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Lotto Fever: Insanity vs. Simplicity...
Plus Weekend Newsbites
March 19, 2004

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


The words and language do not exist so that I could adequately convey my hurt and rage.  Hurt that the Flyers apparently didn't want to win a basketball game last night, even after being handled ample opportunities in regulation and the first OT.  Rage that the referees were either incompetent or had no intentions of letting us get a win (we even had a table of DePaul people behind us last night who couldn't believe their good fortune on that front).  And some unlabeled third emotion directed towards our actual opponent, and specifically the second Diener to make us his bitch in the last few years, who chose to not quite suck enough to let us steal a victory and advance so we could get our ass handed to us by UConn.  

But on the upside, my pain is over for another 9 months.  Maybe even a year and 9 months.  I honestly do not expect to be here in 2005 talking about the Flyers and the Big Dance.  We're graduating 5 guys, including 3 starters, and as good as people say our 6 freshman are, I don't think they're gonna carry us much further than the NIT.  You think that's false modesty or intentionally lowering my expectations?  Wrong!  In this very spot one year ago, I predicted good things (including a Maui Championship) for the  '03-'04 Flyers mere hours after the Tulsa Debacle.

And of course, if we suck next year, I'll be passing the savings on to you, the Home Viewer.  By doing things like actually getting straight to the point!  For instance, today, that would mean excising those first two paragraphs and getting right to the part where I tell you that we've got a column in two parts today.  First, some thoughts and analysis of the WWE Draft Lottery.  And then to close out, a handful of little newsbites for your weekend reading.


OOpinion: the Draft Lottery

I've had a little bit of time to let my thoughts simmer.  On Monday night, I think I popped into the chat room long enough to utter the phrase "taint of desperation" with regard to the lottery announcement...  with a few days of hindsight, I've softened a bit on that front.  Although I will maintain that any excuse to say "taint" is a good one.

I do have lingering concerns.  I'm still not 100% sold on the motivation to announce something as sweeping as the Draft Lottery.  But I've also decided that there are some Outs here, that there could be some good to come out of this.  I'll try to run through a few of those options here.

But first, to sum up: my main problem with the announcement of the lottery is that I have a crystal clear vision in my head of its genesis.  It's a guy in a board room hearing the news that "70% of our audience is loyal to only one of our brands," who immediately sprints down to the writers' room and tells them "Hey, we're scrapping the brand split so we can try to trick more people into watching both shows."

I don't begrudge WWE the chance to maximize its audience, not at all.  But I'm not sure this is the way to go about it.  For all my snide remarks about do-overs and deja vu earlier in the week, the fact is this: the Fed botched WWF vs. WCW badly, and took several months before they started getting RAW vs. SD! right.  But once they got it right -- by doing a final roster shuffle and giving each show its own, dedicated staff of writers -- we've been going down a particular path...  

RAW is live, and surprise-laden, and more storyline-centric.  SD! is taped, but makes up for it by generally being more athletically-based.  RAW has a roster of women who are extremely capable inside the ring, and has a title belt for them.  SD! has (most of) the Cruiserweights on the roster, and a title belt for them to fight over.  To me, the "70 percent are brand loyal" stat is a testament to a job well done, not a problem that has to be overcome.  It means that fans actually view the entirely manufactured "brand" distinction as real and significant. 

The idea that WWE wants to make viewers less brand-loyal means breaking down some of the hard-won brand distinctiveness.  They want to make SmackDown! less-SmackDown-y so RAW viewers might watch it, and vice versa.  Even in theory, not even getting into specifics, I hope that rings false to you at a very base level.  The "Best Case SmackDown!" is a very different show from a "Best Case RAW."  I need look no further than last fall, when SD! deviated from its usual formula and infuriated fans during a feces-flavored Big Show/Eddie feud.  That was more of a "RAW thing"; it would have sucked just as bad on Mondays, mind you, but it would have been a little more in context, and therefore, less monstrously frustrating.  By contrast, RAW audiences seem to have less stomach for 20-plus minute wrestling matches; it's LIVE, baby, and they EXPECT Crash TV-style pacing.

Since this is the internet, you probably read between the lines there, and think I'm making a value judgment.  Like "More wrestling is good, Crash TV is bad."  But I'm not.  I appreciate all facets of the product, provided they are well done.  To that end, I cheer for RAW to be the best RAW it can be, testicular electrocution and all.  But I also cheer for SD! to be the best SD! it can be, 20 minute matches that put a portion of the audience to sleep notwithstanding.  And this idea of dismissing those unique elements to get more people to watch both shows?  Well, that dog don't hunt, Monsignor.  

