MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – What the WWE Could Learn from NBA Free Agency

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The EXCELLENCE IN COLUMN WRITING has returned from the retirement home and is set to probably anger many readers exclusively here at LordsofPain.net. I say what I want, when I want, and I’m 100% honest about it. Man, many internet fans got their panties in bunches after reading my AEW Fyter Fest review. What’s the matter, kiddies? Did I hate on your internet darlings too much? Geesh, and I gave your previous show a freakin’ A+ (probably would have lowered it to a “B or B+” if I watched the pre-game show for that awful Battle Royal).

I’ll let AEW cool a bit because they won’t have another show for a while now… I kind of like their schedule of 1 show per month, though that will surely change when the TNT show begins.

No, what I want to talk about is what the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) could seriously learn from the National Basketball Association (NBA) (to some degree, the NFL too) to improve their appearances of their RAW, Smackdown, and even their NXT brand extensions.

Now, I must admit.. Had the RAW/Smackdown brand split not occurred, the WWE wouldn’t have received their big deals from Comcast or FOX. From 2014 through 2019, the WWE was earning between $150 to $200 Million per year to air BOTH RAW and Smackdown on USA Network from Comcast (I’ve heard about $185 million per year). For 2019 through 2024, however, the WWE is set to earn over $200 million per year, PER SHOW, for both RAW and Smackdown. Comcast will pay over $200 million per year for RAW to air on Monday Nights, like usual, while FOX is paying WWE over $200 million per year for Smackdown to air on Friday Nights on network television.

I cannot argue against those numbers… Well, actually I can.

See, when the WWE had their last deal during 2014, RAW had over 4 million viewers. Now, they are lucky to get 2.5 million viewers per show. Could you imagine how much Comcast and FOX would pay if WWE was drawing over 4 million viewers??!? As luck would have it, Comcast and FOX’s channels are in decline because many are cutting the cord on Cable, Satellite, and even free Network television. Live sporting event like television has been deemed “streaming proof” and thus every network is paying top dollar for any kind of sporting content right now. Hence why the freakin’ XFL has television deals with ESPN and FOX Sports even though Vince’s brand of football FAILED MISERABLY just 18 years ago.

When the last RAW/Smackdown Brand Split occurred during mid-2016, I wrote multiple columns on the subject… I was 100% against it because I argued that (a) WWE’s talent roster was too thin and (b) WWE’s Creative Team was awful. 3 years later, I was proven absolutely correct. As bad as the Creative Team is, the roster lacks top drawing stars even when combined. Furthermore, WWE developmental isn’t recruiting and molding stars like they did with Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, and Danny Davis through 2002 with Ohio Valley Wrestling. The 2002 Brand Split worked because the WWE signed many former WCW and ECW wrestlers along with being gifted homegrown talents like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and Batista (in addition to other talents that Jim Ross signed and got developed).

Hence, where my famous “under 3 million” prediction came. I argued during mid 2016 that if “RAW was headlined by Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins with Stephanie McMahon as the authority figure, the show go under 3 million viewers permanently”. WWE was able to inflate their numbers with Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, Undertaker, and even a strongly pushed Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman during 2017… But eventually, shows short-term fixes would go away and Rollins/Reigns would continue to get pushed hard as the top guys. They just aren’t in the caliber of the all-time greats (Hogan, Austin, Rock), but the are definitely not as good as the 2002 Ohio Valley Wrestling guys (Cena, Lesnar, Batista, Orton). And the McMahons are “ratings poison” these days, particularly Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon. Vince can still get a pop, but only if he doesn’t appear on television for a while.

During my July 16th, 2016 Column at LordsofPain.net, I gave my suggestions on how to make the Brand Extensions successful. Sure, there are some hits (I suggested then to add Paul Heyman to the Creative team) and some misses (Angle as RAW General Manager, but I’d argue that it wasn’t his fault), but there was one suggestion in particular that was UNIQUE of any other wrestling writer online and many people laughed at it…

But in light of the recent NBA Free Agency period which not only dominated Sports Headlines, but NATIONAL Headlines as well… Seriously, an entire league was held up by Kawhi Leonard‘s decision on where to play basketball for millions of dollars per year. Then, when he made an announcement, the whole world exploded as he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers along with a massive trade to obtain Paul George. However, before that, the question was where Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving might play along with many other great NBA Free Agents.

BEFORE 2019, you had the big move of Shaquille O’Neal signing with the Lakers to begin that Dynasty and then the drama of breaking up those Lakers in order for Shaq to win a title with the Miami Heat. Then, the “Big 3” formed with the Celtics in the form of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining the Boston Celtics via trades with Paul Pierce. Lebron James and Chris Bosh took that a step further by joining D-Wade via free agency to the Miami Heat. Then, Lebron James made a stunning return to his Cleveland Cavs along with prompting a big trade for Kevin Love. After losing to those Cavs in the 2016 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors said “hold my beer” and signed Kevin Durant to a deal to join their team that just won 73 games and barely lost in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Drama, drama, drama! But great drama that stirs interest in the NBA that couldn’t figured itself out once Michael Jordan retired for the 2nd time during the late 1990s. Now, we’re seeing lots of player movement and mobility during the off-season and it is completely fascinating. The result is an NBA league that builds super teams and when the great players load up too much (Heat and Warriors), it creates VILLAINS. For 2019, multiple greats split up and teamed in pairs to create multiple super teams for us to enjoy during 2019-2020. July is usually one of the weaker months for sports channels and sports talk radio yet their viewership/listeners are already way up for the month. And look at how HUGE Kawhi Leonard just made his brand. INSANE.

