Sunday, July 18, 2004
As team turns corner, hopes and sales soar
Optimistic Bengals backers pounce on luxury seats
By Cliff Peale
Enquirer staff writer
Thomas Shockley bought season tickets for Cincinnati Bengals games for a decade. Three years ago, disenchanted with the team's losing ways, he gave up the tickets. This year, he's back.
Shockley has joined seven partners to lease a goal-line luxury box at Paul Brown Stadium for $50,000 a year.
Dr. Thomas Shockley, an orthopedist, purchased a skybox along with some partners for the first time.
(Meggan Booker photo)
Inspired by new coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals' improvement to an 8-8 record last year, Shockley and his suitemates are not alone in returning to the fold.
For the first time in their five seasons at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals are nearing a sellout of luxury boxes and club seats.
The team also has more than tripled merchandise sales compared with last year and signed new corporate sponsors such as Pepsi to pay for signs and sponsorship rights.
"No. 1, it's Marvin Lewis and the excitement he's brought to the organization," said Shockley, a doctor who runs orthopedic treatment centers in Mason, Clifton and Evendale.
While the Bengals would not disclose specific dollar amounts, a review of the prices shows the team will add nearly $2 million in revenue this season.
Bengals director of sales Jeff Berding said only three suites and about 150 club-level seats remain available. The team declined to disclose totals for season-ticket sales.
The available numbers stack up this way:
109 luxury suites sold out of 112. That's at least eight more than last year. Prices range from $50,000 to $145,000 a year.
More than 7,450 club seats sold out of 7,600. That's at least 1,100 more than last year. The seats cost $870-$2,150 each, with a one-time seat-license fee of $750.
Berding said the team expects the remaining club seats and boxes to be sold by the time the Bengals open their season Sept. 12.
The team's first home game is a Sept. 19 night game against the Miami Dolphins.
Corporate sponsorships also add to the team's bottom line. The Bengals say they have added 10 new sponsors this year, with total revenue up more than 10 percent.
The team would not disclose total sponsorship dollars.
One of the new sponsors is Pepsi Americas here in Cincinnati, which will have a sign and beverage rights in the stadium, general manager Tim Trant said.
"There's no doubt when everybody looks and sees the excitement around the Bengals, it's a plus for us," he said.
In NFL economics, the sales revenue is mostly profit for the team or is used to pay for operations. In most seasons, the player payroll is covered by the league's television contract, which is divided equally among all 32 NFL clubs.
The good news on sales revenue comes at the same time the team finds itself defending its lease on Paul Brown Stadium in a lawsuit by Hamilton County. Two county commissioners charge that the team and the NFL illegally used their monopoly power to extract more favorable lease terms. Another lawsuit accuses the team of trying to unfairly collect from club-seat holders who declined to renew their seats.
But the renewed interest in the team also comes a year before the Bengals will start the effort to secure renewals on suite contracts signed by tenants when the stadium opened in 2000. Those first contracts come up for renewal after the 2005 season.
The picture didn't look nearly as rosy in late 2002, after the Bengals completed a 2-14 season that ended before a stadium barely a third full for the final game. Holders of boxes and club seats talked openly of dropping the team, unhappy with team management and an onfield slide that made the Bengals the worst team of the 1990s.
But in January 2003, general manager Mike Brown hired Lewis, who personally marketed the team for much of that first offseason.
After his initial season last year, Lewis turned over some of the marketing duties to players, such as wide receiver Chad Johnson, who is featured on the team's sales brochures.
Now, even some who gave up their seats are coming back.
Dan MacConnell, a vice president at Thomson-MacConnell Cadillac in Walnut Hills, said his family is buying four seats this year after sitting out a season. "Hopefully, the team will be better," he said. "But even more, it looks like the intent to make it better is there. There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel."
Lewis has met with some prospective suite holders, including Shockley and Bob Slattery, chief executive officer of Reach USA.
Bob Slattery, the CEO of Reach USA, is happy in his skybox.
(Meggan Booker photo)
Reach added to its purchase of a dozen club seats this year by leasing a suite for $50,000 a year. Unlike Shockley, who's buying tickets mainly as a fan, Slattery uses them for business.
"For us, it's an investment," he said. "We have our ear on the track in terms of what our customers are looking for. We had our marketing folks come down and take a look and they said, 'You've got to take a look at this, because they're going to be gone soon.' "
For many sports teams, the market for selling premium seats has improved compared with two years ago. Jenny Gardner, director of sales for the Cincinnati Reds, said the team is starting to identify prospects for next year.
The Reds have only a couple of suites available and have sold out the $60-per-game Scout Seats. The team has about one-third of the $175-per-game Diamond Seats available, Gardner said.
Dick Sherwood, president of Front Row Marketing, a Philadelphia company that helps teams lease their premium seats, said clubs have to be more creative.
"The corporate buyer is demanding more today," he said. "Most of the suites are used for business reasons as opposed to social reasons."
The reason for the Bengals' success is simple, he said: "A little better team, a great facility."
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