Back in September, after the signing of key veteran free agents Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson and the long term signings of Andrew Whitworth and Leon Hall, Bengals 101 wondered aloud whether or not Mike Brown had been abducted. After today's announcement that not only are the Bengals not increasing ticket prices next season, but lowering ticket prices by $20 in almost a third of Paul Brown Stadium, I'm beginning to have serious concerns.
This move comes on the heels of Mike Brown offering a "BOGO" deal to season ticket holders in order to sell out PBS for this Sunday's season-ending contest with the Baltimore Ravens. I know that Christmas just passed, but the developments within the Bengals front office this season have been positively Scrooge-like with the transformation. Mike Brown has gone from the Montgomery Burns of the NFL, pinching every penny until Lincoln's nose bleeds to handing out raises and giving his customers discounts. What gives?
Several things. First and foremost, Mike Brown got the message. His season ticket base dwindled precipitously resulting in needing half the stadium to be filled with walk-up customers to get the weekly sellout. Channel 12, as much as they would love the ratings, just couldn't afford to buy that many tickets each weeks. Add to that the loss of several luxury suite tenants and Brown's bottom line started to bleed.
There's no doubt Brown has started to feel the pressure from his peers as well. Somehow, Brown was convinced this August to sign off on a CBA that will require him to spend 90 per cent of the salary cap beginning in 2013. No doubt his fellow owners were growing tired of subsidizing his losing franchise while Brown reaped profits from their collective TV contracts. Not only that, but the empty seats at PBS cost the Bengals at least two opportunities to have games "flexed" late in this season, against Houston and against Baltimore. There was no way the NFL wanted to showcase a partially filled PBS in prime time.
The proof is in the pudding, the old adage goes, and since Brown and Marvin Lewis agreed to a new deal, it's clear a different recipe has been in place in Cincinnati. In fact, it would appear the chef's hat has changed heads. From the drafting of Andy Dalton over Ryan Mallett, to letting Chad Ochocinco walk to trading Carson Palmer, Bengals' management has been operating as…. well a good football franchise.
It's understandable if some are slow to recognize this and some more are still a little skeptical, but it's very clear the direction of the Cincinnati Bengals is headed on a decidedly different trajectory. And that's a good thing for the Cincinnati Bengals, its coaches, its players, and most of all the long-suffering fans.
And while it's very clear that the aforementioned moves have been good ones and make good business and football sense, Mike Brown didn't have to do any of it. In fact, the most frustrating aspect of his tenure as owner has been his reluctance to do the thing that was so obviously the right thing.
Brown didn't have to worry about selling out PBS for this final game. It will cost him money in paying out the visitor's share of the gate. More, he didn't need to freeze ticket prices coming off what may be a playoff year (I wonder how many of his fellow owners would do that). He especially didn't need to discount a third of the seats for a 2012 which will undoubtedly spark increased demand for his product, not just from the promise of his young team, but with home games that include visits from Dallas, the New York Giants, Tim Tebow and the Broncos, and the return of Carson Palmer. There's a very good chance the Bengals could have sold out at least six of their eight home games no matter what.
Yes, Mike Brown is changing. There are those of his critics who will never be satisfied until Brown divests himself totally of his franchise. Those people are probably holding out for a return of gas at a dollar a gallon as well.
Mike Brown's latest move is consistent with all he has made in 2011. Whether it's a message heard from the fans, fellow owners, Marvin Lewis, or from his family, it's very clear that he's heard it and is making the necessary changes in his approach to management. What else can you ask for?
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