For the third consecutive year, Sunday's WWE Survivor Series pay-per-view will be about "brand supremacy". For the second year in a row, champions from Raw will face champions from Smackdown, in addition to the traditional Survivor Series matches in which Raw superstars will battle SmackDown superstars.
Some fans love the idea of seeing these "dream matches" between two champions from different brands, while others hate the fact that nothing is actually on the line except for bragging rights, which mostly seem to fade in the weeks after the show. No titles will change hands during these "champion vs. champion" matches and there won't be much of a payoff from the feuds, with each superstar going back to their respective brands and starring on different shows.
That should change next year.
The start of the WWE's new television contracts could spell the end of this latest iteration of their brand split, which began in 2016. We've seen this cycle before, with WWE introducing two different rosters for each of their signature shows before later bringing both factions together again to bolster both Raw and SmackDown with more star power at the top.
The first WWE draft took place in 2002 after the company had bought out its main competitors -- WCW and ECW -- as a way to manufacture competition by splitting the roster into two brands on its two shows, as Raw and SmackDown. The brand split was later scrapped and both shows used the same roster from 2011-2016.
The biggest reason why the WWE will likely go back to one main roster for both shows for at least another five years beginning in October 2019 is the combined five-year, $2.35 billion television rights deal the company secured from NBC Universal and Fox. USA Network, which is owned by NBC Universal, currently airs both Raw and SmackDown. It obviously has no issue with half of the roster's stars performing live on Monday night and the other half performing live on Tuesday night, as it's all under its umbrella.
That will change next year when SmackDown moves to Fox on Friday nights. Fox didn't say goodbye to the UFC and pay $1.025 billion over five years to get half of the WWE's roster. They want it all.
Fox likely won't mind sharing Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Daniel Bryan, Becky Lynch, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura with NBC Universal, which will pay $265 million per year over the next five years to keep Raw on the USA Network. There is no way; however, that either company is paying over $200 million per year in rights fees to split up the company's biggest stars.
Not only do both networks want the biggest stars, it stands to reason that every superstar on the roster is going to want to be a part of the initial mainstream rub that the company will get when it moves to Fox. SmackDown on Friday will be part of Fox's promotional packages during the NFL Thursday Night Football games as well as the network's college football games on Saturdays, NFL games on Sundays and MLB, NASCAR and soccer telecasts. You don't roll out that kind of promotional machine on broadcast television for half a roster.
The WWE has already seemingly started the move towards one roster again by having superstars from both brands performing on all of their pay-per-views, instead of having brand-specific pay-per-views, as they moved back to a one-PPV-per-month model. The problem is that outside of Survivor Series and January's Royal Rumble match, there is virtually no interaction between the rosters during pay-per-views; you will have a Raw match, followed by a SmackDown match, Raw superstars feuding with each other and SmackDown superstars feuding with each other -- but no real crossover.
Combining the rosters will lead to better storylines and better matchups that won't grow stale by the lack of superstar talent that comes with splitting the roster.
WWE's viewership numbers were also far better before the brand split, when both shows could use the biggest stars from the same roster and have a larger roster of superstars to create the matches and feuds that most fans wouldn't otherwise see in this era. The July 11, 2016 broadcast of Monday Night Raw, for example -- the last before talent was separated to Raw and SmackDown -- drew 3.17 million viewers, while the most recent edition of Raw had 2.45 million.
Does that mean that some superstars won't get the kind of push and airtime they think they should? Does it mean more travel and more dates for the biggest superstars? Yes, in both cases, but that's life when you're working for a professional wrestling promotion that just signed a deal twice as valuable as the 10-year, $2 billion pact NBC inked with the NHL, which expires in 2021.
When NBC paid for the rights to the NHL they didn't just pay for the Western Conference or the Eastern Conference -- they got the whole thing, and that's what NBC and Fox will no doubt expect next year.
The brand split served its purpose for the WWE. It shined light on superstars who otherwise wouldn't have gotten the spotlight and made some superstars champions who otherwise wouldn't of been champions, but it's time for the WWE roster to become one again and come together under the same multibillion dollar umbrella for at least the next five years.