The Best and Worst Ideas to Help WWE Boost TV Ratings Ahead of Move to Fox
The landscape of WWE is changing in 2019, and it all comes down to one blockbuster deal. SmackDown Live will be moving to Friday nights on Fox after a $1 billion deal, setting up the blue brand to be as big if not bigger than Raw starting on October 4.
WWE has a ton to live up to, yet the most common indicator of television success looks unfavorable for the company. TV ratings are down across the board and steadily dropping, with the promotion scrambling to make changes that bring in more eyes.
To be fair, ratings have long felt outdated with all networks down significantly as other avenues for watching TV are presented. However, Fox bought a brand, and they expect it to deliver. Some of that comes from the company standing out in measurable ways.
Right now, with the Road to WrestleMania afoot, WWE should be pulling in more attention. In the coming months, changes will be needed to keep that interest. Major decisions will be made about who is important and what stories matter.
The wrong move could ruin the company, and the right one might just bring the company into an era of prosperous success not seen in a decade.
These are the best and worst decisions WWE could make in setting the path for the company in the long term ahead of its blockbuster deal.
Best: Take Chances on New and Old Talent
WWE's roster is overflowing with talent. Even a cursory look at the depth on Raw and SmackDown reveals it to be unmistakably impressive. Add in NXT's best, and there are too many potential stars for the company not to have top talent on every roster.
Look no further than the recent success of Kofi Kingston. The 11-year veteran got his chance on a whim and, after just two performances, he became the most popular star of the entire night at Elimination Chamber. Now fans are begging to see more of a guy who was just one-third of The New Day tag team days ago.
Ratings begin with stars, wrestlers who get people tuning in week after week. While Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch have established themselves directly in the women's division, the men's section feels wide open.
Seth Rollins is getting a big chance with his feud with Brock Lesnar. Daniel Bryan has established himself well as a top heel, but fans need someone to root for. There are so many who can take up that mantle given the chance. It's just hard to say who will live up to the opportunity.
Braun Strowman, Drew McIntyre, Finn Balor and AJ Styles are great, but what about Andrade, Sami Zayn, Mustafa Ali or Rusev? Why not also see what you can get from Heath Slater, Mojo Rawley, Zack Ryder or Tyler Breeze?
Let everyone get a chance now, months before deciding who can lead the charge. With more talent getting signed and called up all the time, this needs to be the moment when WWE decides the true value of everyone on the roster. Maybe a hidden gem will be discovered.
Worst: End Brand Split to Make Sure Biggest Stars Can Be on Both Brands
No topic is more regularly discussed in considering how Raw and SmackDown can change than an end to the brand split. It seems like an easy idea to just have the top stars travel between brand the same way Lynch and Charlotte Flair have done in recent weeks.
It can't work, though. This huge roster can only sustain so many top stars, which would be even truer if WWE were to end the brand split. Suddenly, every week would be dominated by the same 10 or so names, and no one would get a real chance.
It might help ratings at first, but everyone would get bored quickly with the shows. Unique rosters and opportunities matter because they ensure every episode feels fresh. WWE does enough repeat matches as it is.
Before long, more wrestlers than ever would be asking for a release. If the Raw tag team division can barely get a spotlight now, what would become of it when The Usos and New Day could work both brands? The B-Team and Ascension would go from occasional appearances to a quiet release.
WWE needs to learn to manage talent better rather than overly relying on the same few wrestlers. Fox may like the idea of getting Rousey on their brand, but that can only happen if the promotion can make the firm decision she will not also appear on the red brand (assuming she sticks around).
Worst: Turn Back the Clock to Attitude Era by Relying on Sex Appeal
Two of the most successful videos on the WWE YouTube channel in recent months came out on the same week. Alexa Bliss was taped getting dressed as she prepared for her segment on Raw, while Mandy Rose was shown in lingerie in a bizarre segment with Jimmy Uso and Naomi on SmackDown.
Both did little for the product but sparked internet attention for being risque in a way the company has mostly avoided in the last few years for good reason. Women's wrestling has become an integral part of the brand in a way it has never been before, and that comes with added respect for the talent.
The Attitude Era may be revered for many positive reasons, but it cannot be recreated now in WWE for artificial attention. The women have earned the right to the same opportunities as the men, and that includes being treated as legitimate athletes.
Wrestling has always been sensual on its own. There is no need to belittle the sport or the talent by emphasizing it. It might help in the short term, but it would convince more talent they are not valued and delegitimize their work.
Best: Differentiate SmackDown from Raw with Unique Presentation
For a show that has been on TV for more episodes than any other in history, Raw has not changed much during its time. The talent changes, but the presentation has remained consistent. It's the same tired routine of long promo segments and commercial-heavy matches.
There are more ways to present wrestling than just in the WWE style. Promotions outside of WWE have experimented constantly. Impact Wrestling made a huge mark recently by taking on a cinematic flair that began with Matt Hardy, and Lucha Underground stood out with a fantastical storytelling approach.
One avenue that has never been fully explored but feels suited for SmackDown is taking the action more seriously, treating the wins and losses like they truly matter. The brand could stand out by taking on a stylistic approach to its presentation reminiscent of UFC.
That is not to say that there is any one good answer to how the blue brand should take risks in its take on wrestling. There are so many ways to present the sport that have been left undersold. All that matters is the company takes a leap of faith.
Fans are not going to get more excited for SmackDown just because of the broadcaster. Fans tuning on Fox will likely be looking for something different, something to convince them it was worth sticking around rather than just checking out Raw on Monday.
This change in style does not have to begin with the move. It can start next week. WWE needs to finally start showing that wrestling is more than what the company has shown it be in sterile form for decades to make people start talking and tuning in.