What WWE Needs to Do RIGHT NOW to Make Brand Split Work BIG
The long awaited split finally happened, and with it comes a high degree of risk.
I’d hate to see WWE blow this opportunity, like they did The WCW/ECW invasion. Since their business is headed for a big lull, it would be wise for WWE to cash out as much as possible NOW in order to ride the next wave of down business much more comfortably.
The good news is that this is a prime opportunity to turn the company around, create more stars, and bring in lots more revenue. The bad news is that Vince McMahon’s track record last year has made me lose confidence in his ability to make this work like it should.
After the split, I thought the product had so far been an aesthetic success. I was enjoying the shows more, thanks to slowed down storylines, fresh talent, more focus, and most of all, the chance to only see the top guys once a week and only once a week. But after the last few weeks, I see far too many cracks in the foundation that worry me. I’d hate to see Vince McMahon throw more money down the garbage disposal, because he may never get an opportunity like this again.
There are millions of wrestling fans with good money to spend on a good product they’re interested in. Here is exactly what WWE needs to do right now to make this thing work BIG:
#1- Create a new name, logo, and identity for each of the promotions.
When I first heard that one group would be called, “WWF Raw” and the other, “WWF SmackDown,” I cringed. It doesn’t get more uncreative, not to mention unmarketable, than that.
In the office world, project managers give their projects a snappy name, logo, catch phrase, and identity. Numerous studies have shown how this can help keep a team cohesive, especially teams in remote locations. As fans, we’re remote from the in-ring stars, and we need to more clearly identify with our favorite characters. Help make it easier for us, please.
I don’t suggest the WWE name disappears, in fact that would be equally unmarketable. But give the WWE name to Vince, and give Flair his own identity for crying out loud. I know the dreaded initials “WCW” or “ECW” can’t be used, and that’s fine. But surely they can come up with something new and different for Raw.
Like I said, the split had generally been positive in the beginning. But I still feel like I’m watching two WWE shows just like before. Raw needs its own name, its own logo, and a new set. The “new” set they have looks exactly like the old set. Ditch the ramp, change the color of the ropes, alter the arena lighting, and maybe put Ross & Lawler further back, like the early Nitro setup. The key word here is “different.”
#2- Do not make ANY references to the other promotion.
When Vince expanded his promotion 18 years ago, it was company policy to not acknowledge any other organization out there. While most knocked that idea, to me it was smart business. When I see independents or other start-ups mention WWE or WCW by name, it comes off as so minor league.
So as I watched Raw, I couldn’t believe I was watching clips of what happened on SmackDown the week before. What’s the point of a split if you’re still going to talk about the other show?
The WWE’s defense is that it isn’t a split, but a “brand extension.” Well in my brain, splitting your corporation into 2 separate subsidiaries constitutes a brand extension. If the same people can own Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Taco Bell, then the same people can own Raw and SmackDown. But if I look at the menu at KFC, I don’t see food items from Taco Bell on there (although admittedly, I’ll see Pepsi).
If this split is to truly succeed, then the Raw needs to treat SmackDown the same way Raw used to treat Nitro, the same way Prime Time Wrestling used to treat Power Hour, and the same way Wrestling Challenge used to treat WorldWide Wrestling. That is, AS IF IT DOESN’T EXIST AT ALL.
I remember when Terry Funk wrestled at the ECW Arena in 1994, and the fans chanted, “Kill Dustin Rhodes” at him. If ECW fans hated WCW so much, then how did they know Funk was feuding with Rhodes in WCW? Dave Meltzer said it best: “ECW fans largely hate WCW. They watch it, but they hate it.”
Vince needs to realize that wrestling fans, like him, are full of it. They’ll bitch and complain like I do, but they’ll always come back and watch if something grabs their attention. If he is afraid that solidifying the individual identities of Raw and SmackDown will alienate fans from one to the other, then he doesn’t comprehend how we think. We’ll support both. We know deep down WWFE, Corp. owns both shows. But don’t remind us.
#3- No more floating champions.
