WWE institutes ‘brand to brand invitation,’ sharing talent on limited basis across Raw and SmackDown

With ratings declining and a limited number of superstars at their disposal each week due to the coronavirus, WWE set into motion a sharing of talent that began Monday night during Raw and will seemingly continue for the foreseeable future. This decision comes just over seven months after the company ended its much-maligned “wildcard rule” that led to significant fan resentment, though this is being instituted at a time where WWE likely feels as if it has no other choice.

WWE did not provide details for this “brand to brand invitation,” which was reported earlier Monday by John Pollack of Post Wrestling, but WWE champion Drew McIntyre alluded to it in the first hour of Raw when he explained that SmackDown superstar King Corbin would make an appearance next Monday night as part of a “brand-to-brand invitation.” Corbin showed up later in the show for a backstage interview, and announcer Tom Phillips referred to the concept after that without an official announcement.

The IIconics, who are on the SmackDown brand, made their return to TV after a months-long absence later in the show. It was announced in the final hour that Raw superstar and NXT women’s champion Charlotte Flair would appear on “SmackDown” this Friday.

No further explanation was provided regarding the terms of the crossover, though it does appear to be limited in scope.

Without fans in attendance at its shows — and with bigger pressing concerns facing its audience — ratings have been steadily declining for its Raw and SmackDown programs, which respectively air Monday night on USA Network and Friday night on Fox.

When WWE began its new television deals with those networks in early October, it eliminated the “wildcard rule” that had plagued its booking strategy and programming. With a seemingly-unlimited number of superstars able to move between brands, WWE focused far too much on what it believed to be its biggest names, which led to repetitive storylines and dozens of its wrestlers being left off TV for weeks on end. 

Soon after its new TV deals began, the company held a WWE Draft that split its rosters between Raw and SmackDown. In the seven months that followed, WWE did a commendable job keeping its rosters separated and provided storyline reasons for the few occasions in which superstars needed to move from one show to another.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, WWE not only released two dozen members of its talent roster along with office staff a few weeks ago, it has a number of other superstars who have chosen not to work at this time.

Most prominent among them is Roman Reigns, who was expected to win the universal championship from Goldberg at WrestleMania 36 but instead chose not to participate in the event due to his wife recently giving birth to twins. On Monday night, Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch announced she was pregnant and subsequently relinquished her title. That’s WWE’s top two stars now unavailable for the foreseeable future with Lynch’s fiancee, Seth Rollins, likely to take time off late in the year due to her pregnancy.

WWE has been struggling to fill its five hours of weekly programming with engaging superstars, often using talent being trained at the WWE Performance Center — where it is taping its main roster programming — to fill in the gaps.

With a more relaxed brand split now instituted, WWE at least has the ability to feature more prominent names across its shows and fill talent gaps where they exist. For example, McIntyre, a babyface, does not have a strong roster of main event-level heels to work with in the title picture; being able to bring over to Raw a couple names from SmackDown (like Corbin) could alleviate that issue.

It remains to be seen whether this latest crossover will be successful for WWE — either in terms of ratings or storyline development — but while it may be criticized by those who remember the “wildcard rule” of 2019, it is likely a necessary move for the company at this time.

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