Sunday night at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view (PPV), a WWE beleaguered by injuries, disappointing financial numbers and rocky investor relations took its bread-and-butter business back to an reliable base when it put its most prestigious title on John Cena.
It was a move that made most harcore fans and industry observers shake and nod their heads at the same time. Another Cena championship is instant joke fodder, but also hard to argue with when you see crowds where 30-50% of the audience is wearing neon green t-shirts.
Forbes SportsMoney staffer Chris Smith decided to see if there was an argument against the company's decision to put hustle, loyalty and respect back at center stage in response to Daniel Bryan's injury and a lack of WWE Network subscribers. His article "Is Making John Cena WWE Champion What's Really Best For Business?" looked at five years of WWE Quarterly Revenue numbers (adjusted to account for an average 25% spike in business every second quarter that coincides with WrestleMania) to see if the bottom line benefited when "the champ is here".
Smith freely admits that he's just looking at trends in one of several possible ways, his methods aren't exactly scientific and his conclusions far from conclusive. He's only looking at revenue, not profit, and the company's intake includes movies and DVD sales that have nothing to do with what happens on Raw - without getting into the fact that fans may tune in to or out from the product for reasons other than the championship storyline.
But his numbers are interesting, and can be used in the ongoing "Let's Go Cena"/"Cena Sucks" debate - especially by those anxious to see his time at the top of the card come to an end.
While the article itself takes you through the raw numbers and adjustments he makes to get there, the core of Smith's analysis is this chart:
Cena's only title reign that coincided with a period of rising revenue was almost five years ago, in the third quarter of 2009 (Smith omits when he held one of two WWE championships during 2011's "Summer of Punk" and his win at Elimination Chamber in 2010 that was immediately followed by a Mr. McMahon-mandated match with Batista where he lost the title). Meanwhile, Randy Orton, often a non-factor when it comes to ratings and PPV buy rates, has held the WWE Championship for substantial amounts of the revenue growth periods over the last half decade.
The quick take is that WWE Champion John Cena is not a revenue producing character, or for the sake of a headline, not best for business. But the spikes during Orton's reigns, and the trend during CM Punk's epic 434 day run, reveal a potential reason for the drops during the Cenation leader's time with the main belt around his waist.
An old pro wrestling adage, "the money's in the chase", might explain Smith's numbers. While the McMahon-owned WWF/E has typically deployed unbeatable babyface champs like Cena, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight title was often controlled by a heel who the fan favorite good guys of each territiory would constantly be striving to knock from the throne. It's why Jim Crockett Promotions/World Championship Wrestling (WCW) kept the belt on Ric Flair for the better part of the 1980s.
Unlike his time as World Heavyweight Champion, Orton's WWE title runs have been as a heel. After his initial surge as a fresh face, and babyface, CM Punk's time at the top only coincided with a period of increasing revenues after his heel turn at Raw 1000.
All of John Cena's time as champ has been while portraying WWE's version of Superman - the ultimate good guy.
Maybe fans don't want to pay to see what happens after the hero wins - they only want to see his struggle to defeat the villain?
WWE and pro wrestling fans have passed a lot of time debating John Cena - his talents, his legacy, his impact on the business and the art form. Chris Smith's analysis, nor our analysis of his analysis, are going to settle those debates.
But it does provide some highly flammable material for the fire.
What's your take on John Cena's, or the face/heel alignment of the WWE Champion's, impact on WWE's business, Cagesiders?