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Best For Business (10/24/15): The Hell In A Cell Heat Check

What's good, Henrinites?

We're a couple of days away from the Hell in a Cell, and while it's literally anybody's guess right now as to who will be walking out victorious from the night's events, we figured now would be as good a time as any to test the waters and see which specific wrestlers you, the wrestling fans, are actually rallying behind in the home stretch through your conversations online and the merchandise you're actually buying—two key metrics that tend to show in an obvious, simple way which Superstars and Divas the WWE Universe happens to love at the moment, and is spending their precious Internet time and shekels on.

So let's do this. Hell in a Cell heat check: activate!

One reason why we don't tend to panic over free-falling WWE TV ratings is this newly-released Nielsen study that shows that perhaps the reason why the numbers are dropping is because today's American millennial consumers—the advertising sweet spot that most major brands like the WWE are trying to capture—are actually watching less TV than they used to.

The numbers are bit a hard to digest, so we'll just drill down to the most essential fact: In 2015, people are watching an average of around 2.5 hours of TV each day, as compared to 3.5 hours a day back in 2011. In fact, a related study tells us that 1 in 4 people aged 18-34 (again, the WWE's sweet spot for growth) don't watch television at all.

We've said this before, but we'll say it again. The major problem isn't that people are watching less wrestling; they're watching less television in general.

This doesn't necessarily mean that people as a whole are revolting against media and taking to the great outdoors for some good ol' active living. If you look at the succeeding chart, you'll see that throughout the average day, even as TV viewing starts to peak during the 6-10 p.m. prime time window at the expense of radio, people are still using their smartphones and tablets at an essentially unchanged rate—a phenomenon known as "second screening," which suggests that even as the TV is on, your typical audience's attention is divided between what's actually on the big screen sitting in the living room, and the online conversation happening on the various social media platforms, or related content that can be seen on YouTube or other sites.

So in this kind of world, it becomes obvious that your measure of real success when it comes to the media consumption habits of today's Twitter-obsessed, second-screening millennials isn't just "how many people are watching," but "how many people are actively watching," as measured by who they're actually talking about through their iPhones and Galaxy Tabs.

We took a quick dipstick to measure which WWE talents are generating the most online mention over the past few days, and it's no surprise who came out on top.

That's right, Henritos, HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA, and love him or hate him, the reigning U.S. Champion gets mentioned more online than the next nine wrestlers on the list combined—a line-up which includes Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, the Undertaker, and the Hell in a Cell event itself. If we correlate mentions with relevance, you could argue that Cena is six times more relevant than the next closest member of the roster.

What discourages us in this particular chart is how massively Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose have fallen from the last time we did this sort of check; we know that these are two dudes that have gotten fans to fall in love with them organically, but it appears that their current storylines haven't been enough to be talked about as much as before.

Poor Seth Rollins though. He's the fourth most-discussed talent on the roster, but his opponent for HiaC, Kane, can't even crack the top ten on this list. Kane has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, but fan reception to this feud seems lukewarm, at best. Let's let the poor guy move on to a feud deserving of his talent.

It's nice seeing Nikki Bella among the ten most-discussed wrestlers over the past few days—for all the flak the #DivasRevolution has taken lately, at least one woman continues to be building her name value. Too bad we can't say the same for the reigning Divas Champion Charlotte; that's one woman that definitely doesn't seem to have the IWC going "Whoooo!"

But this is all a discussion about talk, and talk is cheap. Whose merchandise is actually selling the most? As always, we took a look at WWE Shop's usual listing of best-selling items to get an indication on which wrestlers have fans actually showing the money to support their favorites.

John Cena's "15X" shirt

Cesaro's "The Professional" shirt

Kevin Owens' "KO Fight" shirt

The Dudley Boyz' "Get The Tables" shirt

Nikki Bella's "Fearless" cap

WWE "Rise Above Cancer" shirt

WWE Divas' Championship toy belt

The New Day's "Power of Positivity" shirt

The New Day's "Feel the Power" shirt

Finn Balor's "Balor Club" shirt

Based on this listing, it seems like the most passionate fans are those of current NXT Champion Finn Balór, whose shirt consistently appears in our regular tracking.

