WWE brand extension
The brand extension (also referred to as the brand split) is the separation of the WWE talent roster (and, at various times, creative staff) into distinct divisions, or "brands". The strict adherence to the on-screen integrity of the brand split has varied over time.
In March 2002, WWE began promoting its core business of professional wrestling through two distinct brands, named after their two major television shows Raw and SmackDown. From 2006 to 2010, a third brand existed for their television show ECW, which was a revived version of the former promotion. The first brand extension ended on August 29, 2011, after which the Raw and SmackDown brands were dissolved.
On May 25, 2016, WWE announced a relaunch of the brand extension, billed as the "New Era." The second brand extension went into effect on July 19, 2016, when SmackDown began broadcasting live on Tuesdays. In addition to Raw and SmackDown, during the second split WWE has operated two other brands, NXT, a developmental brand, and NXT UK, a United Kingdom-based brand. Wrestlers are allocated to a brand via the annual Superstar Shake-up.
Upon the completion of the Monday Night Wars in 2001, a rivalry between the then-WWF and its archrival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the WWF emerged victorious, acquiring all assets of WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW; the third largest promotion in the United States at this point in time) through separate buyouts that included the employees (on and off-air talent) from both companies. The sales had left WWF as the sole wrestling promotion in the world with international TV distribution (until the national expansion of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in 2002).
With the acquisition of new talent, the WWF's already large roster was doubled in size. In order to allow equal opportunity to all roster members, the company endorsed a brand extension to have the WWF represented and promoted with two brands, Raw and SmackDown, named after the promotion's two primary television programs, Raw and SmackDown, respectively.
According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, WWF owner Vince McMahon had originally intended to relaunch WCW in the Monday night RAW time slot on Spike and for the WWF to occupy the Smackdown time-slot. The theory behind this being that WCW would not be taken as on-par with WWF if it was viewed as being on a "secondary" television slot on Thursday nights. The feeling was the WWF brand was at an all-time peak, and in those days, the viewership on Thursdays for Smackdown was often ahead of that of Raw.
The WWF had tentatively planned a divorce storyline between Vince and Linda McMahon which would culminate in Linda gaining control of Raw and sympathising with her son, Shane, who had purchased WCW. However, on the first night of the beginning of the angle on July 2, 2001 in Tacoma, the WWF audience responded very negatively to everything WCW, including a test run match of Booker T vs. Buff Bagwell with Scott Hudson and Arn Anderson as announcers, which, according to Meltzer, convinced McMahon to changed his mind and scrap the storyline entirely. This idea of moving WCW to the Monday slot was also frowned upon by Spike, who were then paying the WWF $28 million to air their programming on Mondays and who did not want the company to be supporting another program on a rival network.
Eventually, the idea was put in motion to separate the WWF's two shows into distinct brands while under the WWF banner. Previously, wrestlers appeared on both Raw and SmackDown, but with this extension, wrestlers would be exclusive to only one show. Only the Undisputed WWF Champion and the WWF Women's Champion were exempt and could appear on both shows. This would change as both championships were later assigned to a brand.
The extension started on March 25, 2002 with a draft on Raw and went into effect one week later on April 1. The following month, the WWF was renamed to WWE. On June 13, 2006, after a reunion PPV and video releases, WWE announced an addition to its prime time programming with ECW on Sci-Fi. The new ECW served as a third brand, and a revival of the original ECW promotion. Both instances of the brand extensions required that representatives of each brand draft "superstars" (terminology used by the company to refer to its contracted personnel) onto each brand in a draft lottery.
2006 ECW introduction
After WWE bought all the assets of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in 2003, the company began releasing DVDs promoting the original ECW. Soon afterwards, the company promoted two ECW reunion shows for ECW alumni entitled, ECW One Night Stand in 2005 and in 2006.
On May 25, 2006, WWE announced a launch of a new brand, ECW, a revival of the 1990s promotion. The new brand debuted on Sci Fi Channel on June 13, 2006, with its final episode on February 16, 2010, on the rebranded Syfy. It was replaced the following week with WWE NXT.
On May 25, 2016, it was announced that beginning July 19, SmackDown would broadcast live on Tuesday nights, as opposed to being taped on Tuesdays and airing on Thursdays as it was previously, receiving a unique roster and set of writers compared to Raw, thus restoring the brand extension. The draft took place on the live premiere episode of SmackDown to determine the rosters between both brands. On the July 11 episode of Raw, Vince McMahon named Shane McMahon the (on-screen) commissioner for SmackDown and Stephanie McMahon the commissioner for Raw; both chose a General Manager for their respective shows. On the July 18 episode of Raw, Stephanie McMahon chose Mick Foley as the Raw General Manager, and Shane McMahon chose Daniel Bryan as the SmackDown General Manager. Due to Raw being a three-hour show and SmackDown being a two-hour show, Raw received three picks each round and SmackDown received two. Six draft picks had to be made amongst the non-title holders from WWE's developmental brand NXT. Seth Rollins was picked first by Raw, with WWE Champion Dean Ambrose being SmackDown's first pick.
