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Rob: End the Brand Split?

Rob was inspired by some of the current IWC clamoring for an end to the brand split. How does he feel about that rhetoric?

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Some weird stuff happened on Twitter after SmackDown went off the air this past Friday.  A match was announced for Monday Night RAW this week featuring the Bloodline vs The New Day, and with it came two bizarre groups of tweets.  One was accusing WWE of hotshotting a pay per view worthy match out ratings fears (which is so dumb that I’m not going to even bother discussing it) and the other was a bunch of calls to end the brand split, which I find to be equally dumb but more of a worthy discussion topic.

Now before I go any further let me just say this:  the brand split is not ending.

As long as WWE is getting a billion dollars from both Fox and NBC they are going to book two shows with two separate rosters.  The only way the brand split ends is if one of the two shows gets cancelled and can’t find a new home.  But as long as they are getting paid big money for each show then there are going to be two shows.  And those shows are going to have separate rosters, separate creative, etc.  But just for the sake of playing along, what exactly would it look like if they ended the brand split?  Here are some possibilities:

Double Duty

I looked at four weeks of Raw and SmackDown from  January of 2016, before the brand split happened, and what I found was that on average nine people would work both shows in one week.  But in addition to that, on average two people worked four shows over a two week period, eight would work three out of four shows over two weeks, and twelve would work two shows over a two week period. And finally one person worked seven out eight possible shows over the four weeks while four more did six out of seven over that time.  And that’s not counting people who were at ringside for a tag team partner or stablemate.  There’s no reason to think that would be different this time around which means that your top men and women would be working two shows lots of weeks while the rest of the roster filled in the gaps.  And since the roster usage would revert to how it was that would mean………

More releases

Please understand that were the brand split to end there would be no need for the roster to remain at it’s current size.  The usage rate of talent that existed before just does not require as many people to make it work.  And remember a no brand split world is one where they are getting less TV money, which means less to pay people, which means some people will have to go.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only people who will get released are the ones you think aren’t good enough to keep.  There will be another Braun Strowman or Aleister Black in that group.  And unlike today’s landscape there will likely be fewer places for them to work because a world in which the WWE has to downsize for financial reasons is one where some of the existing companies have already gone under or have already downsized.

More wear and tear

Going back to my first point; a no brand split world is one where people are working more dates.  The top third of the roster would be working anywhere from four to seven times a month on TV; by contrast this year only Matt Riddle is working at that kind of pace.  A full brand split schedule is around 150 to 160 matches a years counting TV, pay per views and house shows.  By contrast pre-brand split Roman Reigns had 204 matches in 2013 and 213 matches in 2015.  Those 50 extra matches along with the travel that accompanies them make for a shorter career for everyone who has to do them.  They also lead to more injuries – remember WrestleMania 32 where John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Cesaro were all out with injuries and the entire main event angle had to be rebooked?  Anybody want a redo of that?  I didn’t think so.

A harder glass ceiling

If you think it’s hard to move up now, then a no brand split world would be worse.  The last full year with no brand split, 2015, saw the pay per view main event slots split among nine people and the World title matches split among ten people.  By contrast in 2021 to date the main events have been split between 13 men and the World/Universal Title matches have been split between 16 men, with a 17th on the way in Finn Balor. In the post unification, pre brand split world 13 guys by my count were in World title matches across just over two years.

And then there’s the women’s side.  In 2015 the Diva’s title matches were split between four women.  In 2021 the Raw and SmackDown’s women’s title matches were split amongst nine soon to be ten with Alexa Bliss challenging at Extreme Rules.  Ending the brand split likely would mean unifying the top men’s and women’s singles titles, which would in turn would mean less room in the title picture afterwards and ultimately fewer roster spots.  Why?  Because you wouldn’t need as many.  Look at the current match distribution across Raw and SmackDown; that’s not likely to change with no brand split so that begs the question of whether you need 10 plus women for each show (short answer: you don’t).  Which means more releases, and again you can’t assume that it will just be people you’re not interested in seeing.

The same logic goes for tag teams, by the way.  One title means fewer title matches which means fewer teams needed which means more releases.

What’s it all mean?

To be honest when I hear ‘End the Brand Split’, I can’t think of anything that would solve.  Do you want bigger matchups more often?  A look back at the past would shoot that down real fast.  You would still get the same kind of stalling moves in the booking so as not to burn big matches out too fast.  Fewer rematches?  Not going to happen with the smaller roster that would result.  More opportunities?  Again, with a smaller roster how exactly would that happen?  A smaller roster is more likely to mean a double down on the people in the top tier not a more open door to reach it.  If the problem you have is that you only want to watch the bigger guns go at it and not be bothered with what you consider to be filler matches then I suggest you watch Main Event to get a quick recap or watch the Hulu versions of the shows on fast forward or just watch the pay per views.  But wishing to end the brand split is some short sighted thinking because for all intents and purposes you’re asking for some bad times to come through to necessitate it.  There is no scenario in which business is going well AND they end brand split just because.  So think about what you really want and then try to adjust your viewing habits accordingly.