And yet, here we are: arguing over whether this is, theoretically, a good idea or not is pointless.  It's happening on Monday night.  What we CAN fruitfully discuss is how to implement the move most effectively: trying to retain the brand distinctions that have been built up over time while still making enough major changes that fans might be motivated to become less brand-loyal.

That, more than anything, is the real issue during Monday's Lottery.  How does WWE reconcile the need for sweeping change (as promised by Vince McMahon) with the equal need to stay the course and retain the things that have made each brand successful on its own?  Insanity vs. Simplicity, that's the real battle.

What would be simple?  Easy, a few cosmetic changes, maybe just two or three roster trades to cover for the fact that SD! has lost a top heel (and has two more, Angle and Show, in injury limbo).  But you'd go nuts if the Fed tried to pull that on Monday.  They promised "a new WWE," and even if it makes completely logical sense, you don't want simple.

What would be insane? Actually pulling the trigger on a completely new roster alignment, breaking up tag teams, obliterating title lineages, and shunning the unwritten rules like "women on RAW can wrestle" and "cruisers should be on SD"...  a Brand Lottery like that might make for a real fun time on Monday night, but on Tuesday, with the afterglow long extinguished, you'd be getting really upset over the sweeping changes.

It almost seems like a lose/lose scenario, a suspicion that is only strengthened when you start hearing things about the Lottery being a new invention, something they schemed up over WrestleMania weekend (although, as mentioned on Wednesday, I have my doubts about that, as well).  I've already outlined some reasons why such a decision might not be all that wise, but you make it this quickly, this rashly, and the chances for a well-thought-out execution of the plan drops substantially.  If the Lottery had been under consideration for weeks or months, then maybe I'd have more faith that WWE had some Out in mind that would adequately address my concerns.  But rushing into it like this?  I'm not sure I like my chances.

Then again, they can't possibly frick it up any worse than they did when they took MONTHS getting ready for the first Draft or the WCW inVasion, can they?

Even with only a week of consideration and advance thought, I hope a few things are obvious.  My "ground rules" for Monday night would include a handful of simple guidelines like: 

  • All champions should stay put.  The title lineages are already screwed up enough, we don't need tag teams breaking up or any other wackiness.  The only possible exception: a "champion for champion" trade so that the WWE Title (currently on SD!) joins the IC/tag titles that have a WWF lineage on one show, while the other show has the World Title and US/tag titles that are ostensibly linked to NWA/WCW.
  • Tertiary titles dictate that the ring-capable women like Victoria, Molly, Trish, and so on stay on one show, and also that the vast majority of Cruisers must stay together on one show.  I don't care if you flip which show they're on, but the groups shouldn't be broken up.
  • MOST tag teams should remain together.  Attempts to break up the Dudleys and the APA with the first draft failed miserably.  'Nuff said.
  • Announcers/support staff should not be up for grabs.  JR/King and Tazz/Cole are, for better or for worse, as integral to the unique flavors of each brand as anybody.  Secondary concern: Cole has worked hard to become tolerable with Tazz as his partner.  If their chemistry was tossed aside, I'd have nightmares in which Cole and Lawler attempted to work together....
  • And along similar lines: leave the GMs in charge.  Bischoff is an excellent smarmy heel.  Heyman is unique in that he's outstanding as a heel, but when necessary, he can bust out a certain "smark" credibility because of his ECW roots and book fan-friendly matches, which is EXACTLY what a ringwork-focused show like SD! needs.  I guess the corollary here is "No Stephanie, yet, please, I'm beggin' ya."  I think I like her way more than most on the 'net, but that's because I dig her heel work.  Unfortunately, her heeling is a bit more one-dimensional and Vince-esque than Heyman's heeling, which puts her a notch lower on the depth chart for me.  I say wait and bring her back after a longer absence, and it'll mean more.

