WWE’s NXT brand, at its core, works with hardcore wrestling fans because it’s inherently different from WWE’s big brands of RAW and SmackDown. The show tapes from Full Sail University, a smaller and much more intimate setting compared to WWE’s large arena productions for its “main roster” shows.
NXT airs on WWE Network and is one-hour long. Oftentimes, the biggest stars on the brand don’t even appear on the show weekly. If they do, they rarely wrestle. NXT is a throwback to when pro wrestling was booked at a much slower pace, and it was built around the big shows.
All of that is about to change.
According to multiple reports, including from Dave Meltzer at The Wrestling Observer, WWE is considering taking its NXT show off of the WWE Network, and airing it live for two hours every Wednesday night on the USA Network.
No big deal, right?
WWE can say whatever it wants, but there’s no question this move was done in an attempt to counter-program AEW‘s launch on TNT. WWE programming against AEW isn’t the issue. That’s almost to be expected. The issue for fans of NXT is that the things they love about the brand may no longer exist once the show makes this rumored move to cable television.
In an attempt to program against AEW, and with the addition of a second hour, the stars of the NXT brand will have to be on the show more, and they’ll certainly have to wrestle more. That means over-exposure, which is what has made WWE’s main-roster stars feel so meh in recent years. No one is special because we see everyone, all the time.
In addition to that, Vince McMahon is totally hands-off with NXT right now. If you asked him, I’m not sure he could name five NXT wrestlers. He watches NXT Takeover specials (maybe?) but I don’t think his interest stretches any more than that. Just look at how NXT talent has been booked on the main roster once they’re elevated. They’re usually not treated very well.
But if NXT is head-to-head against AEW, on a major network like USA, you bet Vince is going to be very hands-on. Vince’s fragile ego isn’t going to be able to handle an upstart like AEW beating one of his properties in a TV rating war, even if it is his third developmental brand. Kevin Dunn’s production quirks, which irk many of the fans who have tuned out WWE, will be front and center, I imagine.
But even if McMahon and Dunn don’t get their grimy fingerprints all over NXT, it’s still going to be inherently different than it is now, which has made the brand so popular. Well-paced stories with longer matches in a one-hour show won’t be the norm anymore. In order to go head-to-head with AEW’s star power (the Young Bucks, Jon Moxley, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, etc.), NXT is going to have to present its top stars on TV more than it does now. That’s going to water down their appearances.
Look at Takeover: Toronto, which aired last week prior to SummerSlam. Johnny Gargano was barely on TV headed into his main event against Adam Cole for the NXT Championship. He took part in some angles and we saw him interviewed, but how many matches did he wrestle? How many matches does Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins wrestle on TV ahead of a PPV main event?
WWE is smart to program NXT against AEW on a major cable network (NXT always had a Wednesday timeslot). If they win, they can brag that their developmental brand beat AEW in the ratings. If they lose, they have the built-in excuse that it’s their developmental brand, and they can claim that RAW or SmackDown would easily beat AEW on TNT.
The strategy is smart.
But what effects will it have, long-term, on an NXT brand that has exploded in popularity? An NXT brand that targets the same portion of the audience as AEW?
Here’s my prediction … if WWE can keep NXT what it is now, with Triple H having 100 percent control, the show will do well against AEW on TNT. If Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn turn it into another cookie-cutter WWE show, AEW on TNT will draw more viewers. And, it might not be close.
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