5-15-01, 4:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
After reviewing NFL financial documents from the last five years of the 1990s, Bengals President Mike Brown said Tuesday they show why the club needed a new stadium to keep the franchise in Cincinnati.
The documents became public this week during the trial pitting Al Davis of the Raiders against the NFL in a lawsuit in which Davis maintains the league blocked him from moving to Los Angeles from Oakland.
The numbers show the Bengals were 21st in the NFL in local revenues in 1996 at $26.5 million before sliding to 24th in 1997, 27th in 1998 and last at No. 31 with $26.2 million in 1999, their last season at Cinergy Field.
In '99, the Bengals were $19.1 million below the NFL average of $45.3 million for local revenues. The average of the top seven teams was $65.2 million, nearly two and a half more times than Cincinnati's local revenue.
Local revenue consists principally of ticket sales, local TV and radio, concessions, advertising, parking, suites and club seats. The team ranking last in local revenue will be last in total revenue because league-generated revenues are shared equally by teams.
"We had a stadium that generated less money than anyone in the NFL and the only way to remain viable was to keep our expenses cut to the bone and we did," Brown said. "We had to do it. Nevertheless, the handwriting was on the wall.
"As teams built new stadiums around the league and generated additional income, the salary cap would continue to rise. As it did, our expenses would rise with it. We couldn't control that and it would have been only a short while before we were in the red with no hope."
From 1997-99, the percentage of Cincinnati's revenues which went to player costs (salaries, bonuses, medical insurance, retirement)
increased from 57 percent to 67 percent. League-wide, those costs remained about 59 percent of revenues.
The Bengals ranked last in the league in total operating expenses in '99 at $78.7 million, $34 million less than leader Washington and $16.5 million below the league average.
By controlling expenses, the Bengals showed a pre-tax operating profit of $8.6 million in 1999. That put them in the lower half of the league at No. 18, nearly one-fourth of expansion Cleveland's league-leading $36.5 million and last in the AFC Central.
But Brown says the new stadium has allowed the Bengals, "to make our players say, 'Gee whiz,' instead of 'aw shucks.'"
That ranges from serving breakfast and lunch at voluntary workouts this month to re-signing four offensive starters that include Pro Bowler Corey Dillon's near NFL record five-year, $26 million deal for a running back.
No longer walking such a thin line between the red and black, the Bengals also signed six veteran free-agents and added four assistants to their biggest coaching staff ever.
"It allowed us to sign our own players at numbers that were acceptable to them because the deals were up to league standard," Brown said. "It allowed us to go into free agency more. In the long term, the stadium allowed us to remain in Cincinnati and compete with other NFL cities and teams out into the future."
Some owners are incensed the information was leaked to the Los Angeles Times. Brown had no comment.
"We didn't choose to have this information come out," Brown said. "But regardless of those circumstances, there's no question the numbers point up why we could not have continued to operate an NFL team in Cinergy Field."