But I set those rules, and it probably sounds like I'm lingering WAAAYY too close to the Simplicity side of the Simplicity/Insanity continuum.  Which I don't mean to do.  Actually, I have a couple of things that I'd REQUIRE be changed and shaken up, too:

  • Undertaker and Kane NEED to end up on the same show.  Having Kane doing nothing other than Obligatory Non Sequitur Appearances So He Can Be Molested By The Spirit of the Undertaker and then a 2 week cameo in the Jericho/Trish/Christian thing should be all the evidence I need to present to convince you he needs an extended feud.  And Taker's the guy to give it to him.
  • SOME tag teams SHOULD be broken up.  Rene Dupree, for instance, seems like he'd benefit by going off on his own and developing a character other than "Generic French Guy."  The Bashams are currently Guys What Like to Be Dominated, but their dominatrix is gone, so the gimmick it pointless; break them up, try 'em as singles. I'd also be a big fan of breaking up Hurricane/Rosey so that Hurricane can go join the other Cruisers and Rosey can... well, do something, I'm sure.
  • Austin should be given Free Roaming Rights.  He doesn't work matches, so it's not like having to do both tapings every week would effect his house show availability.  And nobody on the roster is more reliable in terms of popping a crowd.  Let him go with the flow: spend more energy on one show when his storylines there are clicking, with only token appearances on the other show.  Stone Cold could pull it off, and the "sheriff" gimmick is open enough to allow him to try it.
  • The ultimate goal is to create lasting cross-over appeal so that the Fed's audience is no longer 70% brand loyal.  So some element should be introduced in the lottery that facilitates ON-GOING interpromotional storylines.  Austin the Free Roamer is a start, but is not enough all by himself.

Those ground rules in place, I think we can talk about a couple different schemes for how to make The Lottery work on Monday.  More specifically, I think we can sort of leap frog over the mechanics of the actual lottery and move on to the more pressing issue: how the changes and attempts to force fans to be less brand-loyal continue to work beyond Monday.  

With that in mind, I'm not gonna do anything like an actual "Fantasy Draft" like I did for past WWF/WCW and RAW/SD!.  The mechanics of the draft aren't really the point on Monday.  How the draft moves us into a new era of more interpromotional storylines is.  So what I'll do is present a handful of general ideas for how the Fed could use Monday's Lottery as the starting point of a process that creates lasting cross-over appeal between the brands.  We'll start at the "simplicity" side of the spectrum, and work our way over to the "insanity" side.

Idea #1: Creation of Free Roamers

Already, I designated Steve Austin as one of these...  but the best case scenario would involve actual active wrestlers being able to appear on both shows, having real feuds with locked-in members of each brand.

After you align the rosters with the draft, maybe what you do is have a handful of people get upset.  Here, I'm thinking most specifically of HHH, maybe all of Evolution.  They "secede" from the brand split, plead their case to Vince McMahon (or, if the time is right, unveil Stephanie McMahon as their ace in the hole), and somehow come out of it as a free roaming Uberfaction.  

The specifics could be done differently, but basically, I think that all you'd have to do to create a faction of free roamers would be to have a McMahon give it the stamp of approval.  Stephanie making up with HHH, on screen, would be one way to create a heel faction.  To balance that, Linda McMahon could rubber stamp Austin or somebody else as a babyface roamer(s).  

I think this is an exceptionally easy solution to create lasting cross-over appeal.  You shuffle the rosters a little bit, abiding by my ground rules so that the brand distinctions remain intact...  then all you do is layer on a small handful of workers who go between shows, creating intertwined storylines but not adversely affecting the distinctiveness of either show.  I also think the concept of free roamers is adequately "big" that fans would accept it as a major development...

Idea #2: Back to a Unified Champion

This is tied to Idea #1 in so far as the core of the concept is that you create one unified champ who is then obligated to appear on both shows and defend his title against the best of both brands.

The bond between the brands is tightened because everybody on both shows is fighting for the same thing: the Unified Title.  The cross-over appeal is greatly increased because your top guy is appearing on both shows every week.  This would also close the "Rumble Loophole" that was never adequately explored by WWE (they used it this year, but in my mind, the cooler thing to do would have been to spend the past two years building up the Rumble as a shot not just at the WWE Title, but also at Free Agency, since you'd be allowed to pick which title/brand you wanted).

There is also a benefit from having a structure in place for your top star to be on both shows: you catch lightning in a bottle, and instead of limiting that new megastar to one brand, you can pimp him on both.  Another possible benefit: the unified champ gimmick would create an unofficial way of "trading" talent between shows, as a guy could win the title and become a free roamer, but then lose the title to somebody on the other show.  The ex-champ would then be obligated to take the roster spot of the new free roaming champ, even though he USED to be on the other show.

If, as part of the Lottery, Vince announced a plan to return to a single Unified Championship, I think that would be an actual Block Buster Announcement (unlike a month ago when he promised the moon, but delivered three already-expected interpromotional matches).  And tell me that a summer-long Benoit vs. Eddie series to determine who should be the single Undisputed Unified Champion wouldn't kick all kinds of sweet, sweet ass.

