WWE Backlash is the first co-branded minor PPV since the company split the roster between Raw and Smackdown in Summer 2016. WWE is marketing this shift, from single-branded to co-branded, as a benefit to their fans: "Hey guys! It's twice the star wattage on every PPV!"
Make no mistake; this is not what WWE wanted. The company envisioned two independent brands to each garner high ratings, sell tickets, and increase WWE Network subscriptions. Co-branding is an admission that the original plan didn't work, and the single-branded PPVs weren't making enough money to justify their existence.
This is bad news, overall. There are only 9-10 match slots on each three-hour PPV, and guys like Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, and Braun Strowman, who pull in the eyeballs and the big bucks, are always going to be PPV mainstays, as they were at Backlash. There were several talented individuals like Finn Balor, Asuka, Ronda Rousey, The Bar, Matt Hardy, and Bray Wyatt who were not featured on Backlash at all. Hopefully, they will get a featured spot on the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV on June 17. Multi-person format PPVs, like Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank, will be the easiest way to feature many superstars at once, moving forward.
But between the talent that was featured at Backlash this month and the absent A-list talent that must be featured next month, the mid-to-lower card of the roster has a dwindling amount of real estate. These were the guys who benefited most from the brand split in the first place. They will be the ones to suffer most, now that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction.
The PARTY keeps getting better as @WWENoWayJose brings the conga to the @PruCenter... #WWEBacklash— WWE (@WWE) May 7, 2018
Oh hey, @TitusONeilWWE @WWEApollo @DanaBrookeWWE @MmmGorgeous & @WWEFandango! pic.twitter.com/qZTubDItGV
At Backlash, WWE Creative adjusted to this new reality--of figuring out a way to feature the lower end of the roster in non-match roles. They succeeded, as best as they could, with a silly, yet entertaining skit.
Elias was the first man to appear. He's a heel now, but WWE will have to turn him face eventually. The WWE fans have taken to the guitar-playing hipster; the cheers regularly outpace the boos, and the audience chants his catchphrases along with him. Even when he started insulting the home crowd with his New Jersey/Bruce Springsteen jokes, the crowd laughed along instead of turning against him. When he refused to play, fans cheered; when he went back to his stool, they booed. He worked the crowd by alternating back and forth, and the audience played along. Cheer, boo, cheer, boo, cheer, boo. By moving his leg, Elias got a bigger response than the main event between Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe.
Then, The New Day--Xavier Woods, Big E, and Kofi Kingston--came out with pancakes, a trombone, a massive marching drum, and a pair of cymbals. They wanted to play a song with Elias, but after exchanging some barbs, Elias declined the offer tried to play again.
New Day was followed by Aiden English and Rusev, who continued the musically-inclined interruptions. Aiden performed his singing intro for Rusev Day, and Rusev came out to thunderous applause. Elias, losing patience, cut them off too, and attempted to play again.
Then, No Way Jose came out, leading a conga line with Titus O'Neill, Apollo Crews, Dana Brooke, Tyler Breeze, and Fandango. Elias finally blew his cool. And after Elias tried to play one more time, Bobby Roode got into the ring and executed the Glorious DDT. The segment ended with Roode and New Day joining the conga line as Rusev and English looked on with a mixture of contempt and horror. Roode attempted to twerk and made an ass of himself (pun intended) on the ramp along with The New Day and No Way Jose.
Ostensibly, this segment got more talents involved in the show, but these were not random cameos either. Rusev defeated Elias in the Mixed Match Challenge before Wrestlemania. Elias eliminated Kingston and Woods at Greatest Royal Rumble. He defeated Bobby Roode on April 30. Every main player in the segment had Elias as a common denominator, which gave this comedy skit the unity it needed, lest it go off the rails.
There were 13 superstars involved in this one segment, and every one of them got a pop from the hot crowd. In fact, they each got much more of a reaction than Jeff Hardy or Randy Orton did in the match that directly preceded this. The crowd, based on their response, enjoyed the segment more than the Reigns vs. Joe main event, which had many audience members literally headed for the exits. It's not an ideal scenario for these superstars, who would rather be fighting in an actual match. But it's better than sitting backstage and watching the monitors. At the very least, it keeps their names in fans' minds.
The switch to co-branded PPVs inevitably hurts the long-term booking and exposure of the mid-to-lower card. But so long as WWE is committed to this direction, the writers should insert at least one, maybe even two, multi-person skits among the actual matches. Make them high energy and funny, and they could minimize the damage that co-branding does and will continue to do.