WWE Raw Vs. SmackDown Storyline Proves Why The Brand Split Should End
Viewership was up by nearly 300,000 viewers for last week’s episode of Raw, which not coincidentally, came the night after the blue brand’s AJ Styles made the temporary move to the red brand as an emergency fill-in for Bray Wyatt. The following night, SmackDown viewership was through the roof, up 379,000 viewers in comparison to the previous week’s episode and the second best number the show has done since April 11th.
Why? Logic says anticipation about whether or not Raw would retaliate on SmackDown for its “under siege” attack the previous night caused significantly more fans to tune in than usual.
If we’re just being honest with ourselves here, the entire concept of the “battle of the brands” doesn’t make a ton of sense because, other than Kurt Angle’s “job,” there is nothing more than bragging rights on the line. Perhaps if the winning Survivor Series teams were guaranteed title shots, better placement in the Royal Rumble or something concrete that the fans were made aware of, this feud between Raw and SmackDown would actually serve a long-term storyline purpose. Instead, Shane McMahon is suddenly coming off like an uber-heel after months of being booked as the blue brand’s No. 1 babyface while stars like AJ Styles, Bobby Roode and others sure aren’t acting like babyfaces, either.
But if we can ignore the lack of logic that is propelling this feud, we can see what this rivalry has really made clear: The brand split should end.
The sudden increased interest in both Raw and SmackDown suggests not only that the “under siege” angle is accomplishing its goal of drawing in viewers, but if we dig a little deeper, it implies that fans are also interested in seeing all of the superstars on Raw and SmackDown performing on the same show. There is, after all, even more evidence that indicates WWE fans want to see all of the company’s superstars performing under one roof.
According to WWE’s Key Performance Indicators, average live event attendance was down from 5,300 fans per event in Q3 2016 to 4,900 fans per event in Q3 2017 while average international live event attendance dropped from 8,900 to 6,800 during the same period. More than a year after the brand split took place in July 2016 and with fans fully acclimated it to it, average live event attendance was down substantially from the 7,400 fans per event that WWE averaged in Q1 2015, before the brand split returned and the best quarter for attendance in the last three years.
Part of that dip can somewhat be explained by the increase in the number of live events, but you have to wonder how much of that is a talent issue, especially given the flurry of social media posts in recent months that have showed poor attendance at SmackDown and even at Raw. Although same have felt WWE’s attendance problem was overblown and even though WWE is raking in more money from live events because there are more of them and ticket prices are higher, the sizable drop in attendance is still somewhat alarming.
The drop in TV ratings over the last year hasn’t been as disheartening, though, as average ratings for both Raw and SmackDown have only dropped by 1% since Q3 2016. However, during that span, we saw a number of dream feuds (most recently, John Cena vs. Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar) and major storylines like the return of The Shield, Goldberg’s comeback and the retirement of The Undertaker that presumably should have boosted viewership more than they did.
However, as encouraging as WWE’s financial outlook for 2018 is, there is reason to believe that WWE should be seriously concerned with that viewership, which seems to have plateaued at a time when WWE is about to negotiate its next TV deal. According to WWE Corporate, its US TV deal (the company’s biggest source of venue) ends in September 2019, and negotiations to secure that next deal will begin at some point between May and September of 2018.
The brand split has resulted in stagnant TV ratings that are essentially the same now that they were a year ago and struggling attendance that may not get much better as WWE continues to put on more live events. WWE hopes that the increase in the number of events and those soaring ticket prices will make up the difference, but it still has to be somewhat disconcerting that most of WWE’s biggest draws seem to be on Raw (which gives the blue brand the shaft) and that interest in the product is much higher when superstars from both brands are involved in its biggest storylines.
If WWE can’t find the right balance between its rosters to make them work (and that theoretically could happen through another “Superstar Shakeup”), then perhaps there is only one way to ensure ratings and interest increase for the long haul: End the brand split altogether.