WWE's proverbial brand split will take shape July 19, as the company announced Monday a draft will be held on the first live SmackDown to determine the rosters.
“This is an exciting new era for WWE in which we will yet again reinvent ourselves by creating a second night of compelling live television,” WWE executive producer Kevin Dunn said in a statement.
SmackDown, which had been taped Tuesdays to air later in the week since its inception, will move live starting in July. WWE announced the move in May, saying Raw and SmackDown would each have "unique rosters" following a draft.
|WWE Draft Date/Time|
|Tuesday, July 19||8 p.m.||USA|
"WWE's flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV," WWE Chairman Vince McMahon said. “This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world.”
The biggest question—eligibility of WWE Superstars—has yet to be revealed. WWE's statement specifically refers to NXT, but it's unclear if they will be part of the draft. The impending debuts of Finn Balor and Bayley have been speculated about for months, with each pay-per-view coming and going seemingly with a Balor watch. It's possible WWE could be waiting until the draft to make their debuts a bigger deal.
There are also a number of other questions yet to be determined. What WWE plans on doing with its championships is completely up in the air. The first brand split began with a so-called "undisputed" champion before Raw and SmackDown eventually had their own titles.
It's possible WWE champion Dean Ambrose and women's champion Charlotte could rove between the two programs, with the other belts being brand-exclusive. Or WWE could create show-exclusive titles, which on paper would devalue their worth but create a more seamless split. It would seem a little odd for WWE to create a big fuss over debuting a new women's title at WrestleMania, only to split it off a few months later.
The future of pay-per-views will also have to be answered. The previous split had brand-specific pay-per-views in alternating months, with the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series serving as mega programs with both rosters represented. With the advent of WWE Network, pay-per-view buys are less valued to WWE; the low buy numbers of brand-specific events may be more feasible now.
In other words, we now know the date of a draft. Everything else about this seismic shift in sports entertainment is yet to be determined.
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