The Cincinnati Bengals are dead last in the NFL in attendance, as Bengals 101 documented earlier this month. A major part of that decline is due to a loss of season ticket subscribers following a disappointing 2010 season, the specter of a work stoppage and the general drama surrounding the team's off season losses of star players like Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco. For many fans, those things were enough to make them say, "enough" and stop spending money on the team.
Even the team's playoff contention and exciting young stars like Andy Dalton and AJ Green haven't been enough to lure fans back to Paul Brown Stadium. Last week's home game against the Houston Texans, even though it involved two possible playoff teams, was the second least attended game in stadium history. Only the game against the Bills earlier this season was more lightly attended.
With two more home games remaining after this weekend's tilt in St. Louis, the Bengals need to do something unusual to get fans into PBS for those final two games against Arizona and Baltimore. Even though the playoffs are on the line, the Arizona game isn't a great "draw." Besides Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals lack star power and aren't a contending team this year. If former Ohio State running back Beanie Wells has family and friends show up from his hometown of Akron, it could significantly increase the total crowd for the Christmas Eve game. Baltimore is a division rival and it very well could be a de facto playoff game for Cincinnati, but it's also taking place on New Year's Day.
With those games likely deciding the Bengals ability to advance to the post season, Mike Brown needs to make a statement to augment the one made in the draft and that made by the team's performance thus far.
He needs to leverage 2012 in 2011.
The Cincinnati Bengals have an attractive home schedule looming in 2012. All but two games, home and away, are known well in advance for each NFL team. The Bengals eight game home schedule next season includes the usual three games against Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It's the non-division games that are most intriguing, however.
At least four other matchups appear to be "prime time" games that would draw large crowds: the Denver Broncos (and presumably Tim Tebow), the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants (and Eli Manning), and the one game that is guaranteed to sell out, the Oakland Raiders and the return to Cincinnati of Carson Palmer. The final home game is still up in the air, but will either be against Buffalo or Miami (and their new quarterback?).
Mike Brown should offer an incentive for those willing to buy 2012 season tickets or luxury boxes: commit for 2012 and get the last two home games of 2011 free.
It's no secret that Mike Brown doesn't like giving away anything. In this case, however, he really isn't. Because of the success this year and the attractive slate in 2012, there will undoubtedly be a bump in ticket sales. It's also highly likely that Brown will be looking at a good number of empty, unpurchased seats these last two games. Why not use those losses which are likely to be incurred anyway to boost season ticket sales for next season?
Not only would Brown and the Bengals likely increase ticket sales for 2012, but they would add some fans to the stadium for two crucial games that will determine the team's playoff destiny. They might not sell out, but getting 50,000 into PBS would have to be more heartening to the team than playing before two crowds that might not reach 40,000.
Most importantly, no NFL franchise needs to do something positive for its fan base more than the Cincinnati Bengals. After more than 20 years of losing, poor management and a stadium deal that left more than a few Hamilton County residents feeling cheated, Mike Brown has an opportunity to spread some genuine good will. It might not totally repair his legacy as Bengals owner, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Here's your chance, Mr. Brown, to do something good for the fans of your team, help motivate your players, and in the process, help your bottom line for the coming year. What's more, it's a chance to show the city of Cincinnati and the NFL in general (the same NFL that considers you synonymous with "cheap") that you have another side. Take it Mr. Brown. Take it.
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