What Is WWE Thinking Putting NXT on the USA Network?

The WWE is always thinking about money, as all companies do. If there is a dollar to be made, Vince McMahon will listen. The decision to put WWE’s best product, NXT, on television was a decision based entirely on monetary gain. According to the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, the WWE will make around $60 million over the next two years by having the yellow brand transition to the USA Network. McMahon himself was quoted saying, “Over the long term our goal is to develop a following that can be monetized to the same level as our flagship programs, ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown.’ ” If McMahon didn’t think this move would result in more profits he wouldn’t do this. McMahon wouldn’t shakeup his only universally beloved show, the highest-rated WWE Network show to boot, if the money wasn’t right. Why fix what’s not broken? Money. Pitting Triple H’s baby against AEW’s new Wednesday night program was likely just an added bonus. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to Vince if the two-hour program suffers in quality because it’s on television, the hardcore fans are going to watch it anyway, and his company prints more money. 

Nevertheless, it’s a shortsighted decision from a shortsighted decision-maker. It should come as no surprise that McMahon would make a move like this ahead of AEW’s launch on TNT this fall, but money and Cody Rhodes’ promotion aside, why else? The beautiful thing about NXT has always been that its shows are two hours and its WWE Network specials are limited in matches. Triple H and that staff understand that less is more. With more wrestling available than ever, getting pro wrestling fans to want to watch more professional wrestling is a difficult proposition. The three hour episodes of Monday Night Raw are hard enough to sit through as it is, but to then have another two-hour program the night after, by Wednesday night the average fan should have absolutely no interest in watching more of the WWE product -- but they do. We know they do because the program is the highest-viewed program on the WWE Network. You don’t see Johnny Gargano every week. You don’t see Bianca Belair each week. You don’t see Undisputed Era each week. No, you get a little bit of what you want each week and then the company gives you everything at a TakeOver down the road. It’s a beautifully simplistic product that is about to become exhaustingly overcomplicated. With NXT going live and for two hours each week, you are going to see those previously mentioned wrestlers every week. You are going to feel like you’re watching a standard WWE product, not an outlier, and that’s a shame.

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The other major pitfall of moving NXT to USA is that storyline cohesion can only take a hit. Sure, Triple H and friends may still be running the show, but if you really believe you aren’t going to see “Vince and/or Triple H made major changes to the NXT script the week-of” articles on the dirtsheets, I have a timeshare in Orlando I’d like to discuss with you. This is no longer a niche thing like 205 Live continues to be. This is now a televised product that will have more figureheads seated at the table. They are going to have differing opinions and those differing opinions will result in a muddled, disappointing product. It’s inevitable because there will be too many cooks in the kitchen, similar to how much better a two-man booth is than a three-man booth is. Less is more. Now that NXT will be live, the company will be monitoring how certain segments stack up against AEW on Wednesday nights. The show will be more reactionary, less thoughtful. The pressure is different and the expectations are heightened. With NXT being pre taped, storylines weren’t interrupted on a whim because of a bad ratings week. One of the things that makes TakeOvers the best pro wrestling event in the world has been how so many of the matches resonate with the fans on an emotional level. The performers were given weeks of proper build so that when it came time for a TakeOver the anticipation was there and fans were chomping at the bit for a final resolution. 

And then you have the size of the NXT roster. Is it really big enough now to support a two-hour program that you want to challenge AEW on Wednesday nights? Maybe a year or so ago, but now, this former farm system has been pillaged. As cool as it is to have Tyler Breeze back in NXT, this is something the yellow brand needs now -- former talent returning to Full Sail to add much-needed depth. Before the move to USA, the company will need to send more back to Orlando. You will need The Ascension there to job to the Street Profits on a random November episode, and you will need most of the 205 Live roster popping up on NXT to make the latter’s talent look good. You will need to sign more talent in general. (Also, can we please close NXT: UK and move everyone who wants to remain with the company to Full Sail. Please?) NXT is the best wrestling show in the world, but it’s never more limited in the star-power area than it is now. The WWE will have to move some bigger names back to NXT -- I’m looking at you, Finn Balor -- and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens sooner rather than later. This show needs more star power when it moves to USA, and that means more bodies from Raw and Smackdown Live.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about NXT moving to USA is how it relates to AEW. Like I mentioned earlier in the piece, everything comes down to money and with NXT and thriving on the WWE Network for years now, a move to television was probably going to happen sooner rather than later anyway. If the company thinks they can monetize more things they are going to try and monetize more things. NXT has always had the potential to make a lot more money for the company and now we’ll find out for sure if that really is the case. But what Chris Jericho said about the move rings true, that, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the WWE doesn’t need to worry about AEW. Like Roman Reigns and the other top guys in the company have been saying, there is no real competition for the WWE -- they are simply too big to fail now. So why try and stick it to an upstart promotion that isn’t challenging your main shows time slots? Why make it seem as though you are reacting to their moves when you are the top dog in the industry? Making the argument that this move makes the WWE seem insecure is a fair one -- especially when you consider the timing. If AEW does well that doesn’t hurt the WWE. It just means more people are watching professional wrestling. The fans who watch NXT on the WWE Network are going to watch AEW, too. They are going to watch New Japan. They are going to watch other promotions because the content is everywhere and it’s easily accessible. So why make moves in a way that makes you seem ostensibly nervous about another promotion when you already have a stranglehold on the industry? It’s just more shortsighted behavior.

So we know why the company is putting NXT on the USA Network, and it rhymes with “blonetary”. Still, it’s sad that the best pro wrestling program on the planet will change. The pre taped, short-and-sweet feel will be a thing of the past. It will be a different show on a different network that goes on for a different length of time, and that’s sad because it didn’t need to change any of these things. Nothing needed to change. That isn’t how things work in the real world, though, and the yellow brand was really just a victim of their own success. We still have a few more weeks before the move, but it already feels like the era is over, an era that was highlighted by undisputed excellence.

Chase Thomas is an independent sportswriter based out of Atlanta, Georgia. You can email him at chasethomaspodcast[at]gmail.com. Let’s talk.