BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 20: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 31-24. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
According to an Associated Press report written by Jim Litke, who features an article about Cincinnati's poor attendance this year, using figures compiled by the Business Insider that says attendance is dropping across the NFL, he writes:
But even the NFL is not immune to a struggling economy. According to figures compiled by Business Insider, attendance at games has slipped four years in a row. In 2007, the league's teams, on average, played to 99.9 percent capacity; last season, that figure was 94.6 percent. An NFL spokesman said Monday that 2011 attendance was down 0.5 percent ahead of the final regular-season weekend.
Before Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, attendance for the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium has been 73.6 percent of capacity this year, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, with an average attendance of 48,216. Paid attendance against the Arizona Cardinals was down to 41,273, slightly higher than the 41,202 against the Houston Texans and the historic low 41,142 against the Buffalo Bills earlier this year.
Cincinnati has only sported one sellout this year against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have a fanbase that's generally known for traveling well.
With one game remaining this year against the Baltimore Ravens, which is about as important as games can possibly get, the Bengals wanted to offer a deal for season ticket holders, allowing them to purchase one ticket and get a second for free. Early Monday morning results were good, with massive lines reported with a phone ringing off the hook.
In mid-October we wrote that if the team reduced their ticket prices, eating whatever money that they'd lose, ultimately they'd win with a fuller stadium and, god forbid, generating a persuasive atmosphere to generate new season ticket holders.
According to Director of Sales and Public Affairs Jeff Berding, over 2,000 tickets wore sold in the first couple of hours on Monday morning. Reports surfaced that the team was going to offer a deal to the public, but the team quickly backed off saying that they'll evaluate the results with the ongoing deal with season ticket holders.
Litke goes on to write, ripping Mike Brown's tenure as the team's owner:
Since taking over from his father Mike Brown has skimped on front-office hires, drafted badly and dabbled frequently in washed-up free agents whose antics with previous teams made them not just available, but cheap. Instead of taking responsibility for the mess, Brown seems almost amused by it. So many of his players ripped him over the years that he tried — unsuccessfully — to put loyalty oaths in their contracts. When fans made their discontent known by hanging a banner just above his box in old Riverfront Stadium more than a decade ago — "If it's Brown, flush it down," the sign read — the owner let it be known that he, too, thought it was funny.
Litke correctly judges that many fans aren't showing up to games simply because Mike Brown is largely in charge.
No one on either side of the divide is laughing at the moment, though. Despite the Bengals' surprising 9-6 record this season, fans bearing grudges are staying away. That means less business for downtown merchants and lower tax revenues for a county struggling to cover the cost of basic services — let alone pay off the mortgage for a stadium that has been a boon for the Brown family.
And finally a solution that would likely work keeping Paul Brown Stadium full:
This latest revolt, at least, caught his attention. No sooner had Saturday's game ended than an offer to season-ticket holders began flashing on the scoreboard — buy one ticket for the Baltimore game and get a second free. Next came the unbidden — we assume — locker room sales pitches from players and coach Marvin Lewis. By Monday morning, fans who turned up to buy what the team said were a "couple thousand" tickets for the Baltimore game munched on hot dogs, cotton candy, hot chocolate and water free of charge (though considering Brown's tight-fisted ways, chances are good it was leftover food from last weekend's games).
The ruse likely will work, so look for a sellout. As precedents go, however, the league can't be too pleased with lowered ticket prices. While TV revenues skyrocket, attendance already has been dented by everything from the bad economy and high prices — average cost for a family of four last year: $426.84 — to fantasy-football followers who can watch multiple games on their HD sets at home without paying $7 for a beer. Plus, it gets cold in plenty of NFL towns by the time December rolls around.
Of course, there's another business model out there that proves a small-market team in an even-colder climate can fill up its stadium every Sunday. That would be the Green Bay Packers, who have come up with a solution that Brown likely never seriously considered.
It's called winning.
They've had a losing record at one point this year (1-2 after San Francisco) and failed to sellout six games while going 8-4 since their loss to the 49ers.
No matter the reason, no matter the motivation, all that matters this Sunday is that the Cincinnati Bengals players see a full house, charged by the motivation from a rowdy New Years Day crowd, beating the Baltimore Ravens and going to their third playoff in seven seasons.
In the end that's all that matters.