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Defending Cincinnati as a football travel destination

Cincinnati was recently painted in a negative light. We’re here to offer a different perspective.

Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Someone or something always gets hurt when an entire group is ranked from best to worst. When there’s a first place, there’s always a last place.

This was the case for the Cincinnati Bengals recently.

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe ranked all 30 NFL cities from best to worst as overall travel destinations for fans. If experience is what it most means to be qualified, then Volin can certainly speak on this subject. In over a dozen years covering the NFL, he says he’s been to games in every city except for Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

He has seen a Bengals home game with his own eyes, though, and his personal experience in the Queen City was apparently not a great one. Cincinnati finished dead last in his rankings.

30. Cincinnati: The ribs at Montgomery Inn are great. And you can stay across the river in Covington to cross Kentucky off your list of states visited. But there’s not much going on in downtown Cincinnati, the stadium has no tailgating space, and Bengals games are rarely exciting.

This was published about a week ago at the time of this writing, and it has already reached many upset Bengals fans and native Cincinnatians. Nobody likes to be told they’re the worst. You can phrase it any way you’d like, but 30th out of 30 is last place, plain and simple.

It even reached the Bengals’ Director of Content, Seth Tanner:

Again, that’s the nature of rankings: There has to be a bottom when there’s a top.

This list is based on Volin’s personal experiences; it’s inherently subjective. Nothing we can write can change his original perceptions of Cincinnati as a place to go see an NFL game. And who is anybody to claim his own exposure to the city is invalid? If Cincinnati was graced with a top 10 listing instead, the reactions would’ve been a lot different.

No, changing Volin’s mind or claiming that his time in Cincinnati was better than he remembered is not the goal here. In all honesty, there are hints of truth as to why the city was ranked so low.

Downtown Cincinnati does not feature ocean beaches like Miami or Los Angeles. In fact, the further you stay away from the waters of the Ohio River, the better for your personal health. It is not a bustling metropolis like New York or Chicago. It’s actually just the third-most populous city in Ohio. And Paul Brown Stadium is not a historic football landmark like Lambeau Field in Green Bay, or an innovative and colossal building like Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

In terms of NFL cities, Cincinnati is a modest change of pace compared to more well-known metropolitan areas. But that is not a bad thing at all.

Paul Brown Stadium is located in the southwest corner of Cincinnati’s downtown area. The most popular hotels in the city are right next door, or right across the river in Covington. For most out-of-town fans making the trek to Cincy for the first time, guess what they don’t have to deal with? Traffic on the way to the game. Walking around downtown, Covington, and Newport is a pleasant experience on its own.

The cost of the hotel room might honestly be more expensive than the cost of going to the game. Per, the average ticket price for a Bengals game in 2020 was just under $80. Only the Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo Bills had lower average prices. Getting into the stadium won’t be a problem for your wallet.

I don’t know how anyone can say Bengals games are rarely exciting when an offense built around Ryan Finley’s legs pulled off a two-score upset on Monday Night Football not even a year ago, but I digress.

Volin does hit on a couple hard truths, though. The traditional tailgating/parking scene outside of PBS looks vastly different compared to the first 10 years of the stadium’s existence. With the development of The Banks in between the Bengals and Reds stadiums along the river, Lot D east of PBS has dramatically decreased in size. Business development has almost completely overtaken this area, but the now vibrant bar and restaurant scene that has replaced it offers plenty of options for visiting fans to enjoy the pregame and postgame experience.

As far as things to do in or around city, options are a bit limited compared to other NFL destinations. There are no national forests to explore, and the nightlife isn’t wild like it is in South Beach or in Vegas. Cincinnati can’t compete in that arena, but neither can most cities either.

Fan atmosphere is something I feel Volin didn’t quite factor into his rankings, but it is a positive for the Bengals and Cincinnati as a whole. Sports fans in this city haven’t experienced professional postseason success in over 25 years. Bengals fans specifically have waited over 30 years. Needless to say, they know hardship better than most, and that’s something fans of other teams can appreciate. There isn’t a sense of arrogance that you get when surveying a crowd of Cowboys or Patriots fans. So long as you aren’t wearing any Steelers garb and running your mouth, you’re damn near guaranteed civil behavior and hospitality from native Bengals fans.

And the food. My God, the food. Volin hit on an important beat with Montgomery Inn BBQ, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. You can fill a three-day trip to Cincinnati with nothing but original hometown grub and be utterly satisfied. Pizza, burgers, beer, ice cream and Greek meat sauce that we call chili. Your taste buds will want to return soon enough.

I’ve lived in Cincinnati all my life. I can’t quite imagine myself living anywhere else or anywhere too far away. I enjoy traveling as much as the next guy, and I recognize that other cities in America have more to offer in certain areas.

I can’t promise you’ll enjoy it here as much as I do, but I will say you’ll probably like it more than Volin did.