WWE promised that Vince McMahon would reveal the biggest talent acquisition in SmackDown history on this week’s episode, and boy, did he deliver.
After the blue brand lost top stars AJ Styles and The Miz, among others, to Monday Night Raw on night one of the Superstar Shakeup, it landed arguably the biggest full-time star in WWE, Roman Reigns, on night two. For the first time since Reigns debuted on the main roster in November 2012, he will officially be a member of SmackDown, and WWE’s decision to move “The Big Dog” from Raw is really telling, not just in regards to how highly WWE views Reigns but about the future of what has always been portrayed as WWE’s No. 2 show.
Yes, SmackDown’s acquisition of Reigns is a surefire that it is no longer the B-brand. Indeed, SmackDown is now the A-show in WWE.
When WWE announced its blockbuster TV deals for Raw and SmackDown last summer, a pair of long-term contracts that will earn WWE at least $2 billion over the course of the next five years, many fans noticed that WWE referred to SmackDown as its “flagship show,” which wasn’t an oversight or a mistake on WWE’s part. For more than 26 years, Raw has been WWE’s No. 1 show, at least in part because fans have been conditioned to know that Mondays are for Raw, that many of the biggest storyline happenings in WWE occur there and that WWE has largely prioritized that show more than SmackDown since the latter was launched in 1999.
At least in terms of the booking of its product, SmackDown has been significantly better than Raw for three-plus years, even though Raw has typically had WWE’s “biggest stars,” depending upon who you ask, of course. Yet, SmackDown has made the most out of its talents in a way that Raw rarely does, and now, the blue brand has the added advantage of having not just Reigns but also Finn Balor and Elias, who join what is already one of the most talented rosters in SmackDown’s storied history.
Over the course of the past year, viewership for both Raw and SmackDown has plummeted by more than 25%, and though the former has been WWE’s top priority for the past two decades, that has changed. As it should. In just six months, SmackDown will make the jump to FOX in what will be a huge move for WWE. As part of a four-day block of sports programming on its new home, SmackDown will, barring a minor miracle, have a significantly bigger audience than Raw from that point forward, which is why WWE had no choice but to send Reigns, Balor and Bayley to a brand that is certainly no longer the forgotten stepchild of WWE.
SmackDown already has many of the most popular acts and most talented superstars in WWE, including but not limited to Daniel Bryan, Kofi Kingston and The New Day, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, The Hardy Boyz and Randy Orton. Throw in the acquisition of Reigns, and it’s clear that WWE is laying the foundation for the blue brand to surpass the red brand not just in terms of overall quality (which it’s already done) but in terms of star power and potentially its TV viewership down the road as well.
It’s a necessary move on WWE’s part, too. The USA Network already knows what it has with Raw, which continues to be one of the network’s most consistently reliable programs and one whose audience dwarfs those of the average USA Network show. Even though Raw’s viewership hasn’t been great over the past few years (and especially over the last year or so), Raw offers something unique to USA that it won’t find elsewhere: A live show that airs 52 weeks per year and has a large audience.
Thus, WWE could afford, both literally and figuratively, to make a move that some might consider a risk by moving Reigns, Raw’s biggest star for roughly four years, off the show. In fact, it has to. SmackDown, after all, faces the very real possibility of cancellation if it doesn’t perform well on FOX, which means that WWE has to do everything in its power to ensure that it doesn’t fail there. Ultimately, that will come down to booking a quality product with engaging storylines and compelling stars.
But it starts with the need for star power, which is something that Reigns certainly gives the blue brand. Raw will be just fine with the likes of Seth Rollins and AJ Styles rounding out the top of its card, but the days of the red brand being the clear-cut No. 1 show are coming to an end.
Reigns is a SmackDown star, and The Big Dog’s yard is now the place to be.