Interbrand competition was initially kept to a minimum, with superstars from all brands competing together only at pay-per-view events. However, from 2003 to 2007, all pay-per-view events became brand exclusive, leaving the "big four" pay-per-views (WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and Royal Rumble) as the only interbrand shows.
Starting in late 2006, in an attempt to add more star power to the shows, interbrand matches became more common. Most notably, MNM and The Hardys reformed, despite the fact that the teammates were on separate brands. Bobby Lashley was also notable for his interbrand action, as he was involved in a storyline with the WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon. The brief return of Saturday Night's Main Event to NBC also led to more interaction between the brands.
Interbrand competition returned with the reestablishment of the brand extension in 2016; the first interbrand match that occurred after the brand extension went into full effect was at SummerSlam on August 21, 2016 where Raw's Brock Lesnar defeated SmackDown's Randy Orton. The next large interbrand matches occurred at Survivor Series on November 20, 2016, where there were three traditional Survivor Series elimination tag team matches between Raw and SmackDown, which included a 5-on-5 match for male wrestlers, a 5-on-5 match for female wrestlers, and a 10-on-10 match between the brands' male tag teams. There were two other interbrand matches with SmackDown's The Miz defeating Raw's Sami Zayn to retain the Intercontinental Championship, and Raw's The Brian Kendrick retained the WWE Cruiserweight Championship against SmackDown's Kalisto; if Kalisto won, the entire cruiserweight division of Raw would have moved to SmackDown. Survivor Series has now become an event where wrestlers of Raw face off against wrestlers of SmackDown and the brand with the most wins claims brand supremacy. The 2017 event, in addition to two traditional Survivor Series elimination matches (one 5-on-5 male match and one 5-on-5 female match), every champion of the Raw brand faced their counterpart champion of the SmackDown brand (with the exception of the WWE Cruiserweight Championship due to it not having a SmackDown counterpart).
The separation of the WWE roster between two brands also intended to split the pay-per-view offerings, which began with Bad Blood in June 2003. The original idea had the "major" pay-per-view events at the time (Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and WrestleMania) would contain the only instances where wrestlers from different brands would interact with each other, and even among the four shows only the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania would have wrestlers from different brands competing against each other. Wrestlers, as a result, appeared only in two-thirds of the shows in a given year, and thus appeared in fewer shows compared to before the brand extension. With single-brand PPVs in place, WWE was able to add more pay-per-view events to their offerings, such as Taboo Tuesday/Cyber Sunday, New Year's Revolution, December to Dismember, and The Great American Bash. Eventually, WWE abandoned the practice of single-brand pay-per-view events following WrestleMania 23. December to Dismember and New Year's Revolution were cancelled following the announcement.
With the reintroduction of the brand extension in 2016, single-branded pay-per-view events returned, and seven more pay-per-view events were added to for 2017 so that each brand could have their own pay-per-view each month, in addition to the four major pay-per-views, in which both brands were involved. The only exception to this were the two months leading up to WrestleMania 33 in order to build the feuds for that event, and the two months (including the month of WrestleMania) following WrestleMania to begin new feuds for each brand. For example, February 2017 only had a SmackDown pay-per-view while March only had one for Raw. WrestleMania 33 was on April 2 and Raw had its first post-WrestleMania pay-per-view on April 30, while only SmackDown had a pay-per-view in May. This also happened in 2018, however, for 2018, WWE announced that all pay-per-views following WrestleMania 34 would be dual-branded, abandoning the single-brand practice for a second time. The 2018 Elimination Chamber and Fastlane events were the last two brand-exclusive pay-per-views for Raw and SmackDown, respectively.
Initially, the Undisputed WWE Championship and the original WWE Women's Championship were available to both brands. The other championships were exclusive to the brand the champion was a part of. When the brand extension began, Raw received the Intercontinental Championship and European Championship when their respective holders were drafted, while SmackDown became the exclusive home for the World Tag Team Championship and the original Cruiserweight Championship. With several specialty championships being exclusive to one brand, numerous wrestlers were left with no title to fight for except for the Hardcore Championship, which although a property of SmackDown after the draft, it was contested under different rules than the other championships—the European and Hardcore championships were later unified with the Intercontinental Championship in July and August 2002, respectively, deactivating both championships.
