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Crowd reactions and what being over truly means

I was inspired to write something based on our own Geno Mrosko's discussion on Twitter about people being over and many of the questions raised therein about what overness -- that's what we'll call it -- even means, and how much crowd reactions really matter.

One of the questions was whether overness only matters when it comes to positive reactions, and used that to spin off in a discussion of Eva Marie, and her value, because she gets strong negative reactions.

I wouldn't say it only matters when it comes to positive reactions, but it does definitely matter more for positive reactions. The reason for that is simple: positive reactions can only tell you one thing. "I am happy to see this person!" Loud positive reactions are good, because the more people who are happy to see a person and the happier they are typically means the more people are tuning in or buying a ticket to see that person. It's why even though John Cena gets loud negative reactions, he's a huge draw, because his positive reactions are so euphoric from the 50-percent of the audience that is incredibly into him. Those reactions show you that that 50-percent is most happy to see Cena out of anyone, and thus it's most likely that he was the impetus for their purchase. As does the house show draw data, of course.

On the other hand, when it comes to negative reactions, those can be saying two things. For one, they can be saying "I love to hate this person!", or better yet "I paid to boo this person!" which is valuable, or "I'm not interested in seeing this person, please go away!" which is less valuable. Deciding which is definitely a difficult thing to measure, of course. It's easy to say that someone is getting so called "X-Pac heat," but it's hard to judge the veracity of that.

To spin off based on another discussion point that came up, the question of whether there's a difference between getting negative reaction because you're a heel, and getting it because you're not liked, and Geno asked the question "If they're making the same money off it, does it matter?" And it absolutely does not, but that question in and of itself raises a different question: Are they making the same money off it?

I would say the answer to that is no, or at least not necessarily. People in an audience booing an act are something of a captive audience. They already bought a ticket for whatever reason. If they bought the ticket to boo a particular act, then that is of course valuable to WWE, even if that act is presented as a babyface, because the money is the same. If they're just booing because they're already there and don't like seeing the person, and bought the ticket to boo a different heel or cheer a babyface, that is less so.

Eva is a good example of that, potentially. From reports of the NXT live events, often people leave to go to concessions during Eva Marie's matches because once you're not getting your chance to loudly boo her on television to get yourselves over, the point of watching Eva is kind of dissipated, because she's not very interesting, especially in the ring. Once there's no TV product, then you're just watching a bad wrestler be bad, and that's not particularly fun, I don't imagine, when you can watch better heels entertainingly antagonize you or babyfaces excite and compel you.

With all that being said, crowd reactions are not a direct indicator like some want it to be when saying "this person should be pushed" or "this person shouldn't." It certainly has some value as an indicator (given the way quarter hours and YouTube views and merchandise sales do at least correlate to live reactions, generally speaking) but amidst the signal, there is a lot of noise. The reason for this is it's a three hour show, and there are many different acts. So when it comes to buying a ticket especially, you may be buying that ticket to see five acts you love and/or love to hate, you're still sitting there for the rest of the show regardless even when people you don't like come on screen. You can't really change the channel from the stands. Your only recourse is sitting on your hands and booing if you're trying to prove a point. That also applies to positive reactions, too, though. You can still cheer someone because you like them, but not necessarily that you like them enough that they were the reason you bought the ticket.

Daniel Bryan is a fantastic indicator of the whole spectrum of the value of crowd reactions with the concept of being over. In the summer and fall of 2013, Daniel Bryan was certainly extremely over among live audiences, but was it in a positive way from a business standpoint? His ratings gains and PPV buys seemed to indicate he was popular and valuable, but not nearly at a top guy level. His ratings gains were still way behind guys like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and CM Punk.

After the Royal Rumble match though, his positive effects on business changed, while his crowd reactions remained the same because the feud with Triple H, Stephanie, Batista, and Orton got him over in a way where people actually were tuning in explicitly to see him and buying tickets to see him at house shows (and presumably Raw/SmackDown/PPV) at a greater rate (even in 2015, during his short-lived return, he was the best house show draw on average, including Cena, albeit with a small sample size). During that feud, Bryan's segments pulled the highest quarter hours of the show, beating out even Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. Most notably, the peak of Occupy Raw in particular was pulling The Rock (post-2011, obviously, not Attitude Era) level gains. And even after that feud (to control for the fact that Trips, Steph and Batista are gainers in their own right), one of my favorite numbers in tracking how big a star Bryan had become after WrestleMania 30 was that a Brie Bella vs. Paige Divas Championship match had the show-high rating just because Bryan was standing at ringside. And this was while Bryan was feuding with Kane, of all people. That, my friends, is something valuable from a business standpoint.

But was he more "over" among live audiences? If anything, his greatest live reaction to this day was before the Royal Rumble match, in Providence, Rhode Island when he turned his back on the Wyatt Family. If value can change so drastically when crowd reactions don't, then that at least suggests crowd reactions and value have correlation without causation, at best.

So all in all, the short version I suppose is that I do think overness as a heel and as a face does have different considerations to it, and the latter is more of a direct indicator of value, but neither form of crowd reaction, or crowd reaction in general, comes close to telling the entire story about how valuable a performer is and how much they should be pushed.

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