Earlier this week, John Cena's discussion with POWER Magazine founder Mark Bell got the internet in a tizzy based on quotes from the 15-time World champion saying WWE would never turn his pro wrestling character heel.
The man himself didn't go into any detail on why it will "never happen", as he told Bell over and over in a YouTube video of their conversation that was taken down shortly after it was posted. But it doesn't take an MBA to figure out that it comes down to one thing - money.
The latest edition of The Wrestling Observer newsletter (subscription required, but recommended), confirms as much:
...the idea of turning Cena heel would be mind-bogglingly stupid. The key is merchandise.
With Bryan and Punk gone, Cena's merchandise was recently and may still be outselling the entire rest of the roster combined.
Heel turns kill merch sales, not to mention ticket sales to kids, which make up a strong percentage of the WWE audience and the Cena shows this year were doing more than $60,000 above the non-Cena shows in ticket sales (and shows without Cena are doing well below the usual levels for house shows in the cities they have been in while Cena shows have not).
Think about that for a minute. One guy's product generates more sales than the gear associated with everyone else. Even if we only go with the names listed as "Current Superstars" on WWE Shop, that's 42 other men/groups - 50 if we count women with merchandise.
As Geno said, "that's INSANE".
Heel turns kill merchandise sales. There's no way around it. Most of those folks wearing the latest color in Cena's Rainbow Coalition of shirts will stop buying if he is a villain.
Meltzer points out that heel turns can raise gate revenue. The most famous example of this, and the one sited most often by fans hoping for evil Cena, is Hulk Hogan's transformation into Hollywood Hogan in WCW. But babyface Hogan had worn out his welcome in a way that Cena hasn't - his merchandise sales were at all-time lows.
The other component that has to be there for a turn with a top guy like Cena to be successful is for an almost-as-hot young babyface to be present. That's why the Bret Hart/Stone Cold Steve Austin double turn circa WrestleMania 13 was such a success. It's also why Austin's heel turn at 'Mania X-Seven was a business disaster - With Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson already on his way to Hollywood stardom and Triple H opting to join Austin rather than oppose him as a top face, there was no one to fill Stone Cold's boots, or fan's hearts.
The Observer again:
Austin's turn, no matter how entertaining it was, led to huge drops in attendance, ratings and merch sales and the company never got back to previous levels. WCW attempted turns with Sting and Goldberg were such flops they flipped back every time within a few weeks.
With CM Punk gone, Daniel Bryan's future a complete unknown and Roman Reigns a ways away from being ready, a Cena turn now would likely meet the same fate. Given the close eye that Wall Street is keeping on the company's financials since the mixed bag that the WWE Network launch has been, it's highly unlikely Vince McMahon would risk messing with his cash cow.
Even in a perfect scenario where Bryan was still around and reaching new heights of popularity, there's some question of whether or not influential partners like Make-A-Wish would want to squash any plans to make John Cena a bad guy. It's unlikely that charities, and children's cereals, and cartoon franchises will be interested in featuring a villain, even if fans are buying tickets to wrestling shows in order to boo him.
While a WWE with top heel John Cena being chased by internet wrestling community (IWC) favorites like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler sounds good to us, and having Cena's character evolve would certainly make for a more satisfying story, there doesn't appear to be much (or any) case where it's the right move for the company's financials.
So, expect more hustle, loyalty, respect and never giving up. Because in the final analysis, it remains what's best for business.
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