When WWE SmackDown goes live for the first time in its history on July 19th, history will be made as WWE makes a long-awaited return to the brand split.
With a unique roster and time slot, SmackDown is going to be very different to the show it is now, but, does that necessarily mean people will be inclined to watch it?
SmackDown has been long overshadowed by Raw ever since the end of the original brand split and a lot of fans don’t even bother to watch as very little of any interest happens (or at least nothing that can’t be caught up on by watching Raw).
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For a long time now, SmackDown has played second fiddle to Raw, something that cannot continue if the brand split is to be a success.
So, how can the blue show keep up with its red relative? Here are just a few things WWE need to do to make sure the new SmackDown, and the brand split as a whole, goes well.
DISTRIBUTE STARS EVENLY
One of the key features of the original brand split was the annual draft lottery that assigned certain superstars to each brand.
The draft allowed WWE a chance to change things up on both shows as well as move talent around effectively. When WWE makes its first draft of the new brand split, it has to make sure that top stars are shared evenly between each show.
Fans aren’t going to be tuning in to see The Ascension, Heath Slater and Darren Young on SmackDown when they can see John Cena, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens on Raw.
Each roster needs to be evenly weighted with an even number of main eventers, mid-carders and jobbers to keep the roster even, especially if brand exclusive Pay-Per-Views become the norm.
If WWE place all their top talent on Raw, then no one will watch SmackDown and vice versa. It is key for both shows that the talent pool be divided evenly because, quite simply, no one wants to just watch jobbers.
GIVE IT EXCLUSIVE TITLES
In the old brand split era, SmackDown and Raw had their own, exclusive titles. World, secondary, tag team and even Women’s championships were defended exclusively on a certain show, meaning if you wanted to see what was going on with a particularly title, you had to watch a particular show.
WWE needs to do this again with SmackDown; if the titles are defended across both shows then fans will simply watch one show and follow the title there, whereas if a title was only ever seen on one show, fans would have to watch to follow the rivalries surrounding that belt.
Since WWE has only one world, tag and Women’s title nowadays, you might think they would need to reintroduce a few belts to make this possible, but this isn’t the case.
The Intercontinental and United States championships could be defended exclusively on each show, with the other titles being defended across both, or maybe swapping between the two on a regular basis.
This way, fans would have to follow both shows to see the fate of the two mid card belts, giving them an incentive to watch both nights. Whilst there will be some fans who choose one belt over the other, most viewers will be so used to following both titles that they will feel compelled to follow them both into the brand split era, meaning more viewers for both shows and better ratings for WWE.
MAKE IT UNIQUE
With SmackDown, Raw and even ECW in the past, WWE has always had a set formula and stuck with it.
Whilst SmackDown and ECW began looking very different to the rest of WWE’s programming, over time this stopped and, eventually, all three shows looked the same to the point where, aside from the colour scheme and the signs, you couldn’t tell which one you were watching.
WWE need to look to NXT for advice on this matter; it looks different to the other shows, the arena is set up in a different way and even the fans feel different. This helps give NXT its own unique identity, something fans of the show take pride in, contributing to its success.
WWE need to make the new SmackDown feel different from Raw; if viewers feel like they’re watching the same show twice in a row, they’ll stop watching, but giving the show its own unique commentary team (which it already has, to be fair) its own unique set and its own unique feel will make fans feel like they are watching something different, something that is new, exciting and fresh.
These are all things that add up to ratings.
DON’T TREAT IT LIKE A SECOND SHOW
For the past few years, WWE has made it very clear that Raw is their flagship show. The big storyline developments happen on Raw, the biggest stars perform on Raw and, all in all, Raw just feels more necessary to watch than its blue counterpart.
If SmackDown is to survive alongside Raw then it needs to be presented as its equal. Storylines need to be built on the show, not furthered, big announcements need to be made so people feel like they have to watch and things like surprise debuts, returns, matches etc all need to take place on Tuesdays, or people won’t be compelled to watch.
This will be easier to do now the show is live and has its own unique roster; the unpredictability of live TV will add excitement to the show and a unique roster will allow for storylines different to Raw to be built, so people will feel like they’re watching something different on SmackDown.
For too long, SmackDown has played second fiddle to Raw, but, hopefully, with a distinct roster and a live slot on TV, WWE will have the right tools to present SmackDown on the same level as Raw, something they’ll need to do in a new brand split era.
If WWE can do all of these things, then the new, live SmackDown will be a huge success.
However, if the past is to be taken into account, then WWE can often overlook even the simplest of things when launching a new idea. I guess, for the time being, we’ll just have to cross our fingers that they make the brand split the brilliant idea it could be.