymore?
Bringing back the Brand Extension is certainly not a bad idea if WWE does it right and makes good choices and good booking decisions. Between the main roster and the NXT roster, they have an amazing group of talent to work with. But again, one has to wonder if anything can really be done to boost the dismal SmackDown ratings.WWE will have to put some real effort into washing away this perception that SmackDown is no longer worth watching. Can it be done? Possibly. But WWE's history of making good decisions, especially in terms of booking, is checkered... to put it mildly.
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