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The return of dual-brand WWE PPVs: Reasons to be Excited and Afraid

According to our latest Rumor Round-up (and, originally, the WrestleVotes twitter account), WWE will do away with pay-per-view (PPV) events which only feature Superstars from Raw or SmackDown soon. Supposedly, starting with Backlash on May 6 in Newark, all Sunday events on the Network will be dual-branded, like ‘Big 4’ PPVs have been since the start of the latest red/blue split in 2016.

A recent email from TicketMaster regarding Backlash promotes that show with both rosters, and reports previously indicated June 17’s Money in the Bank in Rosemont, Illinois would be dual-branded. So while it’s not yet confirmed the remaining calender will be merged, it seems likely enough that we need to seriously consider the story.

Is it a good thing?

On the one hand:

1) Worthy goals

Reducing the number of events was a good start. Further limiting the likelihood we’ll get the same matches between the same talents repeatedly is even better. WWE is blessed with the biggest and deepest roster in wrestling history. The brand split was a good way to begin utilizing more of it, but after a promising start, they began relying on many of the same players and feuds. And since buy rates aren’t the factor they once were in the era of WWE Network, it might even make business sense to give a few main eventers a month off from working the weekend once in a while (ticket sales probably negate this, but maybe - for example, Roman Reigns can take off if AJ Styles is working). If a goal of dual-branded PPV is really to freshen up their line-ups, and that leads to even an extra day off for the men and women working and travelling 52 weeks out of the year, it’s worth a shot.

2) Make television count

This was an issue before going to fewer events, and it threatened to be an even bigger one with two months between Raw or SmackDown-specific PPVs - the need to drag out programs so the “big” match happened on a Sunday. Will WWE start putting more feud-enders and title bouts where there’s a realistic chance of the belt changing hands on Monday and Tuesday nights? If they do, they could make the USA Network broadcasts a lot less skippable.

3) Push, or even make, new stars

Fresh match-ups require more than just moving the same pieces around. If the whole roster is available for PPV once a month, this is the chance to take a guy like Rusev to the next level, or see how Big E handles a singles run after his success with New Day, or find out if Nia Jax will work as champ. Eventually, names that can’t even get on television now can be used, and the next generation from NXT (another brand with a roster bursting at the seams with talent) can be brought in. Again, this is something that the idea itself won’t do - it comes down to execution. Which bring us to...

On the other hand:

1) More of the same

Sure, dual-brand PPV could bring about fresh match-ups and new stars... or we could just get twice as much AJ vs. Kevin Owens and an extra helping of Seth Rollins. It’s not too difficult to envision this move negating some of the gains brought by the brand split. Making more people available to work every show means fewer spots. This is where the rumored mission of using this to address slumping ticket sales becomes a problem... if the company’s bottom line is rewarded in the short-term for relying on the folks fans will already pay to see, they’re not as motivated to take the time to create more people we’ll pay to see later.

2) New doesn’t mean better, or even good

Some fans will tell you the problems with WWE aren’t with seeing the same wrestlers and feuds over and over, it’s that those wrestlers don’t have interesting characters, or compelling reasons to fight one another. If all a brand split, or dual-brand PPV, does is change out the pieces in the same faulty machine, it won’t change many minds about the end product.

We’ll also have to watch more performers learn on, or fail to grow into, the job. Even if a certain type of fan will tell you that’s why, the big draws aren’t only there because Vince McMahon said they should be. There’s something fulfilling about cheering or booing Brock Lesnar and Sasha Banks, and we might not like finding out if we feel the same way about Bianca Belair and Killian Dain.

3) The beginning of the end

It seemed to me most people were excited when the brand split returned to WWE. I know was. With this much talent, and in a time when more wrestling fans are willing and even used to keeping up with several different promotions at once, it felt like the right time for The ‘E to feature more talent, maybe even in more ways.

What followed the 2016 draft hasn’t been perfect, but it’s not an experiment I want to see the plug pulled on yet. And for the first brand split, the end of split PPV was a step toward pulling the plug. Individually branded events actually lasted longer in the 2002 - 2011 extension, making it all the way to 2007 before they were re-combined after WrestleMania 23. Sure, it was a few more years until Raw “Supershows” really signalled the end, and the eras aren’t apples to apples comparisons anyway because of how champions were handled initially in the first split, and the presence of ECW. But if they’re bailing on single brand PPV after only two years...

Final Analysis: While they do often surprise me with their quality and entertainment value, I haven’t been thrilled with the Raw or SmackDown specific PPVs over the past couple years. But while I’m not sad to see them go, we don’t know enough about how the new model will be implemented to really be enthusiastic. What we’re left with is the historical record. And that leaves me:

35% Excited and 65% Afraid.

Let us know how you’re split on this issue, Cagesiders.

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