It's no secret that the Cincinnati Bengals franchise has had some trouble selling out Paul Brown Stadium in recent history. It seems that with Bengals fans, it's either feast or famine when it comes to attending games in person. Both the declining economy and the inconsistent play of the team have contributed to a low attendance rate at PBS as of late.
In 2010, when preseason expectations were at an all-time high, the Bengals sold out their first few home games with ease. Once that team imploded and they were riding a ten-game losing streak, fans stayed away from PBS and began to become disenchanted with the franchise. The 2011 season was the polar opposite of the year prior. Starting with the disarray around the Carson Palmer situation to the lockout, and followed by terrible organizational press conferences and very low preseason expectations, there was very little that was similar. At the beginning of the season, the team continued its struggle to sell out home games.
Even with the team's surprising success in 2011, they had six blackouts/non-sellouts and were even forced to offer a two-for-one ticket deal for the season finale against the Ravens when the team was fighting for a playoff spot. It seems that families have been tightening their belts, financially, and they are making a statement to the team about their direction.
Head Coach Marvin Lewis has had enough.
In speaking with the media at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Lewis sounded none too pleased with the attendance numbers at PBS over the past couple of seasons:
"Our fans need to understand this is what it's all about. That atmosphere we witnessed in Houston, our fans have to understand this is why you come out to a National Football League game," Lewis said. "Because this is what it's supposed to sound like and this is what it's supposed to feel like. The energy that was in that stadium that day is what we have to get at Paul Brown Stadium each and every Sunday. You can't feel that sitting at home. You have to come out and see that."
Though these remarks are true, they may not sit well with Bengals fans. I'm sure that it didn't sit well with Lewis and the team last season when they were winning games in a stadium that was half-empty (or half-full, if you're an optimist), but fans also endured a lot of heartbreak over the years and just seem disinterested in supporting the team.
There's also the aspect of the "fan experience" at a home game. The Bengals have been notoriously horrible in the Public Relations realm and though Lewis evoked the images of the playoff game against the Texans in Houston, it's likely that that organization has done a better job of making the in-game experience a memorable one than the Bengals have. We've seen some recent organizational changes in Cincinnati over the past year plus, so maybe this is an area that management is trying to improve on.
It's hard to say if this is simply a quote from an owner passed down to his coach to shout from the podium, or if it is actually a subject that Lewis is emotional about. It's likely that it's both, but one thing is certain: it's going to be interesting to see what the Bengals' attendance numbers are in 2012. The team is already off to a better start than they were in 2011, so with the right offseason moves they could grant Lewis' wish and spur a packed house for home games in 2012.