The WWE brand extension is a kayfabe division of WWE into distinct branches. WWE has promoted its core business of professional wrestling through such brands, named after their two major television shows Raw and SmackDown. The first brand extension began in March 2002 and ended in August 2011. A third brand existed between 2006 and 2010 for their television show ECW, which was a revived version of the former promotion.
- Superstar selections
- Interbrand competition
- Pay per views
The first brand split ended on the August 29, 2011, episode of Raw, when SmackDown stars began to regularly appear on Raw. However, due to a great influx of talent from their developmental brand NXT, the brand extension was revived on July 19, 2016, when SmackDown began broadcasting live on Tuesdays. Wrestlers are allocated to a brand via an annual draft.
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 during 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 and Ring of Honor 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 named after the promotion's two primary television programs: Raw and SmackDown.
The original plan was to relaunch WCW (which would be an independent entity in the storylines but would be under the WWF's auspices in reality) and for this new WCW to find a time slot on TNN (now Spike TV) for two hours on Saturday night. These plans were eventually scrapped due to WCW's reputation of losing money and the Saturday night timeslot would eventually be given to WWF Excess (later, WWE Velocity and WWE Confidential).
After failing to secure a television timeslot, another method was for WCW to take over Raw or SmackDown and use the show to recreate its WCW counterparts, Nitro or Thunder. This experiment was first made on edition of July 2, 2001, of Raw in Tacoma, Washington when the final 20 minutes was given to WCW, in which the Raw crew was largely replaced (with Scott Hudson and Arn Anderson doing commentary, as well as a major stage overhaul). The audience in the Tacoma Dome, however, did not hold the WCW segment in high regard, especially when WWF wrestlers Kurt Angle and Stone Cold Steve Austin interfered at the end of a match between Buff Bagwell and WCW World Heavyweight Champion Booker T. With WWF focused on splitting its roster and plans for both WCW brand and timeslot scrapped, the Invasion storyline was used as a second resort.
Because of the early termination of the storyline after the 2001 Survivor Series, the WWF executed their alternate plan, which was to separate the two shows themselves: previously, wrestlers appeared on both Raw and SmackDown, but with this extension, wrestlers would be exclusive to only one show. Only the WWF Undisputed Champion and the WWF Women's Champion were exempt and could appear on both shows.
The extension started on March 25, 2002 with a draft on Raw and went into effect one week later on April 1. 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.
On March 17, 2002, World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Chairman Vince McMahon announced that the company would represent its business of professional wrestling through two distinct brands named after the WWF's weekly television programs, "Raw" and "SmackDown". This was a direct result of the acquisition of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), the WWF's primary rival corporations throughout the 1990s, that resulted in the addition of numerous talent to the extensive WWF roster.
In terms of storyline, Ric Flair had become fifty percent owner of the WWF following Survivor Series 2001 after Shane and Stephanie had sold their stocks to him in order to purchase WCW and ECW, respectively, a campaign to launch the Invasion script. Original full WWF owner Vince McMahon detested having to share his creation with Flair and sought to dissolve their partnership. Simultaneously, Flair was engaged in a feud with The Undertaker and wanted to conclude it with a bout at WrestleMania X8. However, the WWF Board of Directors would only allow the match if Flair returned full ownership back to McMahon. Flair agreed, but the Board stated that it would review the WWF's status and ownership following WrestleMania.
In continuation with storyline, the Board's ultimate decision was to split the entire WWF roster into two separate entities, with McMahon in control of the SmackDown brand and Ric Flair in control of the Raw brand. All WWF wrestlers were to be assigned to a brand based on random selections conducted through a mock–draft lottery. On the March 25, 2002 episode of Raw, the WWF Draft was held, in which each owner received a total of thirty picks.
The 2002 WWF brand extension draft took place at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania on March 25, 2002. The first half of the draft was televised live on TNN for two hours, as part of the WWF's flagship program, Raw. The second half was conducted over the Internet on WWF's official website, WWF.com. There were thirty draft picks, with sixty superstars drafted overall by co-owners of the WWF, onto their respective brands, Raw and SmackDown. The remaining superstars were divided randomly in a draft lottery, with each brand receiving a grand total of thirty superstars.
