WWE is repeating their own impatient history with “Wild Card” concept

With their ridiculous “Wild Card” idea, WWE has once again rendered their brand split meaningless and shown that they can’t create new stars.

When WWE decided to institute a confusing “Wild Card Rule” to explain why up to three four wrestlers can jump across shows on any given week, it was yet another sign that this incarnation of the brand split isn’t long for this world. It’s also yet another sign that WWE owner/CEO/de facto head booker Vince McMahon has no idea what he’s doing and is once again duct taping over some troubling cracks in the company’s supposedly impenetrable levee.

With television ratings for both RAW and SmackDown Live sagging to all-time lows, McMahon apparently concluded that the issue wasn’t his uneven booking or his overreliance on legends and part-timers hindering his ability to create new stars; it was that the few stars he had weren’t appearing on enough shows (To be fair, the ratings slightly increased this week, though it was still well below what they did this time last year.)

If you’ve followed WWE for a while, then you know that this isn’t anything new for them. When they overflooded the WWE Network with too many brand-exclusive pay-per-views, they chose to merely repackage their oversaturation in the form of dual-branded B-shows that extended past their traditional three-hour run times. “The Best of Both Worlds”, WWE told fans; they even made a goofy music video to drive that point home.

This, of course, is nothing more than an accelerated version of the original brand split’s life cycle. When the original schism occurred in 2002 — a response to the talent surplus following WWE purchasing WCW — the promotion went all in and implemented alternating single-brand shows a year later.

They maintained this format for roughly three years and while the buyrates for those shows weren’t exactly stellar, it boosted the prestige of the “Big 4” shows, kept the rosters separate, and allowed them to save the few money matches they had for the aforementioned major shows. Long term, it had potential, so, naturally, WWE decided to scrap all of that in 2007. Read what former WWE Executive Vice President of Marketing Kurt Schneider said about the PPV change and see if you can spot the similarities:

“We have seen over the past two years that WWE pay-per-views have significantly better buy rates when more than one WWE brand is involved,” said Kurt Schneider, Executive Vice President, Marketing.  “WrestleMania, with an average of one million buys per event over the past three years, is the perfect example.  This new direction will give our fans more of what they want in every one of our pay-per-views.

Yes, you read that correctly; one of WWE’s top marketing officials came to the shocking conclusion that the established big-name shows like WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series produced more buys than December to Dismember, New Year’s Revolution or Backlash. I guess that’s why he made the big bucks.

You’ll also be stunned to find out that loading up all the PPV’s did little to help their business. In fact, the company actually sold fewer shows in 2007 than they did during the final year of solo-brand PPV’s in 2006.

Granted, you could argue that the rash of injuries and suspensions in 2007 contributed to the slip in buys. But that wouldn’t explain why the numbers continued to dip in 2008, 2009, and 2010 when they had a deeper talent pool to draw from. It’s almost as if the consumers weren’t swayed by a cheap marketing tactic and made financial decisions based on factors like, oh, I don’t know, compelling storylines.

Obviously, McMahon and company didn’t feel the same way; their solution was even more product consolidation, as they allowed SmackDown stars to freely appear on RAW under the guise of making the Monday night telecast a “SuperShow”  in 2011 and shortly after, all vestiges of the brand split were gone. And that’s without even getting into the shortsighted call to add an extra hour to their flagship show in 2012.

All of that happened over a 10-year span; this time around, it took only three before they started dismantling it the second go-round.

Here’s the truth: no quick fix is gonna get WWE out of their ratings rut. It doesn’t matter how many times Roman Reigns pulls double-duty on Mondays and Tuesdays, nor does it matter how many unannounced WWE Championship matches they give away on TV. Those hotshot ploys won’t cover for their overabundance of nonsensical storylines or their reticence to push enough full-time wrestlers to the top of the card.

There is no expeditious remedy for WWE’s slump. To rebuild their viewership, they have to regain the audience’s trust by presenting consistent stories, protecting potential top draws, saving some of their big matches for the bigger shows, and having a viable long-term creative plan.

Unfortunately, this “Wild Card” once more highlights their tendency to address everything except the actual root of their problems.