If Hogan gets to work both shows because he is champ, that’s great. But great for whom? Hogan? Yes. Great for the idea that WWE is supposed to have split in half? NO!
The idea that the WWF champion would appear on both shows is another one I cringed at. I do recognize that it makes the champ seem more special. But that aura of specialty can still be achieved if each group had its own champion. How? Through good booking. What a concept.
Give each group one world champion, one 2nd-tier champ (US, Intercontinental, or TV), and one set of tag team champions. That’s it. No more. It’s just so simple.
Eliminate the European, Hardcore, and Cruiserweight titles ASAP. Yes, I said cruiserweights. I didn’t say to eliminate the cruiserweights. I said to eliminate their belt. Just let the cruiserweights wrestle their own matches and treat them as normal stars who happen to weigh less. Then there wouldn’t be such a negative stigma among guys who don’t want to get stuck in the cruiserweight division.
Just don’t go booking Rey Misterio Jr. against Kevin Nash like WCW did.
To keep the champions special, it’s simple. You don’t put title matches on TV. How hard is that?
I didn’t say to keep the champion off TV. I said to keep title MATCHES off TV. Be like All Japan and put the champ in tags and 6-man tags. 6-man tags are the hidden secret of pro wrestling. With 6-man tags, you can:
- Put more stars on TV at once.
- Throw in more signature spots that can get over.
- Put champs in matches w/o giving away the elusive title match.
- Keep the lesser talented big-name workers like Hogan and Nash out of the ring except for the big spots.
- Elevate others by giving them the rub of being in the ring with stars (this only works if they aren’t treated like jobbers, despite what Nash will try to make you think).
- Generate good heat, more often than not.
- Provide more in-ring action and fewer rest holds.
- If two guys are feuding, you can have them both there but not lock up, to tease their big singles match on PPV.
- Get at least one of the people to do a clean job. Well, unless the 6-man featured Hogan, Bruiser Brody, Road Warriors, Andre, and Luger.
And no, there is no need for a 6-man tag title. That’s the whole idea of this part of the article.
The PPVs should not be shared, either. No split can be taken seriously if guys from both sides are appearing on the same PPV.
#4- Turn Brock into Rock.
Well, not really. I don’t mean to be that specific, but the idea is to create new stars on that level.
It’s too soon to tell whether Rock’s movie career has legs, but since there’s a good chance it will, then WWE needs to act now.
The Rock says he’ll always be a part of WWE. He might very well mean that (and Bret Hart said the same thing at one point), but I wouldn’t bank the future of my company on one man’s word. Trying to build around several stars instead of one is a good idea anyway. Look at what happened to WCW after Flair left in 1991, and what happened to the WWF after Hogan’s sabbatical in 1992. In both cases, no one was ready to take over the #1 spot.
The good news is that after several years of fans screaming about it, it does seem Vince is starting to create new stars. Chris Jericho, Edge, and Kurt Angle seem to be getting fair chances on SmackDown. Brock Lesnar has so far been selling way too much, and if he is to get over as a monster, he needs to be portrayed as one.
What needs to happen is more of the same. Rock’s future is a question mark. Austin is injury-prone and slowly approaching 40. HHH is injury-prone and only out for himself (but does a remarkable job of covering it up). Hogan isn’t the answer and I at least think everyone realizes that this time.
The time is ripe to move everyone up another level. The guys who need to be bumped up (not necessarily bumped to the SAME level, but up A level) are: Angle, Jericho, Benoit, Christian, RVD, Edge, Booker, Lesnar, Guerrero, Storm, Raven, Maven, Kidman, Tajiri, Bradshaw, Matt Hardy, and maybe a few others from OVW who are ready. There are guys who need work on their looks, gimmicks, and interviews, but who do have legitimate potential if given a twist, such as: Palumbo, O’Haire, Test, Bob Holly, Hurricane Helms, D’Lo Brown, Shannon Moore, and Chavo.
Not only that, but there are several guys in the back who can deliver awesome promo’s. It is now time to utilize Paul Heyman, Arn Anderson, Michael Hayes, Sgt. Slaughter, and find a way to work around Jim Cornette’s schedule if possible. A good mouth can sell a match, too. Many of those guys aren’t paid a huge salary; use them!