I was gonna do a paragraph about how the same thing should be extended to the tag titles, but upon further thought, I think that'd be a bad idea.  Each brand should retain its own tag title, I think...  a single free roaming Unified Champ is special.  A free roaming single champ and a free roaming tag team becomes unnecessarily complicated and sloppy and reduces the special-ness of the Unified Champ.

Idea #3: Season Mode

OK, so now we're DEFINITELY getting away from simplicity...

Think about it: there's already an informal "WWE Season" that ends at WrestleMania every year.  What if they actually codified that, and announced that this Draft Lottery would be an annual event... that every year following WM, the two brands would shuffle up their rosters?  

Not only would this create an annually-shifting set of stars on each show (which again has the effect of making fans less brand-loyal if they want to follow their favorites from year to year)., but I think you get a secondary benefit in the form of WrestleMania becoming even more special every year.  The closure of major storylines becomes even more pronounced if you can say "Not only is this a match that has been months in the making, but it might be the last time these two are even in the same arena for the next year!".  I think that'd be pretty sweet.

Now, as if shuffling up the rosters once a year wasn't complicated enough, I'll go you a step further.  I actually did a brief summary of this a few months ago, I think on the OO Forums...  but now I'd like to bring it out to the Masses.

To bring a "Season Mode" in line with my basic ground rules for maintaining the general distinctiveness of each brand, I would actually model it loosely on baseball's "Rule 5 Draft."  Baseball teams can only protect 40 players every year: every other player in their farm system is essentially up for grabs in a "Rule 5 Draft" every season.  It's actually a bit more complicated than that, and there are sanctions on the drafting team if they don't put their new player on their major league 25-man roster, and stuff... but the main idea is this concept of "protecting" a certain number of guys, but putting everybody else up for grabs.

What I'd propose is that every year after WM, each brand protects 10 men/women (as outlined above, all support staff and GMs and stuff like that should be locked in, and aren't up for grabs).  The General Managers are obligated to protect anyone who holds a brand-specific title, and then can add on either 5 or 6 wild cards.  Everybody else on each show goes into a pool and is drafted, maybe right back to their old brand, but maybe to the alternative product.

It's a bit complicated, but you get a lot of cool things out of a Wrestling Rule 5 Draft: you can shake up the rosters every year, you can make WM an even bigger event with more closure, you can do storylines with guys petitioning the GM to be "protected" (or to NOT be protected, even), and you still keep the signature stars in place on their brands because they get protected and kept on their current show.  A bit of insanity every year, but without the danger of losing the distinctiveness of each brand.  I like it.

Idea #4: All Out WAR!

This is, by far, the most outrageous of my little schemes.  On Monday, both rosters assemble.  They do the draft (again, sticking to the basic guidelines I set forth).  But then, instead of going back to peaceful co-existence with only occasional sniping potshots by commentators, things heat up.

Maybe the GMs are pissed about losing top stars to the other show.  Maybe the actual talent are pissed about having to switch homes.  But the end result is a series of escalating attacks, invasions, and general fuckery.  WWE says they have 70% of its audience locked in to one brand.  So instead of trying to get them to become equally big fans of the OTHER show, how about roping them in so they can cheer for their brand against the other?  The 70% loyalty means that fans actually do perceive a significant difference between the brands, that they are not just one homogenous "WWE Product," so I say capitalize on that by putting the two brands at actual odds.

You could run a war as a one-time storyline.  Maybe an arc that spans an entire year (or "season"), and then goes away.  But that's not what WWE is trying to accomplish with this lottery... so you should probably do it as a more sustainable thing.  After the initial "invasion" process, create the structures for on-going cross-brand feuds.  Create a unique honor, some kind of Cross-Brand Title that can only be defended four times per year (on the "joint venture" PPVs).  Put that title on the line four times per year, but also take advantage of the chance to do something like "Team RAW vs. Team SD!" at Survivor Series, or maybe even to bring back King of the Ring.  Basically, every three months, you ramp up "interpromotional" storylines so the joint venture PPVs all have 2 or 3 cross-brand matches.

I half-jokingly mentioned this right at the start of the Brand Extension, but if you go for War, I might push for it in all seriousness:  for the Joint Venture PPVs, I think you should handle tickets/seating like an actual sporting event, and set aside sections for fans of each side.  Give fans the opportunity to buy seats in the SmackDown! zone or the RAW zone.  Maybe each section would only comprise 10% of the arena, and the vast majority of tickets would still just be General Interest Fan Seating, but I think in those little sections, you'd have "seeds" of really enthusiastic fans who could set a tone for a show by being really loud and fired up  I think that'd be a very productive way of utilizing the "70 percent loyal" audience, and also of creating a unique atmosphere for the joint venture PPVs.

