Friday, November 26, 1999

Bengals fans staying home


Who dey think gonna buy dem tickets? Nobody

BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bengals have some of the cheapest ticket prices in the NFL, but scalpers can hardly give them away.

        While the team's average 1999 paid attendance of 48,540 does not rank among its worst ever, that figure is misleading. Since 1997 the Bengals have released only a “tickets distributed” figure that lists paid attendance, not actual in-house attendance. But most other NFL teams now do it that way, too.

        The Bengals (1-10) have the worst record in the league. And for each home game, larger pockets of empty seats are seen at Cinergy Field. Sunday's paid attendance of 43,279 was the lowest all season, and actual attendance appeared several thousand below that.

        “We want to win for our fans, but week by week, you can see the dropoff in the stands,” linebacker Takeo Spikes said. “I know we've got some people still with us, but it's getting harder.”

        A survey of Bengal fans at last Sunday's game reflected the souring attitude toward the team.

        Bob Battigaglia of Bellbrook, Ohio, a season-ticket holder for 10 years, came alone Sunday because his wife and her sister didn't want to attend.

        “I've got two tickets in my pocket, and I can't give them away,” the 39-year-old Mr. Battigaglia said. “I like to come down here, but I wish (Bengals President Mike) Brown would let go of the reins and let somebody else run the team.

        “I've been through the two Super Bowls and all the losing seasons, but this year is just sickening.”

        Street brokers also are struggling. Several surveyed by The Enquirer before Sunday's Bengals-Ravens game would not give their names, but all said business was slow.

        “I can sell them for half of face value, but that's about it,” one seller said. “Maybe $20 a ticket, but most people want to pay less.”

        The average Bengals ticket costs $37.77, which, according to Chicago-based Team Marketing Report, is one of the cheapest in the NFL — ranking 29th. The Washington Redskins have the highest average at $74.28.

        Either way, the Bengals are bucking several NFL statistical trends. The league set a record last year by averaging 64,020 fans per game, and is ahead of that pace this year with an average of 64,902 per game, according to Greg Aiello, NFL vice president of public relations. Mr. Aiello said those figures reflect about 90 percent of capacity for NFL stadiums. In the Bengals' case, their average paid attendance this year is 80 percent of the Cinergy football capacity of 60,398.

        More numbers:

        • Sunday, the Bengals were the only NFL game with a local TV blackout. Teams must have a sellout 72 hours before kickoff for the game to be televised locally.

        • The Bengals have sold out only one of six home games this year, vs. Pittsburgh. That 17-percent sellout ratio pales alongside the NFL average of 84 percent this year. The NFL has had 132 sellouts of 158 games in 1999, Mr. Aiello said.

        Until recent years, most NFL teams released a “no-shows” figure when announcing attendance. Mr. Aiello said the NFL still gives teams the option of doing that, but said most teams have gotten away from it.

        “Paid attendance is the standard figure that most teams use,” he said.

        Mr. Aiello said he can understand the Bengals' attendance situation.

        “The system of sports leagues is that losing is built into it,” he said. “You're obviously going to have some teams that are challenged in terms of attendance and ticket sales.”

        Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan said the team salutes the fans who have stayed with the club.

        “We have had a very loyal fan base through the years,” Mr. Brennan said. “We understand why the fans would be down, but for the most part the support is still good.”

        Bengals attendance has blown hot and cold since the team was formed in 1968. The team played its first two seasons in UC's Nippert Stadium, while waiting for Riverfront Stadium (now Cinergy) to be built. Nippert held 28,000 at the time, and the Bengals were near capacity for most games.

        Since moving into Riverfront/Cinergy in 1970, the team's lowest average home attendance was 41,243 in 1979. That was the second of back-to-back 4-12 seasons.

        The team's best average was 59,266 in 1971, with the Bengals coming off their first playoff season.

        The next best was a 59,161 average in 1990, which was the Bengals' last playoff season. The low attendance for this decade was in 1993, when a 3-13 Bengals team averaged 44,159 per game.

        The final two home games this year are vs. San Francisco on Dec. 5 and Cleveland on Dec. 12. The Browns almost certainly will sell out, and the 49ers would have in any other year. But San Francisco is 3-7, with its worst team in nearly 20 years.

       



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