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WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World


WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World

On July 19, WWE SmackDown moves to Tuesday nights as a live weekly television show after airing as a taped show since its 1999 debut. WWE talent will split into two separate rosters unique to both SmackDown and Raw, providing a unique viewing experience for each program. This week, we’re looking at the upcoming WWE Draft, its history, and what it means for wrestlers and viewers alike.

I barely watched SmackDown for the last 17 years it was on. I tuned into the inaugural special, where Shane McMahon’s Corporation and the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness joined forces to form The Corporate Ministry (which, in retrospect, is incredibly goofy and I sometimes can’t believe I still watch this). I caught a few episodes here and there when announcers on Raw would hype a debut or big event.

But for the most part, I’ve missed all but a handful of SmackDown’s 881 episodes, and for a good reason: aside from 12 live episodes, every SmackDown episode was taped on Tuesday, aired on Thursday, and spoiled on Wednesday. Instead of watching WWE’s “B” show for two hours a week, I read the results the day before. If something piqued my interest, I would watch, but titles rarely changed hands, big events would only serve as “placeholder” segments for next week’s Raw, and I rarely watched more than a handful of Raw broadcasts during the show’s brand split years.

Now, SmackDown is going live, and tonight’s final taping marks the end of an era. No more spoilers and being able to avoid watching a two-hour program. Instead, there’s the fear of missing out on two hours of wrestling when the WWE’s roster is at its all-time greatest.

As a fan, I now have to watch two live shows every week to see my favorite wrestlers instead of simply suffering through a weekly, three-hour Raw. Sure, this means two extra hours of content with unique storylines, titles, and factions that are independent from each show. As a working person with a “life,” however, it’s a tad more complicated than that.

More TV

WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World

Instead of three hours of live television every Monday, WWE will soon have five hours of live television every Monday and Tuesday. Sure, you could just DVR a show, but when you’re stretching the roster that you thoroughly enjoy over a two-night period and (hopefully) giving each wrestler something interesting to do, then SmackDown gains the same must-see status as Raw and not “that one show where we entice people to watch our main show.”

I’ve dedicated countless Mondays to watching Raw, moving plans around and scheduling events with a wrestling program in mind for as long as I can remember. If I want to keep up with both shows, I’ll have to do the same with my Tuesdays. (Not that I have anything particularly important happening on Tuesdays, but still.)

More Pay-Per-Views

WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World

Aside from two major events each year, SmackDown will operate independently from Raw. This means adding extra pay-per-view events to the existing schedule. For the last several years, WWE has held between 12-14 pay-per-view events each year. According to a recently leaked schedule, there are nine pay-per view events left in this calendar year, including the upcoming Battleground and several Raw– and SmackDown-exclusive events.

If recent reports hold any merit, then the WWE is planning a whopping 20 pay-per-view events for 2017. That’s giving up almost every other Sunday just to watch wrestling. While the events are normally three hours long, they also feature an hour-long pre-show with exclusive matches. Some major events like SummerSlam are now four hours long, not including the pre-show. WrestleMania this year ended up being the biggest time-suck, with the entire pre-show and show combined coming out to over seven hours of content.

NXT, Main Event, and More

WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World

WWE’s NXT weekly program is still an hour of television worth watching. Though it’s mostly pre-taped and spoilers exist for shows weeks before they air, it’s a chance to see up-and-coming WWE wrestlers before they hit the main roster. It is, however, an extra hour of television each week, or two-to-three hours when an NXT Takeover special airs.

WWE also broadcasts two little-known shows, Main Event and Superstars, both featuring matches taped before Smackdown and Raw. Superstars currently airs on the WWE Network on Friday, whereas Main Event airs exclusively on Hulu Plus. While the shows generally feature low-to-midcard talent, they’ve featured some pretty interesting matches as of recent, including a few Sasha Banks sightings when she was quietly written off television. Each show is an hour long.

WWE isn’t the only game in town, either. TNA recently picked up after the major “Final Deletion” match aired, and Ring of Honor broadcasts a regular show on TV as well. There’s also Lucha Underground airing weekly on the El Rey network, and New Japan Pro Wrestling regularly puts on live events on their New Japan World streaming service. Each of these programs are at least an hour, with specials lasting as long as five hours.

How Much Time?

WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World

If you were to watch both Smackdown and Raw each week on a non-pay-per-view week, you would be watching five whole hours of wrestling-related content. On a pay-per-view week, you would add another four hours (on average), bringing the total to nine hours.

If you watch NXT, that makes six hours on a non-PPV week, ten hours on a PPV week, or eleven hours on a week where NXT and WWE both have a PPV event. If you want to watch both Superstars and Main Event, add another two hours.

Committing to two or three hours each week is a big commitment, especially if you work 40+ hours a week. Committing to pay-per-views on a weekend is also a sizable time commitment, though less frequent than the weekly shows. For a working person, though, adding a few more hours a week to watch a second show effectively doubles your commitment.

The Good News

WWE Draft: Watching WWE in a Post-Brand Split World

Let’s be real: we’re talking about watching wrestling, which is the absolute last thing that should be a chore (no matter how bad the writing gets at times). SmackDown going live doesn’t mean you have to pay more as a cable subscriber, and you’ll still pay the same $9.99 for the WWE Network but get more pay-per-views each month, assuming you watch through the streaming service and not through your pay TV provider.

Best of all, new talent is almost certainly on their way from NXT, and existing wrestlers without any direction will finally (hopefully) gain some purpose once they’re on a leaner and more efficient roster. While multiple top-tier titles might not be ideal to some people, it still gives more than just John Cena and Roman Reigns a chance at the spotlight. Your favorite wrestler will be more important, feature on more pay-per-views, and have a bigger platform than ever before.

So, yes, if you never watched SmackDown before and want to stay in the loop with both brands, then you’re in for a bit more of a time commitment. But assuming both shows properly utilize their exclusive rosters, don’t have to hype the other show during their show, and effectively build storylines towards monthly pay-per-views once (not twice!) a week, then we’ll be in for a much more effective — and hopefully better — product. That’s something every wrestling fan could agree is “best for business.”

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