Again, my four little theories here are not meant to be armchair quarterbacking of the actual lottery...  rather, they are designed to get to the core of what WWE is trying to accomplish with the lottery: brand cross-overs that get more fans watching BOTH shows instead of just one.

The lottery itself may be fun or it may be a disappointment (like the one two years ago)...  if they stick to some of my ground rules, I'll probably be pretty satisfied.  But the real value of the lottery won't be known for months, until we hear during a WWE Investor Conference Call if the brand-loyal viewers are down to 50, 40, or 30 percent of fans.

My schemes are surely not the only ways the Fed might head down that path of cross-over appeal, but I think they're pretty sound ones. This'll be a fun situation to watch develop, starting on Monday night.... 

Weekend NewsBites

  • Well, my first little note-to-self says "a few SD! thoughts"...  but due to other obligations last night, I still haven't watched the show.  So I'll recuse myself from talking about SD! at the present time.
  • What I can tell you about SD! is that it scored a 3.4 prelim rating, which is back to where prelim ratings have generally been so far in 2004.  The final rating oughta be in the 3.4-3.6 range, a return to the norm after last week's 3.3 (a rating, I was told in a few e-mails, that was probably impacting by a number of pre-emptions for conference tournament basketball in a number of markets).
  • Ron "Faarooq" Simmons and WWE have parted ways.  The decision was made earlier this week, and confirmed today by WWE.com.  At this time, I haven't heard any solid word on what precipitated the move, although the expected range of theories is well-represented on the rumor mill.  
    This leaves Bradshaw back on his own.  Which is kind of a scary thought, if you remember the ill-fated attempts to over-push him as a singles guy after the first roster split....
    Hopefully I'll have more on the reasons behind Faarooq's release on Monday...
  • In support of next week's release of a special edition DVD of "Beyond the Mat," Jesse Ventura will be doing a live chat on MSN on Tuesday night.  You oughta bookmark this link, and be sure to stop in at 9pm (eastern) on March 23.  It'll be a cool chance to hear Jesse talk about wrestling and tell some old stories...  it's been a long time since Jesse has embraced his wrestling roots, so getting to chat with him about something besides politics should be fun.
  • "The Rundown" also comes out on DVD next Tuesday, so wrestling fans will have a couple of interesting options at Blockbuster...  I thought "The Rundown" was a really good piece of brain candy, so it's worth a look if you missed it in the theaters.
  • Speaking of Mr. Hollywood... the Rock was recently quoted in USA Today as saying he'd consider following Arnold Schwarzenegger's career path all the way into politics.  Oy.
    Here's the link so you can read all about it yourself.
  • And while I'm handing out links.... Here's one that  I whole-heartedly endorse: Bill Simmons' WrestleMania XX Recap.
    The periodic wrestling columns done by former OO fan Simmons are always well worth your time.  This one is no exception.  There's a reason why he's a professional writer for ESPN and I'm Johnny Obscurewebsite: I sit around and make lazy "metrosexual make-over" jokes about Batista, but Simmons turns around and dubs Batista "on loan from Vivid Video," which is way funnier.
    So check it out.
  • Another link!  This time, for pictures, not stuff you actually have to read and, like, think about and junk.
    The next Diva Magazine is coming out next month, and WWE is letting fans pick who gets to be on the cover.  They've mocked up 16 covers, and you can vote on which one you like best.  Go here to vote.
    My inner cynic can't help but think this is all a joke, that there's no way the Fed hasn't already decided who'll get the cover... but what the hell: any chance to try to screw up their data by voting for Ivory out of habit, and I'll do it.
    Actually, Ivory's is one of the hotter-looking ones.  Gail's is pretty outstanding, too.  To my surprise, I was also a big fan of Sable's and Nidia's: both score huge Looking Hotter Than Usual points.  At the other end of the spectrum, they somehow managed to get a shot of Victoria that almost completely fails to plumpen the ol' wang, which is a travesty.
  • Last thing for today is kind of a funny item I just got in e-mail...  apparently, Donald Trump is attempting to trademark "You're Fired."  He filed the paperwork this week.
    In the article covering the attempting patenting, the writer says that there are three other pending attempts to trademark "You're Fired."  I'm too lazy to check myself, but I couldn't help but wonder if one of them might be Vince McMahon...

  • Alrighty, I think that's it for this week.  See you on Monday.


Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

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