Today, Cincinnati Bengals fans will gear up for another weekend of the NFL, as the Bengals take on the Buffalo Bills. Bengals fans will paint their faces orange and blank, put on their fresh A.J. Green and Andy Dalton jerseys and play “Welcome to the Jungle” at an extreme volume. They will chant “Who” and hear an enthusiastic “Dey!” in response.
Some of the Bengals faithful will go to Paul Brown Stadium to watch the team take on the Buffalo Bills, while others will gather around their televisions to watch the Cleveland Browns.
Wait. The Cleveland Browns? Really?
For the second consecutive week, the Cincinnati Bengals will play a football game and no one in Cincinnati will see the game on television. These two blackouts resulting from the Bengals’ inability to sell out PBS have incensed Bengals fans who have expressed their anger on blogs and local sports talk radio.
Bengals fans are frustrated and want someone to blame. But who?
Wishing they were professional athletes is an easy trap for sports fans to fall into because professional athletes are paid millions of dollars to play a sport, something sports fans claim they would do for free.
Let’s be honest: professional athletes work hard.
The reason athletes are paid so much is not because they love their jobs more than anyone else, but because their particular skills are so scarce and so lucrative for owners that the market demands a high salary. If anyone on the street could read a defense and throw an accurate pass in a matter of four seconds, NFL quarterbacks would make the same amount of money as a telemarketer.
Despite their hard work in practice and meetings, the Bengals’ on-the-field play has done little to entice fans to buy tickets to watch them play. Even when they won the AFC North in 2009, the offense was slow, plodding and run-heavy. The team was successful, but the offense was dull.
Last season, the offense was abysmal, and even the most die-hard Bengals fan felt refreshed by the team’s bye week when the Indianapolis Colts were on television.
The defense has played admirably the last three seasons, and it should be commended for it. However, while defense wins championships, it does not sell tickets.
So far in 2011, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offensive staff have given fans fits and frustration with flashes of brilliance in between. Once the offense gels into a consistent, formidable machine, fans will have more incentive to buy tickets, hopefully sell out PBS and the games will be on local television once again.
Fans in Cincinnati may find it easy and convenient to blame NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for blacking out the Bengals on local television. After all, he is in charge of the NFL; if he wanted to change the blackout rule, he could.
However, it is not that simple.
All the power Roger Goodell has is allowed to him by NFL owners. If the owners voted to change the blackout rule, Goodell would go along with it. The fact that all 32 owners have not moved to change the rule should tell us they must find some advantage to blacking out local television coverage of their teams’ games, even if they just want to punish their fans into buying tickets.
The NFL Players Association could have spoken on behalf of the fans and asked for a change of the blackout rule while negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement. Its silence on the issue makes it complicit with the owners in support of the rule.
If we learned anything from this summer’s lockout, it is that the NFL is a business. The owners and the union spent several months and millions of dollars arguing over a small slice of a $10 billion pie. The blackout rule must be in place because it is good for business for the NFL owners and the NFLPA.
Otherwise, the rule wouldn’t exist.
Did you honestly think you would get through this list without seeing Mike Brown’s name? Come on. You know better.
The Bengals have a new quarterback, a new stud wide receiver and a group of young, hungry players. Just about the only thing about the Bengals that is not new is ownership’s refusal to market the team.
New team, same old Mike Brown.
Two weekends ago I was in Atlanta, and I was amazed at the way the Falcons are marketed. You could pick up a man from the Sudan, drop him in the ATL and, within 15 minutes, one of the few things he would know is that the Atlanta Falcons play there.
In Cincinnati, the Bengals are sold to fans with poster-sized schedules at bars and restaurants, and billboards informing fans how to buy tickets. The Falcons have that too, but they have giant posters of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner and other Falcons stars as well. These effigies remind Falcons fans that Atlanta is one of 32 lucky cities to host an NFL team, and they should be excited about that.
Perhaps Mike Brown thinks the NFL sells itself, that Bengals fans will buy tickets just because. This may have been true in the past, but it is no longer the case. People around the country are tighter with their dollars than a few years ago, and NFL teams need to compete for the hearts and disposable income of their fanbases.
Teams with a history of mediocrity, like the Bengals, need to compete most vigorously.
Look around Cincinnati. How is Andy Dalton marketed? Where is the buzz around A.J. Green? Why isn’t the team trying to sell Leon Hall?
Until the Bengals’ front office changes its marketing strategy and actually tries to generate excitement about the team, it will not sell tickets and games will continue to be blacked out.
Cincinnati Bengals fans are some of the unluckiest and longest-tortured fans in the NFL. As a lifelong Cincinnatian and Bengal fan, I should know.
Bengals fans have endured bad draft picks, an ownership out of step with the rest of the league and the Carson Palmer fiasco. Mostly, they have endured dreadful football.
For several years, Cincinnati Bengals followers have watched their team bumble around as if they are wearing blindfolds. Even when the team won, the play was as ugly as a bruise. Yet, the games sold out and were available on television.
Bengals fans watched in embarrassment.
Now, the Bengals have a team with some buzz, with some pop. The young players on the Bengals roster play with passion—something that has been missing from Paul Brown Stadium for some time. However, a jaded fanbase and an economic downturn have resulted in a dramatic drop in tickets sales and, thus, no television coverage.
Cincinnati Bengals fans cannot catch a break. But our fault lies not within our stars, dear Bengals fans, but within ourselves.
Cincinnati fans are clearly aware of this rule and have been narrowly escaping it for two years. When a blackout loomed in the last couple of seasons, fans of the orange and black were bailed out by Chad Ochocinco and local businesses. Ochocinco is in New England now, and businesses just do not have the money to buy up tickets to NFL games. The responsibility to purchase tickets rests squarely with the fans.
I know the total cost of going to a sporting event is outrageous. Tickets are pricey no matter how the team is playing. Parking is expensive and difficult to find. Charging nearly eight dollars for a beer should be considered an act of treason. The outlandish amount of money a person, let alone a family, is expected to pay for a few hours of entertainment on a Sunday afternoon cannot be ignored.
What else cannot be ignored is the fact that Bengals fans must share some of the guilt for the TV blackouts.
Each Sunday we let a kickoff go by without buying a ticket, we send a message. By not buying tickets and thus missing a chance to see the team, we silently proclaim that we understand the consequence of not filling the stadium is that the game will not be televised.
And that is fine with us.
Cincinnati Bengals fans are desperate to feel good about the team. Like the players and coaches, fans want to feel proud about their franchise. A sellout and an opportunity to be on local television is a good first step in restoring that pride. The Bengals nation can make that happen.
Put on your Bengals jerseys and load up the car. Tailgate. Yell "Who Dey!" at strangers. Go to a Bengals game. Have fun.
For the love of Boomer Esiason, let’s sell out a game before the Steelers come to town.