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Best For Business (6/25/15): Is Dean Ambrose The Future Of WWE?

What's happening, fellow smarks? We're back this week for another edition of the nerdiest column here on Smark Henry, Best For Business, where we talk about the numbers and metrics behind this industry we love so dearly.

We have three big things on deck for this week's discussion:

  1. The latest look at the top ten bestselling items on WWE Shop
  2. A deeper dive into which Superstars the WWE is betting big on
  3. The most literally talked-about Superstars in the last 30 days

Let's rock.


WWE Shop: Can KO Hold Off The Beast?

WWE doesn't release absolute volume or value of items sold on their online shop, but it does allow you to sort merchandise based on overall popularity. We don't know what the covered period is, but it does give us an interesting point-in-time look at which Superstars are literally being bought into by their fans.

Last week, we talked about how Kevin Owens was dominating the WWE Shop merchandising sales, beating out both John Cena and Brock Lesnar not only for the top spot with his swank new KO logo shirt, but the total number of merch items on the Top Ten Most Popular chart.

So in case you were curious whether KO could keep it up, here's how today's list on WWE Shop goes.











So for yet another week, the reigning NXT Champion held off the challenge of Brock Lesnar for the top spot on the list. But unlike last week, where we saw a total of four Kevin Owens shirts on the list, we're seeing just one. Conversely, Brock Lesnar's Suplex City revenge tour seems to be picking up steam, with both the generic and Cleveland editions cracking the top ten, while his classic Beast Incarnate shirt makes its return to the rankings.

And how about Roman Reigns? The Big Dog looks like he's riding a wave of momentum as he eases into his latest feud with Bray Wyatt, placing two of his shirts in the top ten. Meanwhile, his former Shield stable-mates and co-main eventers at Money in the Bank a couple of weeks back Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have shirts on the list as well, while both Samoa Joe and John Cena make token appearances again.

It continues to pleasantly surprise us how well Kevin Owens' shirt continues to sell, and we'll have to keep an eye out on whether the WWE takes notice and rewards him with a U.S. Championship win over defending champion John Cena at the upcoming Battleground show.


Who is WWE Betting Big On?

One other interesting metric to look at on WWE Shop is how much merchandise the WWE has created for a particular Superstar or Diva. It costs money to design, produce, and warehouse each unique piece of merchandise, with a certain minimum order quantity for each, so as a rule of thumb, we can safely conclude that the more merchandise a particular talent has, the more money the company is willing to invest in him or her.

Once again, we sent Buezzy, the Smark Henry House Elf, over to manually audit how much merchandise each talent currently has in stock, and to be frank, we're not exactly astounded by the results.

Out of the 500+ unique pieces of merchandise available for sale on the site, John Cena is the runaway winner with 118 pieces all to himself. That's more than the next three talents on the list have combined—Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Daniel Bryan!

One hundred and eighteen pieces of merchandise. Imagine that.

Of course, it isn't all great merchandise. When you're shilling such spectacular merch as a pink "Keep Calm and Never Spit Up" onesie, you're kind of just admitting your dignity is up for grabs.
But how profitable is Cena compared to his fellow WWE talents? In principle, the ideal situation would be a Superstar who tops the charts with just 1-2 premium-priced, high-margin items. As mentioned above, it costs good money just to be warehousing a huge range of merchandise for just one particular talent, so you would hope that the bulk of his items are priced high to deliver a fair profit.

What we did then was to compute for the average selling price of the top ten merch items of the top ten talents on the previous list. And this is where we realized that while Cena might have a giant merchandising empire all to himself, he might not be as profitable on a per-piece basis.

As you can see on the list, the average price of Cena's top ten most popular pieces of merch is at just $13.99—roughly half what the average bestselling merchandise from a Seth Rollins or an Undertaker could secure.

That's not entirely John's fault though. It seems like the WWE believes so strongly in his salability and popularity that he has such low-priced items as a $1.99 pendant or a $3.99 baller band available for sale—perfect, perhaps, for gifting to younger fans.

Most of the other talents lack this diversity of merchandise, featuring mostly $24.99 t-shirts and $39.99 hoodies in their lineups, which explain the relatively higher average price for the rest.

It's interesting to note as well that out of the dozens of talents with merchandise available online, two-thirds of total unique pieces are contributed by just eleven men. We can suppose fairly then that these are the designated merchandise-movers and cash-cows of WWE management for the foreseeable future.

But HEY! It's a nice vote of confidence that Dean Ambrose has the second most merchandise available for sale. It looks like the WWE has been respecting the monster pops he's been getting regularly, and has invested accordingly in making sure fans have all the Lunatic Fringe merchandise they can handle.


Who's The Talk Of The Town?

We mentioned last time that we wanted to step away from the trite discussion on how TV ratings for WWE RAW these days don't match up with what it used to pull in during the Attitude Era, and focus on how much Twitter discussion a particular show could generate. Based on the Nielsen TV Twitter rankings we surfaced last week, we demonstrated how RAW is the most socially-active regular series today, with the most fans tweeting the most about the content they watch, making it the number one regular show by this new measure.

We wanted to take this measure one step further and figure out which Superstars today are actually getting talked about the most on Twitter. Our premise of course is that if a wrestler matters strongly enough, he should be discussed more often on social media.

So we took a quick look at select wrestlers and how often they were mentioned over the past month all over the world. Here's how the list looks.

Unsurprisingly, John Cena topped the list. Love him or hate him, the most polarizing talent in the history of sports entertainment is always on the tips of our collective tongues, and the numbers prove that he remains to be the most talked-about man in the industry today.

What shocks and surprises us—in a great way, we might add!—is how Kevin Owens is actually the second most mentioned wrestler on Twitter today. Looks like his stellar win over Cena cradle-piledrivered him solidly into our consciousness, and the fact that he's been discussed more often than even Brock, the ultra-popular Ambrose, or WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins is a spectacularly positive sign.

Having said that, we think it's pretty awesome that the former Shield members all rank in the top six of the list. People weren't kidding when they said those three dudes were the future of our industry, and based on frequency of social mentions, that's a prophecy that's well on its way to coming true.

The thing that gives us the sads though is how Daniel Bryan has proven the out-of-sight, out-of-mind principle to be true. Despite his massive live pops and smart fan appeal, he's gotten discussed roughly one-sixth as much as either Cena or Owens in the past month. We're hoping the man makes a full recovery, regardless of what Bret Hart may have said about his career being over, and proves that he still belongs at the top of our industry.


It's been a pretty heavy session this week, but we do love the trends that we're seeing.

Merchandising sales seem to foretell a solid sustained breakout push for Kevin Owens in his burgeoning major league career, while it looks like the WWE will be betting big on Dean Ambrose to be a tremendous part of their future plans. Social chatter is high on Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns as well, and it looks like there's no stopping the KO freight train to success, as he was the second most mentioned wrestler on Twitter in the past month.

Can you imagine a world ruled by those four men? We can, and it's amazing. It's a great time to be a wrestling fan, and we here at the Smark Henry offices are locked into how the future will unfold for the industry.

And really, at the end of the day, that is what's Best For Business.


Mark De Joya (@MDJSuperstar) is an advertising professional and brand strategist by day, but dreams of being the Vince McMahon of the Philippines by night. He writes anything to do with numbers for Smark Henry: People Power, our weekly fan survey, and Best For Business, our regular financial report. With 18" arms and a 300-pound squat, he is also the official bouncer of the Smark Henry offices. 


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