Is merchandise the best way to tell who is a draw in wrestling now? One thing that I will say is that I do believe it gets underrated by people who think Wrestler X should turn heel just because they are stale in those people’s opinions or because “Wrestler X would make a great heel.”
The television rights fees are fixed and while WWE wants to stay the same or get higher ratings because they are going into negotiations for a new television deal, turning someone heel who is making money through merchandise is risky because the money is already there (for the television deal). The company has to replace that money somehow. I do not believe in turning someone because they will probably get booed….that means nothing in comparison to actually drawing money.
Yes, turning a person heel can potentially draw higher ratings which can be then leveraged for a comparable or maybe even a better television deal in the next negotiations. Yes, turning a person heel can help with network subscriptions. Yes, turning a person heel can help boost attendance. Yes, turning a person heel can lead to a program with a babyface who may do even better merchandise numbers. The key word is “can.” When someone is doing well in merchandise sales (someone like Enzo Amore or New Day), then it is a calculated risk to turn them. The reason why Amore and the New Day stand out for the merchandise sales is because they are better than average. I don’t know if they are better than average for anyone on the card or for their spot on the card, but people would not be talking about anyone’s merchandise sales unless they were strong. If they are strong, then it is making the company money and I would have a hard time messing with that. If a company does make a change, they better be right.
A few things here. First of all, ideally the goal would be to catch something before it gets stale. At the same time, stale is a subjective and intangible measurement. When there is television every week, people are more likely to say something is stale…that does not mean the masses feel the same way. Even if many people feel an act is stale, that still may not be a good enough reason to take an entity that is making X amount of money on merchandise sales and making that X/2 or X/3 or X/10 by turning that entity heel.
Secondly, yes heels sell merchandise, but it seems to me that most of the heels that sell strong merchandise do so because they started as heels…not people who turn heel…at least in WWE. I have no problem with “cool heels”, they could probably make more money in today’s climate than traditional heels. At the same time WWE markets to children and they script the wrestlers to say things that will make people think twice about buying their merchandise. Actually I want to stop there because that is a different discussion entirely.
Thirdly, I am not saying never turn anyone heel and I am not saying that anyone who has strong merchandise sales should not turn heel. I am saying if it is better than average for their spot on the card…there really should be a plan to make that money back before turning the person heel. The plan could be having a really strong storyline that would get people willing to go to the arenas or buy the Network. The plan could be to have someone else on the roster (whether they are going directly against the new heel or not) doing strong merchandise sales because they are going to get a bigger push. The specifics of the plan are less important than the idea of the plan drawing money to replace the money you are losing.
I am against turning someone because of potential crowd reaction (the heel may get booed) because crowd reaction is secondary to making money and going back to the beginning of this post…we may have reached the point where the only way that wrestlers in WWE can make a difference is buy selling a t-shirt.
One last thing…I have no problem wearing wrestling shirts in public. At the same time, it is a hangup for people who are big wrestling fans so it is better if wrestling shirts do not look like wrestling shirts…that is hardly profound, but I thought I would bring it up.