Friday, November 19, 2021

COMMENTARY - Why Should I Care About Brand Supremacy?

Team RAW a.k.a. The Red Shirts

So, it's November and we're closing in on the annual WWE tradition that is Survivor Series.

One of the "Big Four" PPV events that also comprise Summerslam, Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania, Survivor Series was the show where you had two teams of four or five teammates competing in elimination-style matches. The earliest editions of the event were nothing but these elimination matches and were such a staple of the event, even when they started varying up the card with other matches.

Once upon a time, these sorts of matches were used to pit two rival groups against each other or other special circumstances. In recent years, however, Survivor Series has had only one central theme; brand supremacy. This was the "ONE NIGHT" where superstars from RAW and Smackdown would wear either red RAW shirts or blue Smackdown shirts. And they would compete against one another to see which brand was superior. Never mind the fact that there have been numerous occasions outside of Survivor Series, where RAW and Smackdown talent would interact and compete in matches with each other; particularly during the weeks surrounding the Draft or Superstar Shakeup or whatever venacular they decide to go with that time.

For reasons that escape me, there is an allure in wondering which WWE show is superior and there absolutely needs to be a show based on this concept. Of course, there were other attempts at this. There was the short-lived Bragging Rights show, which built on this premise alone before it was decided to move it to Survivor Series, where it had remained to this day. And this is the thing that is supposed to sell PPVs or Network subscriptions or whatever the case may be.

So I have a honest question; does anybody really care about brand supremacy?

Seriously... no joke. Being completely honest. Is there a reason why I should care whether RAW or Smackdown is the superior brand? Shouldn't that be judged by whether the shows are good or not?

I get what they're trying to do; creating competition within themselves. It's been the main goal of the brand split going back to the very first one in 2002, to re-create that feeling of the Monday Night Wars since that was the last time when wrestling was at its genuinely hottest. It was the last time when you'd see a greater frequency of wrestling shirts in the wild, worn by many folks, and when the shows were the talk of the town. The wrestling promotions, wrestlers, and fans can brag all they want about the past couple years (barring one) catching fire all they want, but to say it's as hot as it was back in the day is propagating delusions of grandeur.

The same kind of delusions, mind you, that fuel this Survivor Series concept of red shirts versus blue shirts.

They had a draft last month, where guys and gals would be drafted from one brand to another and vice versa. Those "new" rosters didn't come to fruition until the Smackdown after WWE's latest Saudi Blood Money show. They haven't even worn out the carpet (or what's left of it at this point, anyway) and they're already fighting for "brand supremacy" of a brand they haven't even graced yet. Not to mention some of the folks fighting each other on Smackdown are now fighting each other on RAW. It's the same ol' shit. Why should I care?

And speaking of that Smackdown show, there was the thing with Becky Lynch and Baby Flair trading belts because they were the "champions" of the other show and now that they're on the new show, they have to trade belts. They did this with the tag belts last year and it looks like it's going to be a thing they do because... why? If you're trading belts because they're not the same color as your show, what's the point of having color coded belts? Does anyone realize how stupid it makes the champions as well as how worthless they make the titles?

Not to mention... you have the WWE World Champion and "Universal Champion" as the top men's titles. My disdain for the toy belt that represents the supposed "universal title", those are treated at top belts in the promotion as far as the male roster is concerned. They feel important, prestigious, and have perceived value that make them valuable prizes. The women, on the other hand? They're stuck with being champions of TV shows. Who gives a shit? Why should I care about someone being RAW champion or Smackdown champion? Why can't we have a Women's World Champion and a (god forbid) Women's Universal Champion? At least they'd sound more important. Even the original brand split got this right by referring to their separate tag titles as WWE tag titles and World tag titles.

At this point, the most prestigious women's title in WWE is the NXT Women's title... you know, the one that doesn't count according to WWE. Hell, I'd argue the shitty DIVAS CHAMPIONSHIP that looked like a butterfly comes across as more respectable and desirable than either of these color-coded toy belts. Again, why should I give a shit about brand supremacy?

One final note... who are the authority figures representing these brands? We haven't had any semblance of a RAW or Smackdown General Manager in a good long while; not since Shane McMahon was a regular character on WWE television. You have authority figures on television, but they're booking for both brands. Who's the figurehead leader for each brand who gets to gloat over their show doing better than the other? Those skits were corny as hell, but they pushed the narrative forward. You don't even get that here.

And I ask again... "Why should I care about brand supremacy?"

This is a question that I struggle with, because the idea of selling an event on the concept of which show sucks less does not inspire me to spend money on that show. Usually, what sells the PPV is your featured main event; your big marquee match that gets people excited enough to buy a ticket or order a PPV or whatever, whether it'd be a a title defense or a much anticipated match between two top fighters. Maybe there's a tournament to crowd a new champion of some sort. Maybe it's a big gimmick match like a Wargames or Royal Rumble. Or maybe it's the allure of being part of a live television taping. Maybe a notable name or top star will be on the card in some form or fashion. There's always some hook to convince people that this show is worth spending money on.

These days, the hook is the brand and a lot of people go to these shows out of loyalty for the brand. Whether it'd be a WWE show, an AEW show, Impact, GCW, or maybe even a local fed, there's that contingent of hardcores who consume these shows based solely on the brand and not necessarily based on what's on these shows. Hell, some events would sell out long before they even announce what's on the show, based solely on the brand. The biggest example is usually WrestleMania; a spectacle that has grown so big that the card is secondary to the allure of being part of what was once dubbed the showcase of the immortals.

That much, I get. You like a promotion, you want it to succeed, so you'll support it as much as you can... but that's usually best reserved for something like a smaller outfit running around your neighborhood or a regional promotion with a cult following like an ECW or Ring Of Honor. That's not exactly a mentality I would run with when it comes to the bigger promotions like WWE or AEW. And it certainly not something I would apply to a television show under a bigger umbrella.

Actually, on second thought, you could make an argument for people wanting to cheerlead AEW, because they're the new kid, the popular one that hits all the right notes. Most importantly, they're more than willing to engage their audience and give them a good product. They might not always succeed, but they've built up enough goodwill that people are cheering for the company's continued success and growth. WWE, on the other hand, is the long established brand. RAW and Smackdown are television institutions that have been around for decades. They are more than content to coast on brand recognition and are more than willing to put out product that will not only insult their audience's intelligence, but actively punish them for following their product to the point where some of their audience has been driven away.

That's steering away from the main question being asked; why should I care about this battle for brand supremacy between two WWE programs whose only distinguishing feature are their names and colors. I suppose one could argue that it's like cheering for your favorite sports team... but what is it about RAW and Smackdown that make them worth caring about as brands? I struggle with that question and can find no answer because it's just red shirts versus blue shirts under the WWE umbrella. There's no reason to care about this brand supremacy crap in any way, shape, or form.

Those are my five cents on the matter. More to come soon.


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