I’ll end with this.  The brand split exists because the WWE is being paid to provide enough live TV content to warrant it.  Until that is no longer the case then it’s going to stay, and a world where that’s no longer case is one that is not as good for anyone actually working there.  So be careful what you wish for.  And that’s all I got on that.  Until next time….


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Opinion

The Paradox of the Wrestling War in 2021

The IWC has been talking about a certain Friday Night and what numbers matter. Tommy Starr chimes in with his perspective on this “war”.

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“War is peace… freedom is slavery… ignorance is strength.”  These are among George Orwell’s key three slogans in his novel 1984, which exemplify the ideology that when one has the power to lull individuals into false senses of security, they will blissfully ignore truth and reality to serve a perpetual agenda.

Since the inception of AEW, wrestling media has insisted on this idealistic narrative of a born-again “Monday Night Wars” comparative to that of a bygone era of professional wrestling that has not been seen since and will never be seen again.  For one reason or another, modern wrestling fans have bought into this impractical religious doctrine hook, line, and sinker, despite statistical evidence that contradict this ideology.

To put this in perspective, if there is a genuine wrestling “war” in the wrestling market today, it is not merely a war of the companies of AEW vs. WWE, rather it is a frivolous war between the oppositional fans of AEW and WWE.  The center of authority that continues to drive this animosity amongst the opposing fan bases rests at the helm of the wrestling media and the individuals within the business itself.  The manipulative narrative of the wrestling media and wrestlers in the business have managed to perpetrate a falsified creed that AEW and WWE are “at war.”  It is interesting to note that this blanket statement hedges the particular element of what both companies are at war with. The common implication is the war of competition, particularly competition for viewership.  And while this narrative carries some validity, it misses the key detail of what this abstractive war revolves around.  It is a waging fight among AEW and WWE fans to try and claim superiority over the other, despite the apparent truth that both sides are failing to expand beyond their niche audiences.  Hence, neither party can credibly claim any form of superiority.  In essence, this religious irrationality to suggest that one company is directly “winning” over the other continues to miss the essential endgame of what winning a war truly looks like.

In the business world, “smart companies” understand and invest in long-term strategies of acknowledging that when they lose small battles, they allow their opposition to enjoy those smaller victories; meanwhile, they do not allow those battle losses to obstruct their long-standing progress.  So contextually, AEW would be wiser to accept that their Friday night edition of Rampage show running head to head with SmackDown lost in overall viewership numbers by approximately 288,000 viewers, despite the fact that not only was SmackDown running on a different network due to Fox coverage of the 2021 American League Championship Series, but that AEW Rampage had actually gained viewership from the previous week by about 15.14%.  Instead, wrestling media continues to propagate that overall viewership is subordinate to what truly matters in this equation, that being the key male 18-49 demographic.  What this discounts is that when one analyzes actual numbers, both shows essentially tied in the target 18-49 demographic at a 0.24.

A strategic business owner obsessed with “winning wars” understands his opposition’s leader and avoids engaging in projecting irrational and petty beliefs in order to stir up his or her army.  Rather, it would be wiser to quietly and cautiously observe the opposition’s decision-making to effectively counter-program and capture the attention of potential consumers.  This does not bode well for Tony Khan when he engages in social media warfare with the opposition to try and stoke a fire that merely exists in a metaphorical fantasy.  All the while, the rival niche audiences partake in nonsensical arguments over which organization “won” a war that has not, does not, and will not exist, despite a genuine hope that professional wrestling will ever reach that level of popularity again worth necessitating a war.

A true and authentic wrestling war in today’s culture should be the fight to reassemble a lost and/or new audience. Per discussion of a lost audience, that insinuates both parties fight for the admiration and trust of disgruntled audiences that have since tuned the product off from their habitual consumption.  Arguably, this can be seen as a lost cause, considering most of these wrestling fans have long since distanced themselves from professional wrestling. However, a business that can successfully earn back that trust of disassociated consumers is a fruitful investment. Catering to loyal and clinging fan bases may be short-term goals, but they are not expansive business strategies.  And based on the weekly viewership numbers, ratings, and key demos for both parties, AEW and WWE continue to cater short-term appeal to their niche audiences instead of investing in long-term strategic outreach to new audiences.  The art of mastery on this level is a war worth fighting for.

Sources:

  • Casey, C. (2021, October 18). Who won Friday night’s ratings battle between WWE smackdown and AEW Rampage? WWE. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://comicbook.com/wwe/news/wwe-smackdown-aew-rampage-oct-15-ratings-war-who-win-tied-demographic-smackdown-wins-audience/.
  • Feloni, R. (2014, August 14). 33 war strategies that will help you win in business. Business Insider. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/war-strategies-to-win-in-business-2014-8.
  • Thurston, B. (2021, January 15). Key demo and total audience: What are they and how much do they matter? Wrestlenomics. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://wrestlenomics.com/2020/07/14/key-demo-and-total-audience-what-are-they-and-how-much-do-they-matter/#:~:text=With%20a%20new%20head%2Dto,advertisers%20to%20the%20programs’%20networks.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: October 2021

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

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Bron Breakker

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

We’re more than halfway through October, and you know what that means! It’s time to make a list of my five favorite wrestlers! It’s either do this or write about the latest wrestling news, and as fun as it is to talk about television ratings, this seems more productive at the moment.

