Friday 8 June 2012

Going Solo

To continue with my theme of the last week or so (see here and here) this blog will be about how WWE can create new stars. This is something that all three of North America’s major promotions needs to do but aren’t. Whether it’s because they don’t know how to connect with a modern wrestling audience, feel that continuing to rely on stars from the 80s and 90s is the way to go, have forgotten how to or are too preoccupied with shoving Twitter down the throats of viewers doesn’t matter. New stars are always going to be a necessity for the wrestling business in general and the success of individual promotions in particular.

I’ve suggested many ways for WWE (as well as TNA and Ring of Honor for that matter) to elevate stars before. I’ve mentioned highlighting tag teams, dedicating time to developmental leagues, reintroducing factions and stables, putting underutilised talent in feuds with established stars, giving rising stars an opportunity to work in the currently forgettable plethora of pay-per-view undercard bouts, rebuilding battered mid-cards and various other methods. Any of these ideas could be implemented by WWE, TNA or ROH tomorrow. Nothing I’ve ever suggested would be difficult to achieve and in most cases wouldn’t cost anything.

Today I’m suggesting that WWE re-establish the Brand Extension. While this would mean WWE would be unable to load their two tops shows with big name stars, something they’ve been doing since last year by having SmackDown talent appear on RAW and intend to take a step further this summer by having John Cena and CM Punk appear on SmackDown, it would necessitate a greater concentration on mid-card talent. That’s exactly what the company needs.

At this point the feuds between established main eventers should not be a priority. Wrestlers like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and John Cena have been headlining for long enough to know what they need to do to get their feuds over. Greater attention should only be paid to their programmes when they’re squaring off with someone lower on the roster. I’m not saying they need to be ignored completely but they can be left to their own devices and relied upon to cut promos that will encourage pay-per-view buys while the scripting team gives more of their time to the undercard talent.

Both RAW and SmackDown would need to be given a roughly equal number of established stars. SmackDown could perhaps do with slightly more due to its lower ratings. My logic there is that RAW is performing better ratings-wise and would continue to do so if it happened to lose one or two of its current stars. As it’s the flagship show it will always receive more attention from the writers and that means if there’s a drive to create new stars RAW will receive some first. Giving the blue brand a few more established names would give people a reason to tune in to the less popular show while the star building process gets underway.

Each show having its own cadre of main event talent would give each show some stars to help with this building process. A main event talent like CM Punk could help bring an upper mid-card guy like Cody Rhodes up to his level or help to give a newcomer to the roster a strong and meaningful introduction. In the first instance, once Cody Rhodes (or whoever else had been elevated) was established he could help build someone else up too. The key would be to have a plan of action to create as many mid-card talents as quickly as possible and promote one or two existing mid-carders to the main event.

Wade Barrett would be an ideal candidate for promotion to the main event

As part of this I’d advocate a return to single-brand pay-per-views. WWE’s second tier shows are currently doing awful numbers. Elimination Chamber (which took place during WWE’s peak period between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania) attracted a dismal 173,000 buys. I can’t imagine it would have performed any worse had WWE only utilised wrestlers from one of its two brands.

Early estimates are that Extreme Rules drew around 251,000 buys. Considering that show featured Brock Lesnar’s first WWE match in over eight years and was the first pay-per-view after the enormously successful WrestleMania XXVIII that number could be viewed as a disappointment. The build to Lesnar v Cena was handled well on television and the match was booked perfectly. WWE could not have handled that match better and yet they still only attracted a quarter of a million viewers. Perhaps if the undercard had featured a few more intriguing matches viewers may have been inclined to splash out and watch. Giving audiences more reasons to watch can’t be a bad thing.

I think six single brand pay-per-views a year would be a good approach. Leave Royal Rumble and WrestleMania (along with whatever event is promoted in February) as duel brand shows as that’s the company’s busiest period and so it makes sense to not place unnecessary restrictions on the booking process. SummerSlam and Survivor Series make sense as duel brand shows due to their placement on the calendar and their status as Big Four shows, while Money in the Bank would be an ideal sixth double roster showcase thanks to its central gimmick. This approach would mean fans are never more than three months away from what could, if WWE got their act together, be promoted as a mega-show.

The other events on the calendar should be split equally between RAW and SmackDown. This approach would necessitate a greater emphasis on creating new stars to fill up the undercards of the single brand shows which would in time mean WWE has a larger roster of bankable stars.

Another good point of this approach would be that viewers would gain more clarity regarding feuds. At the moment feuds from the Friday night show are regularly advanced on Monday nights and occasionally the reverse will happen. That puts those who can, or choose to, only watch one show at a disadvantage.

Viewers should be able to watch just one show on a weekly basis and see a feud through from beginning to end. If they watch both shows that’s great, but mixing feuds across shows is not a viewer-friendly exercise. With ratings low WWE needs to do everything it can to make people tune in routinely and if they know they’re going to see logical storylines continuing at a realistic pace they’re more likely to do that.

Re-establishing the roster split may not be a quick process but in the long run it would benefit WWE. If they stuck at it then in a year’s time there would be a greater number of established stars on the roster than there are now. That, as I’ve said before and will likely say again, will never be a bad thing.

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