The issue of specialty championships being exclusive to one brand was partially corrected in September 2002. When SmackDown general manager Stephanie McMahon announced that Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar was not going to appear on Raw, Raw general manager Eric Bischoff introduced the World Heavyweight Championship for Raw. Shortly thereafter, Raw became the exclusive brand for the World Tag Team Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, and the Women's Championship. Meanwhile, SmackDown created the WWE Tag Team Championship and revived the United States Championship. The end result was each brand having four championships: World Heavyweight, Intercontinental, World Tag Team, and Women's titles for Raw; WWE, United States, Tag Team, and Cruiserweight titles for SmackDown. When ECW was revived in 2006 as a third brand, the ECW World Heavyweight Championship was reactivated as the brand's only championship. Over the course of the first brand extension, these championships switched between brands, usually due to the result of the annual draft. The Cruiserweight title, however, was the only championship to never switch brands, staying on SmackDown from 2002 until the championship's retirement on September 28, 2007.
In October 2007, SmackDown and ECW began a talent exchange agreement, which meant that SmackDown superstars could appear on ECW and vice versa. This allowed the United States Championship and WWE Tag Team Championship to be shared between the two brands. In July 2008, the WWE Divas Championship was created for SmackDown, allowing the SmackDown Divas to compete for a title. A talent exchange between ECW and Raw then began in September 2008. After John Morrison and The Miz of ECW became World Tag Team Champions, they appeared more frequently on the Raw brand, moving to a feud with reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of SmackDown, brothers Carlito and Primo Colon. The teams fought several non-title and title bouts for their respective brands' tag team championships before the two fought in a winner-take-all title unification lumberjack match at WrestleMania XXV. Carlito and Primo would go on to win the contest, forming the Unified WWE Tag Team Championship. The tag team championships remained separate titles, but were defended collectively as the Unified WWE Tag Team Championship until the then-anonomous general manager of Raw announced that the World Tag Team Championship would be retired in favor of continuing the WWE Tag Team Championship, which received a new, single set of belts. On February 16, 2010, the ECW Championship was deactivated along with the ECW brand. On September 19, 2010, at Night of Champions, the Women's Championship was unified with the Divas Championship, retiring the Women's Championship in the process; the Divas Championship was briefly referred to as the Unified WWE Divas Championship. The first brand extension would then end a year later and all champions could appear on both shows.
In 2012, NXT became a developmental brand for WWE and they introduced the NXT Championship that year, followed by the NXT Women's Championship and NXT Tag Team Championship in 2013. On December 15, 2013, at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, the World Heavyweight Championship was unified with the WWE Championship to become the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The title retained the lineage of the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship was retired. The name was reverted to WWE Championship on June 27, 2016. At WrestleMania 32 on April 3, 2016, the Divas Championship was retired and then replaced with a brand-new WWE Women's Championship.
After five years, a new brand extension was introduced on July 19, 2016. Raw drafted the WWE Women's Champion, the United States Champion, and the WWE Tag Team Champions, while SmackDown drafted the WWE Champion and the Intercontinental Champion; NXT champions were ineligible to be drafted. This distribution of championships remained unchanged at the Battleground pay-per-view, which took place the Sunday immediately following the draft. With the WWE Championship being defended exclusively on SmackDown, Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon and general manager Mick Foley introduced the WWE Universal Championship to be Raw's world title. As SmackDown was lacking a tag team championship and a women's championship, Smackdown commissioner Shane McMahon and general manager Daniel Bryan introduced the SmackDown Tag Team Championship and SmackDown Women's Championship. Subsequently, the WWE Women's Championship and the WWE Tag Team Championship were renamed as the Raw Women's Championship and the Raw Tag Team Championship, respectively. With this, each brand had a world championship, a secondary championship, a tag team championship, and a women's championship: the Universal, United States, Raw Tag Team, and Raw Women's on Raw, and the World, Intercontinental, SmackDown Tag Team, and SmackDown Women's on SmackDown. However, since Raw became the exclusive home of WWE's revived cruiserweight division, they also created a new WWE Cruiserweight Championship. Beginning November 29, 2016, in addition to Raw, the Cruiserweight Championship is defended on the cruiserweight-exclusive show, 205 Live. The WWE United Kingdom Championship was unveiled in December 2016 with its inaugural holder determined in January 2017. The title is the major championship for the United Kingdom-based NXT spinoff, NXT UK.
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