5. Mercedes Martinez

It’s considered impolite to discuss age. At least it used to be. I’m not sure anything’s considered impolite anymore based off of what I read on the Internet & see on television. People have pitched manners out the window as they’ve become accustomed to not worrying about getting punched in the face. There’s a point I’m trying to get to here, and that point is that it’s nice that women’s wrestling has arrived at a place where I can write about somebody that’s been wrestling about as long as I’ve been an online wrestling journalist, and they’re kicking ass & taking names. Makes me feel a bit less creepy.

Martinez’s return to the indies & emergence in Impact Wrestling has gone well. What Impact is doing with her isn’t exactly rocket science: have Mercedes Martinez destroy everybody in her path to a title shot, and make people believe that whoever the champion will be between Mickie James & Deonna Purrazzo will have a difficult test on their hands. Simple, right? Throw in the incoming debut of the IInspiration, and it’s pretty easy to get excited about the Knockouts Division & where it’s headed.

4. Bron Breakker

Yes, the name is pretty awful. Yes, NXT 2.0 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire after a few weeks. But it’s tough to deny the talent of the son of Rick Steiner. Dude has the physicality & the speaking tone of his father & uncle. Not quite the size of Rick or Scott in later years, but if genetics are any indication he’ll get there. It won’t be long before he’s NXT Champion, heck, I’m kind of surprised he didn’t get drafted to Raw or SmackDown already. He’s got money written all over him.

As for that pesky name issue…names aren’t as big of an issue as we like to think they are. Dolph Ziggler would have been future endeavored years ago if bad names held talent back. You also have to keep in mind that WWE will probably change his name before he gets to the main roster. No need to sweat the small stuff here. This guy will be a star somewhere under some name. Probably for the best the longer he holds off using the Steiner name, given how the wrestling business works.

3. Junior Dos Santos

If you’ve followed mixed martial arts for any length of time, you know that most fighters’ careers don’t end in a blaze of glory. Fighters want to keep fighting, and even if the losses keep stacking up they still think they’re one win away from getting back to the top. Young fighters are looking to make their names, and beating the brakes off of fighters with track records is a good way to do that. At age 37, JDS has entered that phase of his MMA career. He’s lost four straight fights, all via TKO, all to younger fighters looking to make a name. He could keep doing that, or he could move on to something else while his name still has value.

Why not pro wrestling? Granted, I seem to be one of the few people writing words on wrestling websites that actually like AEW’s angle with American Top Team & Dan Lambert, but JDS is the perfect fit for something like this. He’s a large human being, wrestling fans by & large know who he is, and he has the type of athletic ability that should transition well to pro wrestling. He’s lost a few fights, but the people he lost to are doing pretty well in UFC’s heavyweight division. I’m willing to give it a chance. Also, when the inevitable AEW vs. WWE shootfight rumble happens, AEW’s going to need him around.

2. Roman Reigns

It’s like we said years & years ago: Turn Roman Reigns heel and people will start to like him. I don’t know why the idea took so long to enact, but WWE finally turned Roman Reigns heel and people have started liking him. How about that? Amazing how these things happen. Roman’s charisma has become much more apparent in his role as the Tribal Chief, Head of the Table, Big Dog, Island of Relevancy or whatever else they’re calling him this week. The interactions between Roman & Brock Lesnar have made for good television, so good that I think even Patrick O’Dowd is on the Paul Heyman bandwagon these days.

That all being said, I think I’m enjoying his off-screen character more than his on-screen character these days. Reigns has taken the baton from Seth Rollins & become Mr. WWE Defender, and does it in a way that’s less whiny than what Seth used to do. Perhaps a bit delusional, but much more convincing. Who would win in a shootfight between Roman & CM Punk is completely irrelevant, as last I checked none of these people were shooting in WWE or AEW rings, but he managed to make people care about it somehow. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

1. Bryan Danielson

I know we’re supposed to care first & foremost about what company somebody works for these days. So I’m sure there are some of you out there that have decided that the man formerly known as Daniel Bryan has to be washed up and no longer one of the best wrestlers in the world. Or he’s unfairly putting his life on the line outside of the welcoming bosom of WWE. Nah, it’s probably just the easy “B+ player” talking point that most of the same folks went with when Bryan was still with WWE.

Me, I just care about what’s going on in the ring. Whether other people like it or not has never been one of my main problems. As I’ve pointed out before: I don’t get paid by any of these companies, and I don’t get paid by other people to shill for them. All I know is that it’s a joy to have Bryan Danielson back on my television, and his matches have been as good as expected. It really doesn’t take all that much to make me happy, just good wrestlers doing good things.


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