The first-place Bengals, off their first three consecutive prime-time games in history, moved into the international limelight Wednesday when the NFL tapped them for their first overseas game ever next season in London.
The Bengals host the Washington Redskins Oct. 30, 2016 at Wembley Stadium in the third and final game of next season's International Series. The Jaguars host the Colts Oct. 2 at Wembley and on Oct. 23 at Twickenha Stadium the Rams host a to-be-determined NFC opponent.
In an effort to eventually have every NFL team play overseas, much like appearing in the HBO series "Hard Knocks," those games bring the number to potentially 24 teams that have participated since the series began in 2007. Noting that the NFL is looking to get more teams with recent post-season appearances into the London rotation, Bengals president Mike Brown embraced the franchise's first home regular-season game not at Nippert Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, or Paul Brown Stadium.
Seven teams have come off play-off berths to play in the series.
"It's something we're looking forward to," Brown said. "It will be an opportunity for some of our fans to go to London for a special experience and it will project the Cincinnati image to an area that doesn't see us much or knows much about our town. Almost every team has been over there and we want to carry our end of it. It's an exciting prospect."
Last month, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn visited London along with vice president Troy Blackburn, business manager Bill Connelly, and vice president of marketing Brian Sells to stake out the logistics as the club expands its brand. They scouted six hotels, three practice sites, and two stadiums during the four-day visit.
The Bengals wanted to avoid scheduling a division game for the trip, as well as making sure fans could get there. In the coming weeks and months, the plan is to have opportunities for tickets to the game for season ticket holders and possibly others as well as travel packages available.
Connelly, in his 32nd season coordinating Bengals road trips, says he has an advantage of scheduling the club's longest trip in history because of the NFL's eight-year experience in the series and his peers' willingness to share information. The Jets, who beat the Dolphins in London last month, have sent him their 72-page work sheet from their trip.
And back in June he took a day-and-a-half break from an overseas vacation to scout London on a tour from the league when it became apparent the Bengals were a candidate.
"We're not the first team to do this. There's a lot of history ahead of us," Connelly said. "Jacksonville has been there a lot (the past three seasons) and they've told me, 'Whatever you want to know, just ask.' And to get the opportunity to be on the ground 16 months before the game is a big head start. We're not looking to re-invent the wheel. We'll be staying in a hotel and practicing on a field that has already hosted NFL teams."
The challenges range from plugs for computers to the traffic patterns of a city teeming with nearly eight million people to securing an entire traveling party passports to a nearly eight-hour flight that is nearly double the club's longest trips to San Francisco and Seattle that border on four and a half hours.
"It's a beautiful city. I'll go back again. And big. People don't realize how big it is," Connelly said. "A lot of traffic and it's different getting from Point A to Point B. The only way you get a police escort is if you have the Queen on the bus."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has yet to decide what day to leave for the game, but he's leaning toward Thursday night and arriving in London Friday morning on a schedule that would closely mirror the club's West Coast itinerary.
The Bills, who lost to the Jaguars last month in London, left immediately after they played the Bengals in Buffalo on Sunday night. Since Lewis is close to both Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who opted for the Thursday departure, as well as Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan, Lewis is going to get plenty of advice.
"You're basically losing a half day," said Connelly of 12 hours swallowed by the flight and a clock that is five hours ahead of Cincinnati. "So you have to decide what is the more positive impact on the team. The coaches game plan all day Monday and Tuesday and the players go through install and practice Wednesday and Thursday."
The departure date dictates what hotel and practice field the Bengals use, sites that figure to be in the proximity of Wembley, which is about 10 miles from central London. Central London, which is akin to downtown Manhattan, isn't an option for the club's headquarters because of the traffic.
"That's the next big decision," Connelly said of the day to leave. "Then I'll go back over and finish up the logistics. It will be a lot like what we do planning for a road game here."
But since the Bengals are the home team, they get the first choice of hotel, practice site, and locker room.
In the wake of Wednesday's announcement, the business community and local leaders are rallying to Cincinnati's chance to build the city's profile in a foreign market.
"A game like this is an incredible opportunity," said Dan Lincoln, president and chief executive officer of Cincy USA in the team's press release. "We're working to attract meetings, conventions, events and visitors from all over the world. This puts Cincinnati front and center on the world stage and we'll have a chance to give meeting planners and business leaders a glimpse into the amazing convention epast nvironment and visitor experience we can offer here."
The Mayor's office is suddenly looking at new and vast audience.
"This is an opportunity for us to show an international audience what Cincinnati is all about," Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said in the news release. " I can't think of a better way for us to leverage one of our best assets, the Bengals, to promote our city to businesses and tourists in the UK." The Bengals' own image continues to mushroom. While they are gunning for their fifth straight playoff appearance and second AFC North title in three years, two more nationally-televised games beckon next month and their local partners have noticed. Such as Jim Moehring, who co-owns The Holy Grail sports bar that reigns on the patch of riverfront known as The Banks.
"They are obviously becoming even higher profile. And with that comes these kinds of games," said Moehring in the news release. "From our perspective, trading one Sunday afternoon game against the Redskins for more prime time games and playoff games is a big win for The Banks and the City."
Mike Brown, who has attended every regular-season game in Bengals history, doesn't usually make a habit of being a tourist on the road.
"When we're playing games, I don't like to kick up my heels. I'm focused on the game," he said.
But he's also an avid historian and the London game may prove to be an exception.
"I think our players will get a kick out of it. To me it's something that should be fun if you're a fan and can also be a tourist," Brown said. "It's special to get a chance to see all the things we've heard about. The Tower of London. Parliament. All the great museums, wonderful churches, and so many historical sites. I would like to find a way."