Bengals Have A Long Way To Go To Heal Fan Relationship

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 25: A Cincinnati Bengals fan looks on during an NFL preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals won 24-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

This comes via Lance McAlister's blog from ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati. A fan with season tickets attended Thursday night's game and was one of 90 randomly selected season ticket holders by the team that received an enhanced experience during Cincinnati's 24-7 win over the Carolina Panthers. From one of Lance's listeners:

I was privilaged enough to be selected. All of us were allowed onto the sidelines for pregame warmups (some INCREDIBLE photo ops and a chance to see the stadium from an entirely different viewpoint/light). Then, we actually ran/walked-fast out of the tunnel right after the Ben-Gals, lined up alongside them, and got to welcome the team onto the field!! Team members made a point to high-five all of us as they passed by and many of them slowed down to make sure they got EVERYONE. Frostee Rucker even took time to stop and compliment my mohawk! (LOL!!) They team gave us each an autographed jersey and Club Seats to the game!   It was just an unforgettable experience.

We've pointed out for a long time that one of the Bengals biggest problems isn't so much about the lack of a general manager, or even dissolving the image of being cheap. No. It's their relationship with the fans. There just isn't one. There's no doubt that winning would help, but that's just a fraction of a fan's experience (in Cincinnati's case, a very small fraction). In reality a fan deals with so much more. The aspect of winning could even be considered secondary, when we're talking about the journey that got us there. The freezing December games, the tense fourth down moments, the two-minute offenses down by two points, the monstrous crowds of a Monday night cheering not because we're at the game, but because it's our team that's on the field. The camaraderie with other fans, tail-gates, debates, taking your time off from work to read these very pages. Most of us who dealt with the Mike Brown era in its entirity, following Cincinnati's second Super Bowl appearence, know in our molecules that our strength to remain as loyal as we ever has been a test of wills that's made us stronger, more passionate.

Though at the same time, through the years dating back to the early 90s, whatever pride remains with Bengals fans has long been damaged with structural integrity so weak that a single gust of wind could shatter it. That's the result of the Mike Brown era, which sadly has fans concluding that supporting the team is no different than supporting the owner; something that's not mutually exclusive. Attendance becomes sparce and as a result, the players we're cheering for sees an empty house unable to support them because support the owner isn't applicable towards our ambitions to prove a point that we're pissed off. Hopefully that's just something they don't take personal. Unfortunately the owner hasn't made strides to achieve much of a personal relationship with fans; rather he's buried away from the public, mostly because that's where we want him. Press conferences have now become such a horrifying reminder about whom is running this team that we're grateful if he'd stay out of our peripheral vision.

Ultimately fans want a winner. That doesn't make us any different than any fanbase in the world. And a winner would surly fill Paul Brown Stadium -- for a time. But it wouldn't improve the relationship between the fans and the franchise. We're not talking about the Rey Maualugas of the world, talking fans up on Twitter or Domata Peko randomly evoking a Who Dey every so often.

Several times we've compared the Bengals with the Reds, whose annual Caravan made 15 stops last year that covered 2,600 miles over four days where fans got to meet Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Hall of Famers Marty Brennaman and Lee May, along with Reds general manager Walt Jocketty. It was free. And that was a month after the annual RedsFest at the Duke Energy Convention Center, where thousands of fans were able to interact with players (present and former), while kids play games and people can buy memorabilia. And that was before Cincinnati Reds Baseball Heaven invites fans to play alongside other fans while being coached and instructed by Reds legends.

Players do offer autographs and limited interaction with fans while in Georgetown. And that's great. But this team needs to make that first move to continue rehabilitating the relationship with us, the fans. Otherwise even a winner won't dampen distrust or suspicion. Remember how much the Bengals struggled selling out during the team's AFC North Championship season (at one point they were 7-2). Yet they often required help from local companies to purchase a bulk of the remaining tickets so the games were shown on television.

What the Bengals did with 90 season-ticket holders Thursday night isn't going to improve those relationships, but those 90 season ticket holders left with an incredible experience that will be remembered. Well done, by the Bengals. It has to continue though.

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