Sunday, July 28, 2002

Pick a seat, any seat, at Georgetown

Low fan turnout has financial impact

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengals quarterbacks Gus Frerotte, left, and Jon Kitna.
(AP photo)
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        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — The Bengals' losing ways have contributed to a steady decrease in attendance at their month-long training camp at Georgetown College.

        The only charge to watch camp practices is a $5 daily parking fee. Between 1998 and 2001, the number of cars and vans for the entire camp fell from 4,700 to 2,700.

        The poor attendance also affected the Bengals financially.

        School officials approached the Bengals after the 2001 camp, the fifth at Georgetown, and told the organization that it needed to financially adjust the original agreement because of lower-than-expected revenue.

        For the first time, the Bengals paid the $50,000 bill to re-sod the Rawlings Stadium field, released the college from its obligation on one of its two private suites at Paul Brown Stadium and increased their contribution to help pay for camp staff. The school had paid for the new grass previously and had purchased the two Paul Brown Stadium suites as part of the original agreement, which brought training camp to Georgetown for the first time in 1997.

        The Bengals' total concessions came to roughly $125,000, said Eric Ward, special assistant to Georgetown College President William Crouch, “which put us in a situation to break even.”

        The Bengals are in their sixth year of a seven-year contract with the college, a deal that both sides say they hope to extend in negotiations planned for the offseason.

        Bengals business manager Bill Connelly confirmed that the club did cover the cost of the new field last season but said it had nothing to do with declining attendance or the college's financial concerns.

        “We've got to have a good field,” Connelly said Saturday. “The fact attendance is down had no bearing on whether we committed to (pay for) the field. It was strictly for our own safety purposes and to get our practices in.”

        Georgetown's football team is the two-time defending NAIA national champion, and it regularly has playoff games at Rawlings Stadium well into December. The field also is used by the college's soccer team and the Scott County High School football team.

        The Georgetown team, which has lost just one game in three seasons, often sells out the 5,000-seat stadium for its games.

        “There are a lot of positives in the agreement,” Ward said. The stadium was built by a partnership between the school and the Bengals, and it is a recruiting tool that helps draw players to Georgetown. The Bengals' summer residence at Georgetown also enhances the images of the college, city and county.

        Scout County Judge Executive George Lusby said the Bengals training camp is a good addition to the community and has contributed to the economic growth of the region.

        He said the notoriety was as valuable to the region as any financial gain but said, too, that the college assumes the entire financial risk.

Bengals Owner Mike Brown and his daughter Katie Blackburn, Bengals VP, keep an eye on things.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Just north of Lexington, which is the home of the University of Kentucky, Bengals training camp benefitted early on from the presence of former Bengals and UK kicker Doug Pelfrey and the star power of former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason.

        “Corey Dillon's a superstar, but he doesn't draw people,” Lusby said.

        School officials also said fans had complained about the lack of autographs signed by Bengals players after practice. This year, only two days into camp, several Bengals players — including stars such as Dillon, wide receiver Peter Warrick and linebacker Brian Simmons — have signed for several minutes after practice.

        The college's East Campus Athletic Complex also included the construction of a conference center and a quadrangle consisting of 128 dormitory suites, which are home to Bengals players, coaches and other employees during camp.

        College officials, Ward said, were encouraged by the additional financial contributions made by the Bengals and said the positive interchange shows that both sides want to extend the working agreement beyond the seventh and final year of the original contract.

        Still, the college does not want to take a financial hit by hosting the Bengals. The automobile count fell from 4,700 in 1998, to 3,500, 2,900 and 2,700 in the past three years.

        “Probably at some point there was a hope (training camp) would generate cash flow that would benefit the college in other ways,” Ward, the college official, said. “As of yet, that hasn't happened.

        “We'd all like to see more people out here. Today, for example, it's Saturday, we'd like to see the stands full.”

        About 100 people were in the stands for the morning skills session.

        Ward said the college also is trying to better market the training camp and sell more corporate sponsorships.

        “It's not just the Bengals,” he said. “It's up to us, too, to make this successful.”

        A winning Bengals season probably would cure the attendance problem. The Bengals are a combined 17-47 in the past four seasons and have an NFL-long 11 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance.

        “If the Bengals go 10-6 this year, it would be huge for us next year,” Ward said. “We'd probably have to worry about how to handle the crowds instead of wondering how to drive the crowds up. We'd probably be dealing with parking issues, concession issues.”

        The Bengals moved their training camp from Wilmington College after 29 years and helped design what is widely considered one of the finest training complexes used by an NFL team.

        “We tried to open up the Kentucky market to make them Bengals fans,” said Connelly, the club's business manager. “The comment (Georgetown President) Bill Crouch made three years ago was if we had drafted Tim Couch (UK), we'd have big crowds. We make the comment to remind people that Couch wasn't available.”

        Couch was taken first overall in the 1999 draft by the Cleveland Browns.


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