Yet, what I’ve just described to you are REAL LIFE events… Imagine if a sports league was able to control their scripts to present the BEST outcomes possible?

So, when I wrote that column during July 2016, I was in that frame of mind of the aftershock of Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors and what a SHOCKER that it was. And then I put some ideas down on how the RAW/Smackdown Brand Extension could work.

Here are my EXACT quotes from July 16th, 2016

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Treat RAW/Smackdown like Sports Franchises
I suggested this in another column… NO 2017 Draft to reshuffle the deck. We’re DONE with that. What I recommend is that RAW and Smackdown are treated like professional sports franchises to perform the following:
(a) No more Drafts of existing wrestlers or reshuffling – RAW/Smackdown must trade with each other for changes.
(b) However – Have an annual “rookie” Draft of developmental wrestlers. WWE could play up wrestlers working their way up in developmental and hype the importance of each brand drafting first. Furthermore, RAW/Smackdown could trade draft picks for existing wrestlers…
(c) Bidding system for any free agents who are joining the main WWE rosters.
(d) Both have a Salary Cap/Fixed # Quota of Wrestlers that both Commissioners have to abide by and need to consider making “cuts” if they go over the Cap/Quota.
(e) Both have open Injury Lists and can place wrestlers on the Injured Reserve/Disabled List. When placing a wrestler on the DL, this allows RAW/Smackdown an open roster spot for considerations.

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But instead of taking that bold idea, which I believe fans would enjoy, the WWE did the complete opposite and gave us a completely unorganized mess instead. We went from RAW viewership to being just above 3 million back then to being just above 2 million now. WWE is in desperation mode now with making Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff as “Executive Directors”. WWE has to keep Brock Lesnar on the payroll for big events while not netting the Undertaker properly retire. They also rely on Shane McMahon as a top wrestler… Let that sink in.

Let’s look at some of the MAJOR mistakes of the RAW/Smackdown Brand Extension since Mid-2016:

(1) Authority Figures are a mess. Revolving door of General Managers that were constantly overruled by McMahons and bullied by them as well. Eventually, the McMahons just took over both shows instead of trying to make Stephanie and Shane complete with each other.

(2) Changed Creative Team for Smackdown. Smackdown during mid to late 2016 had some of Triple H’s NXT guys contributing ideas. That was changed during early 2017 when the Road Dogg took over the show and he was a complete “yes man” to Vince McMahon. “Sure, I’ll push Jinder Mahal for you, yes sir! Just keep those paychecks coming!”.

(3) Superstar Shake-ups. I actually enjoyed the Brand Extension until the first “Shake-up” of 2017. Both rosters were developing chemistry between the wrestlers and the brands were mostly kept separate. Then, the Shake-up happened and the WWE has been broken forever. Jinder Mahal goes from being a jobber on RAW to a Main Eventer on Smackdown. Miz goes from developing into a potential main eventer on Smackdown to becoming a jobber on RAW. The 2018 and 2019 shake-ups have hurt the rosters worse.

(4) Lost separation of rosters. Before, guys like John Cena could move between rosters as they pleased… I could understand it with a guy like John Cena, but these recent “Wild Cards” are ridiculous. The Brand Split has zero credibility when wrestlers from each brand can come and go as they please. Smackdown wrestlers are on RAW, RAW wrestlers are on Smackdown quite often now. Very confusing.

(5) Title confusion. Midcard titles are treated like garbage, ditto for the tag titles. Now, our World Champions can be “Wild Cards” and can wrestle on each others’ shows. Then, the shake-ups moves titles or changes up contenders of titles. There is zero credibility behind their titles which was a lesson NOT learned from the last days of the brand extension via “RAW Supershow”.

(6) NXT call-ups mean nothing. Aside from the initial 2016 draft, NXT wrestlers just appear on shows… Nothing announced, no bidding wars between RAW and Smackdown over said prospect, etc. For 2019, wrestlers just appeared randomly because Vince felt that the rosters needed a boost. Not only do the unexpected roster changes confuse WWE fans, but it hurts the NXT product when they lose talent.

The “Superstar Shake-ups” are the most indicting because they are a complete admission that the current rosters aren’t drawing and that a reshuffling of the deck is needed. Vince McMahon just does it randomly and the choices of where wrestlers are moved are controlled by him. His failure to debut NXT wrestlers properly and with zero hype hurts all of the developmental talent joining the roster.

