WWE is reintroducing a brand extension program where its male and female wrestlers will compete exclusively on either its RAW or SmackDown shows.
The wrestling corporation said that both shows will carry its own roster of performers, and will soon broadcast a “draft” to reveal which programme each performer has been allocated.
“This bold move will have major ramifications for all of WWE and exemplify the New Era, as both Raw and SmackDown will each feature their own unique rosters and rivalries following an imminent Superstar draft,” the company said.
— WWE (@WWE) May 25, 2016
It is expected that both sets of rosters will be united at WWE pay-per-views such as SummerSlam and WrestleMania.
The brand split comes as part of a wider shake-up to WWE’s television programming business, with USA Network set to air SmackDown live on Tuesdays. It also comes in response to a long-term downturn in live TV viewership figures for both shows.
USA Network, which also airs RAW on Mondays, currently broadcasts taped episodes of Smackdown on Thursdays. The schedule changes will commence July 19.
“WWE’s flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV,” said Vince McMahon, the corporation’s chief executive.
He added: “This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world.”
For a nine-year period between 2002 and 2011, WWE had operated under a brand extension program where SmackDown and RAW each had their own wrestlers.
Such a major shake-up of the business raises more questions about both RAW and SmackDown, such as whether each show will feature its own Championship belt, and whether they will also be carried by an on-stage general manager.
Currently, RAW is kayfabe co-managed by both Stephanie and Shane McMahon, which opens up the possibility of one of Vince’s heirs moving to SmackDown.
The WWE retired its World Heavyweight Championship belt in December 2013, after a unification match between its holder at the time, Randy Orton, and the WWE Champion John Cena.