October 04, 2011   |No Comments

NFL to Bengals Fans: Enjoy Your Blackouts and Your Horrible Stadium Deal

In the last 20 years, the Cincinnati Bengals have only made the playoffs twice, losing in the first game both times. And those are the only two winning seasons the Bengals have had in the last 20. So it should come as no surprise that the Bengals haven’t even come close to selling out the stadium this season. Sunday’s attendance was an all-time low for Paul Brown Stadium.

Not only do Cincinnati fans have to watch miserable football, they have to pay A LOT to do so. The average ticket costs $72 in Cincinnati, which is more than 15 other teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles. That Bengals fans should have to pay more than Eagles fans to see a game is utterly absurd.

But it’s not just tickets that Cincinnati fans have to pay for. They’re paying through the teeth for Paul Brown stadium and the cost of its upkeep. Stadium financing experts pretty much agree that Hamilton County, Ohio, gave the Cincinnati Bengals one of the most generous deals ever. Or to put it another way, the worst deal ever for the public.

After Bengals owner Mike Brown claimed back in the mid-90’s that the size and lack of luxury seating in the existing stadium was preventing the Bengals from being successful – and after threatening to move – Hamilton County agreed to pay for a new stadium for the Bengals. (The new stadium ended up adding only an additional 6,000 seats. Clearly, Brown was primarily after luxury suite revenues.)

Hamilton County also agreed to fund a new stadium for the Reds baseball team, which has certainly compounded the financial woes of the county, but the Reds lease agreement is not as bad as the Bengals agreement. The Bengals lease requires the county to pay for any improvements that are added by at least 14 other teams. And, in perhaps the most galling display of NFL greed ever, the lease eventually requires the county to pay the Bengals for occupying the stadium that Hamilton County built for the team.

As a result, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s expose last week on the county’s sports-related financial woes, the “deficit in the fund that pays for Paul Brown Stadium [football] and Great American Ball Park [baseball] could be as much as $14 million next year, grows to $46 million in 2013 and eventually could cumulatively reach $480 million if nothing is done.”

So how is Hamilton County going to pay this debt? Well, most likely, by a combination of cutting spending and raising taxes. Oof.

Well, at least the Bengals have been successful in their new stadium, right? Not even close. Since the county capitulated and built Brown his new stadium, the team has had only two winning seasons out of eleven. Needless to say, a long history of futility on the field combined with a terrible economy has led to a significant drop in attendance this season for the Bengals. In fact, the Bengals had nearly 20,000 empty seats for their home opener.

So owner Mike Brown has decided the best way to build up support and encourage attendance later in the season is by blacking the games out locally. Yes, he’s just following the (owner-initiated) NFL blackout rule, but Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver has at least taken steps like installing tarps to cover seats and buying the remaining tickets and giving them to charity — even if he is trying to cover those costs by getting other fans to pay for them.

Alternatively, the NFL, which continually brags about its popularity, could take steps to end the blackouts like…ending blackouts. During the lockout, the NFL owners claimed they worried about the long-term economic future of the game. But killing fan loyalty by blacking out games and giving kids yet another reason not to pay attention to football is good for the game’s economic future?

Unfortunately, things are likely to get worse for Bengal fans. Four of their final six games are at the end of the season when it will be freezing. But why should Bengal fans come out and support a team (and a league) that doesn’t give anything back to them?

Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at brian@sportsfans.org and follow him on Twitter here.

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