The bottom line is that much of the last WWE boom was built on the creation of new stars. It’s time to do it again.
#5- Create the air of competition.
I had a very intelligent friend in college who knew nothing about wrestling, not a thing. When he saw me flipping back and forth between Raw and Nitro on Monday nights, he told me, “I bet the same person owns these 2 companies and is faking this competition.” While that statement was ludicrous at the time, looking back it seems like a damn good idea.
If Vince insists on each promotion acknowledging the other, then at least he should do it in a way that stimulates competition. Truth be told, there is already a lot of competition happening between the boys backstage. If it makes them perform better at their jobs, then a potential opportunity has just created itself.
What jumpstarted the Monday night wars was the fact that each promotion had its flagship show televised head to head against the other. This was brilliant on Eric Bischoff’s part, but it’s not a very complicated idea to come up with.
Would I air SmackDown head to head with Raw? No. It would definitely cause some sparks, but the time and effort used to explain such a bold move to the networks and shareholders wouldn’t be worth it.
Instead, I would create competition in other creative ways. At SmackDown, sell shirts with the word “Raw” and a line through it. Do the opposite at the Raw shows. Trash talk the other show the way Bischoff used to do on Nitro. I’d go so far as to have Flair and Vince have a race to see who can get the biggest rating of the month. It is these concepts that put Howard Stern on top in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. As long as both groups have good products behind them, then everyone wins.
#6- Hold off on the jumps.
I’m not holding my breath on this one.
In 1986 and 1987, the jumps of Ted DiBiase, Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Big Bossman helped heat up the WWF scene. A decade later, the jumps of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Huk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Randy Savage to WCW heated things up there. Similar jumps overseas have saved the life of All Japan. The lure of the “jump” is a sad casualty of the current U.S. monopoly.
All we are left with is wondering who will graduate from OVW next, and who WWE will raid next from XWF or WWA. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Periodic jumps from Raw to SmackDown CAN cause some excitement. But it shouldn’t happen for at LEAST another 8 months. And in order for the jumps to worth a dime, then this split needs to be a true split, which is what this article is all about.
Future jumps have already been foreshadowed, the Dudleys being the prime example. I do believe the Dudleys are stronger as a team than as singles, but I also agree that they had gotten stale. Jumps can freshen up stale characters, and time will tell how WWE will play this card.
But to play it right, it is best to wait. If any jumps happen before the summer is over, then fans will think this split is even more of a joke than they already do. When that happens, everyone loses.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A week after I wrote this section, Undertaker just appeared on SmackDown. They just don’t get it, do they?
#7- End all skits, NOW.
When something in wrestling is successful, everyone goes and copies it to the point it loses its luster.
As it pertains to WWE skits, which have been done to death for about 3 years now, I can’t think of when they were ever successful in the first place. So why are they done to death?
In part, it is because bookers have now become “writers” and writers need to write skits or else they’ll lose their jobs. It is now a standard fixture of WWE shows to feature backstage skits, and not one person on the staff has figured out how it kills the product.
For one, skits kill the live crowd. The longer the skit, the more they are killed. #2, skits require good actors, and often times WWE skits do not involve people who are good at acting. #3, and this is so important, I don’t want to see the main eventers UNTIL the main event. If I’ve already seen HHH in 3 skits during the show, his ring entrance automatically is 1/100th as novel as it should be.
Imagine the equivalent at a concert. If Motley Crue is headlining, then I don’t want to see backstage skits of Vince Neil loading up on booze during sound check. The next time WWE wants to do a bunch of meaningless skits, they should remember these words: Buildup, Anticipation, Novelty, Teasing.
If I’m expecting a Christmas gift I can’t wait to open, it’s a lot more special if I wait to open it. If I’m given the gift 3 or 4 times during December to look at, then when I finally open it on December 25, I’d think, “Ho hum. Yawn. I’ve moved on. Borrrrring.”