On the March 25, 2002 episode of Raw, Vince McMahon won a coin toss to determine who would receive the first draft selection.
The brand extension was officially enforced on April 1, 2002. Stone Cold Steve Austin was made exempt from the draft by Linda McMahon, but later opted to sign with Raw. A month later, the WWF was sued by the World Wildlife Fund over the WWF acronym. This resulted in the company being renamed from "World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc." to simply "World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.", which caused all of the WWF's assets to be properly renamed and branded. The Flair and McMahon feud came to an end on the edition of June 10, 2002 of Raw, when McMahon became the sole owner of WWE by defeating Flair in a No Holds Barred match. Following the situations with the brand extension and name change, by having two brands in place, the WWE was able to increase the number of live events held each year from 200 to 350, including tours in several new international markets. Even after the ending of the brand extension, WWE continues to have two touring live event shows, one featuring the reigning WWE World Champion (and/or WWE Universal Champion) while the other usually features longtime face-of-the-company John Cena or another popular main event-level wrestler such as Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose (if Cena is injured or the reigning champion).
After McMahon became the sole owner, the owner role was replaced by "General Managers". For Raw, he announced the new General Manager for Raw would be Eric Bischoff, and for SmackDown, Stephanie McMahon. On the same night when he announced Stephanie as new General Manager, he also stated that a free agent period has started and any Superstar could sign with the other brand. This continued until the fall of 2002. On the September 23 edition of Raw, Bischoff announced that the roster was frozen and the only way for a wrestler to move was to ask for a trade.
After World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. bought all of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW)'s assets 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.
The 2006 WWE brand extension draft took place from the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington on May 29, 2006, where ECW representative, Paul Heyman, drafted two superstars, one from SmackDown and one from Raw onto the newly created ECW brand.
†Tazz, The Big Show, and Randy Orton were not drafted, but defected to their respective brands.
In late 2007, SmackDown and ECW superstars began to appear on each other's shows as part of a (kayfabe) deal between then-ECW General Manager Armando Estrada and then-SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero.
In addition to the talent exchange between SmackDown and ECW, an exchange between Raw and ECW was announced in September 2008.
On February 2, 2010, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon announced that ECW would air its final episode on February 16, 2010. The ECW brand was disbanded after the final show, with every ECW wrestler becoming a free agent and eligible to join either the Raw or SmackDown brands.
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, in 2003, 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 WWE 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.
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 the year 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 are involved. The only exception to this was in February 2017 and March 2017, in which February only had a SmackDown pay-per-view and March only had a Raw pay-per-view. This was due to the build up to WrestleMania 33 in April 2017.
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 the Undisputed Championship became the WWE Championship again and was moved to SmackDown, prompting Eric Bischoff to create 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 they revived the United States Championship. The end result was each brand having four championships: World Heavyweight, Intercontinental, World Tag Team, and Women's for Raw; WWE, United States, Tag Team, and Cruiserweight for SmackDown. When ECW was revived in 2006 as a third brand, the ECW World Heavyweight Championship was reactivated and was 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 Anonymous General Manager 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.
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 WWE United States Champion, and the WWE Tag Team Champions, while SmackDown drafted the WWE Champion and the WWE Intercontinental Champion. 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, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley introduced the WWE Universal Championship to be Raw's world title; the WWE Championship was subsequently renamed to WWE World Championship (but reverted back to the former in December 2016). As SmackDown was lacking a tag team championship and a women's championship, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan introduced the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship and WWE SmackDown Women's Championship. Subsequently, WWE renamed the WWE Women's Championship and the WWE Tag Team Championship as the WWE Raw Women's Championship and the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship, respectively. With this, each brand has 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 was the exclusive home of WWE's cruiserweight division, they also created a new WWE Cruiserweight Championship for their brand. As of 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 intended to be the top championship of an as of yet announced WWE Network show to be produced in the United Kingdom. In the interim, it is being defended on NXT.