Frankly, it's shocking not to see the usual merch dominance of Brock Lesnar—his Suplex City shirt in all its variants was a perpetual chart-topper as well; his new "Go To Hell Tour" shirt doesn't even appear in the charts until the #17 spot. Is the Beast Incarnate losing his mystique, or are people just not liking the shirt?

We love the New Day here at the Smark Henry offices, and we're exploding with positivity over how they've claimed both the #2 and #3 spot with their shirts. So much for the myth that heels don't get fans buying; these three gentlemen have inexplicably won the fans over with their antics and trombone serenades, and look to be a mainstay on the bestsellers' list for some time to come.

And how about the Divas division? We're pleasantly shocked to see both the Divas Championship toy replica and Nikki Bella's cap on the top ten. Can we take this as foreshadowing the results of the Divas Championship match at Hell in a Cell?

And by the way, a quick note to everyone who says Cesaro can't connect: His shirt is outselling John Cena's right now. #justsaying

Having said that, John Cena still has the most merchandise out of the 1200+ items listed on WWE Shop, but Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, and Roman Reigns are close behind. 

In fact, 20 Superstars, Divas, and Legends have over half of the total items listed on WWE Shop, with the balance spread among the remaining 97 talents on the roster.

Simply put, nearly 60% of the total items being sold are divided among less than 20% of the talents.

To be honest, we're appalled at how little merchandise Seth Rollins has to his name, even after his seven-month reign as WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Way to go with the confidence, WWE. At least Dean Ambrose is still riding high with the second-biggest range of merch behind him, which shows a massive investment in the company in his character. But we do wish they'd actually decide once and for all whether they want to push him to the top or not; the dude isn't even on the announced card for the big show. 

So connecting the dots and putting the pieces together, who does it look like has the most fan support riding into the weekend's pay-per-view? 

John Cena is the most talked-about Superstar in the WWE today, and the gap between him and everyone else is astonishing; if his surprise challenger for his U.S. Open Challenge is going to get anyone talking, it had better be Dean Ambrose. He's the highest-profile remaining athlete without a match, and has a merchandise empire to move. A big win would help the "Lunatic Fringe" get his shirts and hoodies back on track. 

Nikki Bella is the only relevant Diva today, based on both online chatter and merchandise sales. We hate to err on the side of predictability, but if the WWE wants to keep the division relevant, she needs to be the one walking out with the belt. Sorry, Charlotte. Space Mountain is a tough legacy to follow. 

The New Day have tons of merchandising potential to ride—we're still waiting for our replica trombone, dammit—and will probably be among both the most-booed and most-loved Superstars at Hell in a Cell

Kevin Owens has cooled down remarkably among fans since his red-hot debut on the main roster, and isn't talked about as much as his opponent, Ryback. But at least he's still outselling him in terms of merch, and that probably means the WWE will be milking him for more merch revenue by keeping him in a high-profile reign as InterContinental Champion. 

Roman Reigns is consistently on the tips of fans' tongues, and has tons of merch to move; that doesn't bode well for Bray Wyatt, who will probably be losing not because he's a lesser competitor, but because the power of the dollar speaks louder than his epic rants. 

And finally, Brock Lesnar and Undertaker are literally in a dead heat in terms of fan relevance; the match could go either way, but we'll have to give Lesnar the slight edge, if only because he owns the third-highest amount of merchandise to move. The WWE may as well take this opportunity to monetize him while they still can, given his limited role on the roster. 

That's it for this pre-HiaC edition of "Best For Business," fellow smarks. Do you think we're on track with our predictions based on the momentum each talent is bringing into the show? Leave us your thoughts, and we'll have a good conversation over them. 


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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