5-8-03, 4:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
New head coach Marvin Lewis has overseen the 24-7 rehab of the Bengals' image and now he'll be overseeing a highway near you.
If you live in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
The Bengals are set to unleash their ticket campaign for 2003 with approximately 25 billboards of what has virtually become their new logo. A picture of Lewis holding a football with a glittering Super Bowl ring and the words, "Welcome to Our Jungle." The voice of the organization has become the face of an organization that once relied on only the football to sell seats.
MarvinVision is timed up with TV and radio ads of snippets from Lewis' miked mincamp, which is all designed to push the Bengals' blitz that steps up May 19 with the sale of two-game ticket packages.
It dovetails into the free advertising offered by the national media, from ABC to Dr. Z, awarding the Bengals one of the NFL's three best drafts. It also coincides with a vintage Lewis high dive into the community that from May 2 to May 15 puts him at seven different events, from visiting wounded Marines and sailors in Maryland to cruising on the Ohio River in a yacht for Youth, Inc.
All Marvin All The Time.
But the billboard also goes against the grain of Lewis' concept of team and he didn't want to be the focus of the campaign until relenting to the only obvious choice.
"I think a lot of times people's fear of doing something like that is human nature. The fear of failing," Lewis said. "I don't fear that. Not at all. So, in that fashion I'm flattered I was chosen. I just hope I don't cause any accidents."
Jeff Berding, the club's director of sales and pubic affairs, can remember back on Dec. 30 when the Bengals were a marketing car wreck coming off a 2-14 season. Berding, a former political strategist, knew his team, "was down in the polls," but a charismatic candidate has turned public opinion around as rapidly as a televised debate.
"A lot of people down here have worked hard and Marvin has been extraordinary," Berding said. "If the election were at the end of this football season off of how how last season went, you could say we had no opportunity to win the election. But if you look what has happened over the past four months, I think people would say we certainly have a good shot and that we've put ourselves back into position to win it. But there's no question it comes down to what happens on the field."
"The election," is public opinion, and the Bengals' marketers had no question about how to sell 2003 after five years of averaging less than four wins a year. The focus groups are already showing the momentum. The Carson Palmer No. 9 jersey has been advertised on bengals.com for two weeks and there have already been 100 sales.
"Everything is focused on Marvin Lewis from now until the regular season starts," said Vince Cicero, the club's director of corporate sales and marketing. "He's been the biggest acquisition in the offseason and certainly the most visible in the community. He's the face of the organization and everyone in Cincinnati has seen it in the last few months."
Lewis' exuberant foray into the community has helped. He figures he's appeared at between 25 to 40 functions since taking the job Jan. 14. On Thursday, with two minicamps and the draft completed, Lewis had time to autograph about 50 reprints of a charcoal drawing of Lewis with a boy and a girl for the Cincinnati Boys and Girls Clubs, where he spoke last week.
But he warns his players that they will have to fill in for him come the season.
"They're going to have more free time than I am during the fall," Lewis said. "I'll have football, and right now I don't have a family to come home to because they won't get here for a few more months. But it's something they have to do. Not only is it good for us promotion-wise, but it helps them grow as people.
Berding knows the term "The Jungle," fires up emotional embers in souls of Bengals' fans. It conjures up misty memories of two Super Bowls and sell-out Sundays. The campaign's drawing board had "My Jungle," but Lewis balked.
"It's an invitation from Marvin to re-create the glory days," Berding said. "It's more than the players' Jungle, or the organization's Jungle. It's the fans' Jungle , too. Marvin is saying, you bring the support and I'll bring the football and together we'll make it work."
Berding also believes Lewis's Super Bowl bauble on his finger has a nice ring to it.
"He brings credibility and with that he's brought encouragement," Berding said. "People might say, 'He's out in the community, I'll support him by going to a game. He spoke to my group, I want to see a game.' If he went to your children's school, a parent might say, 'I'll give him a chance, he's earned the shot.' And it all ties in. A full stadium with black and orange helps Marvin, it helps the team, and it helps the community because everyone wants to see the Bengals win."
Lewis sees the same thing in this town that he has seen all over the country: "People want to be attached to a winner and not attached to a loser. Cincinnati is no different than anywhere else. The fans here have been great. There's definitely enthusiasm."
Lewis may be worried about his billboard causing traffic accidents, yet it's no accident that the Bengals chose the NFL's most qualified assistant coach and that Lewis chose an organization where his access to the top could be used quickly and decisively. In naming him one of the top influential minorities in sports, "Sports Illustrated," said this week that Lewis has more clout than any Bengals head coach ever.
But Lewis has the same access every head coach has had to Paul, and now to Mike Brown. At many NFL teams, coaches are faced with a layer of bureaucracy that can sap their power. But after talking to people like his predecessor, Dick LeBeau, Lewis realized that he only has one man to convince, and it is Bengals President Mike Brown.
Even during his days in Baltimore, Lewis watched head coach Brian Billick work with general manager Ozzie Newsome before going to owners David and Art Modell.
"Brian and Ozzie would always go as a united front, but they had to get that OK. That happens everywhere in the NFL. The owner always has the final say," Lewis said. "I have one less person because I can go right to Mike, so maybe I can argue with myself or something."
Lewis denies he has head coach-general manager powers. All he says is, "I don't know what you would call it. All I know is I do what I'm supposed to do and Mike and I are working together."
The Marvin Channel is feeling no undue pressure.
"Every coach has pressure," Lewis said. "But to me it's not pressure. It's a responsibility. A responsibility to win."
The campaign sets up the May 19 start of the ticket pack sales for Paul Brown Stadium games with the two-game sets ranging from $70, $78, $88, $98, and $108.
Pack A is Denver on Sept. 7 and Pittsburgh on Sept. 21. Pack B is Cleveland on Dec. 28. and Baltimore on Oct. 19.. Pack C is Seattle on Oct. 26 and Kansas City on Nov. 16. Pack D is San Francisco on Dec. 14 and Houston on Nov. 9.