Yet, with MY PLAN of treating both RAW and Smackdown like Sports Franchises, the problems of having stale rosters is solved in very logical ways. Also, my plan treats NXT like the NCAA or even a Farm System for the WWE. My plan creates much needed organization for a WWE company in complete disarray with its wrestling product.

Allow me to re-introduce my plan regarding the RAW/Smackdown brand extension:

(A) Rookie/Expansion Draft Each Year
Sometime after Wrestlemania each year, there is a ROOKIE/EXPANSION draft… No more “shake-ups” or re-drafting of the entire WWE rosters. They will remain in tact and can only change things up through this rookie/expansion draft, trades, or contracts expiring. This yearly draft will consist NXT talent who are ready to be promoted to the WWE *OR* new Free Agents from other promotions are placed in a Draft. Both the Smackdown and RAW brands shall alternate picks and the winner of the RAW vs. Smackdown Survivor Series match determines WHO gets the #1 Draft pick. Then, in the weeks if not months after Wrestlemania, the WWE can introduce all of the NXT rookie call-ups or free agents to the WWE fans through video packages or tryout matches. WWE could hire a Mel Kiper like character who could hype up each talent. That just builds anticipation for this Rookie/Expansion draft to add new talents to each roster.

(B) Wrestlers are signed to RAW and Smackdown “contracts” which can expire.
All wrestlers are signed to WWE contracts, of course… But in addition to that, they are forced to be “signed” to exclusive contracts with either RAW or Smackdown brands. However, each of those contracts have expiration dates. For example, Roman Reigns could sign a 2 year deal with Smackdown… When that Smackdown contract expires, he could travel to RAW… But months if not weeks before it expires, the threat of him leaving could create built-in drama for the Smackdown brand. Wrestlers whose contracts have expired could create a Lebron James like “decision” event and wrestlers from both brands can sell the loss and the gain of that wrestler.

(C) RAW and Smackdown are confined to Salary Caps.
Vince McMahon could propose that both brands have a “budget” for which neither brand can exceed. Thus, if they need to sign a higher priced free agent or make a big trade, they have to consider their Salary Cap. This could cause a misused wrestler to get released when a brand signing a higher priced talent and then signed to other brand to possibly shine. I do want to emphasize that the trades would be like the NFL where you trade and consider the Cap later instead of like the NBA’s trading system which tries to be even on salaries.

(D) Trades can happen for Wrestlers and Draft Picks may be traded too.
How about that Paul George Trade between the Clippers and the Thunder in the NBA? Clippers get Paul George while the Oklahoma City Thunder get about 6 draft picks or so. In order for wrestlers to move from RAW to Smackdown or vice versa, either their contract expires OR a trade happens. RAW and Smackdown can trade wrestlers to each other OR a brand can sacrifice their future by trading Draft Picks. To trade for Braun Strowman, maybe Smackdown gets bold enough to forgo their #1 draft pick along with other wrestlers or future considerations. Then, on Draft Night, the hype is on whether or not RAW can make good with those draft picks.

(E) Injury or Disabled Lists can occur to affect rosters.
Think of it like the Injured Reserve for the NFL or Disabled List for MLB… WWE.com can have a weekly Injury Report to sell to fans. If a wrestler is out for a considerable amount of time, that frees up a roster spot for either RAW or Smackdown. Then, the DRAMA is created when that injured wrestler returns… Uh oh, the General Manager of RAW or Smackdown has to consider what to do because they signed an extra wrestler. Gotta remain under that Salary Cap. It could cause a roster cut that benefits the other roster.

The real question is WHO will operate both RAW and Smackdown. We already tried the kids with Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon in charge. If only we had 2 alternatives…

Oh yeah, Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff. There you go… Heyman manages RAW, Bischoff manages Smackdown. NO MCMAHON INTERFERENCE. Stephanie, Shane, and Triple H have to stay away.

If the WWE would only just try to act like a sport, they can script out the drama. This past year in the NBA happened by luck and took a lot of movement of assets to happen. WWE has the advantage because they can script everything. What if a bunch of wrestlers from RAW were trying to force a trade to Smackdown?

It’s just too easy…

And if you mock what I’m saying, then tell me a better system to improve the RAW/Smackdown brand extensions. After all, what is currently happening in the WWE isn’t working. Over 1 million viewers lost since the 2016 Draft and thousands lost in attendance. Those Comcast/FOX deals should be much, much larger.

SOMETHING has to be done to salvage the RAW/Smackdown brands. The current system of Wildcards, horribly booked title belts, and “shake-ups” ain’t working! It is embarrassing that RAW could go under 2 million viewers. The Creative Teams need revamped and developmental needs someone who can legitimately recruit talent other than signing away talent from other promotions. Additionally, training in the developmental territories aren’t teaching psychology and techniques for cutting effective promos.

WWE and its RAW/Smackdown brands are severely broken…

But hey, what do I know? I’m just a wrestling fan that has presented a valid plan. What’s yours?

So just chill… Until the next episode!

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