The same is true for wrestling. Hogan gets a huge pop when he comes to the building in his limo. Then an hour later, he comes out for the main event and expects a pop filled with, “Oh wow, Hogan’s here!” excitement? Wrong! He gets a mild pop filled with anti-climactic comments of, “Hogan’s here. Cool. But I just saw him on the screen half an hour ago. Yawn.”
In place of skits, I’d use out of the ring features that aren’t miked to the crowd, have more colorful backgrounds than just a drab office, and that serve a purpose. Use the time between matches to show clips, nostalgic flashbacks, out of ring features and interviews, or Gene Okerlund-type hype-a-thons of the upcoming PPV’s. Do anything except expose the talent before their matches in the ring!
#8- Nostalgia can make you millions, IN DOSES.
Where is it written that WWE can only sign guys who can work in the ring on a full-time or almost full-time schedule?
With the landscape the way it is, WWE can hire anyone it wants to at virtually any price. You might say, “Well, they can’t afford Sting or Savage.” You’d be right to an extent. It would be foolish for Vince to hire Sting for high six figures to work a full schedule. It would be foolish for Sting to work a full schedule for anything less than six figures, too.
But what about paying Sting a per-appearance fee for big matches, or perhaps just working as an on-air character in a speaking role?
You see, Sting and Savage, at their ages, don’t want or need to work a full schedule. That is why their asking price is so high. But if they were brought in for just a couple of shows a year, then they could add enough buys to pay for their asking price, and then some. And if either is willing to work strictly as on-air personalities for a lower salary, then both parties win.
There are just a slew of significant names that can be brought in either for speaking roles, or for nostalgic 1-or-2-time matches. Here’s a partial list: Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Snuka, Paul Orndorff, Jim Cornette, Tito Santana, Rick Steamboat, Terry Funk.
Can you imagine if a bunch of guys from the late 80s era of WWF came in with non-speaking roles, recruited some guys in need of a push, and feuded with today’s “young studs who have it easy?”
The success of Hogan at WrestleMania will hopefully open the doors for more people from that era to come in for special appearances. Over the past 7 years, WWF and WCW have had success bringing back Jimmy Snuka, Sgt. Slaughter, Ultimate Warrior, and Jake Roberts for old times’ sake. The trick, though, is to limit their stints to 3 times a year or less. Warrior’s return in 1996 was a big success… for one night only. After that, he was a nightmare to deal with. If you learn from these mistakes, there is A LOT of money to be made.
And don’t tell me young fans aren’t familiar with older stars. First of all, there are other fans out there besides the 14-year-olds. Second of all, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, and Ric Flair get big reactions at arenas. Wrestling fans have better memories than you think. HonkyTonk Man and Curt Hennig don’t get reactions in WWE because they simply aren’t over even by those who remember them.
#9- The fewer the McMahons, the better.
This will never happen, and I’m probably wasting space even suggesting it.
Vince can be highly effective in small doses. Shane is OK on interviews, takes good bumps, and is the heir to the throne as owner of WWFE. But his airtime should be saved for someone who could really use it. Linda should be left to work with shareholders and the media. Stephanie needs to be nowhere near a camera. Not only is her acting sub par, but also her domination of TV time and storylines has made everything else seem unimportant.
Like I said, their disappearance will never happen, so I don’t know why I bothered wasting my time.
#10- Start small and test the waters.
Splitting WWE into 2 groups is a huge risk. It would be wise to do it on a small scale before really giving it a strong push.
WWE had the perfect opportunity to try such a test last year with the invasion angle, but blew it. Since the split has been camouflaged as a brand extension thus far, maybe they are testing things now. If so, let’s hope they go full-fledged with this angle later in the year.
But since it took them a year to even do the split angle, my hopes aren’t high. One year to build an angle for this, and all they could muster up was a wooden Linda McMahon making a quiet statement in passing. One year, and they did a draft when they could’ve easily done a fixed lottery drawing and not buried everyone. One year, and tens of millions of dollars walked right past the McMahons and went right out the door.
Again, some parts of the split have generally been positives. If they take my advice as listed above, this year and especially next year could be banner years for WWE. It’s ultimately up to them.