Ticket prices stay same

1-29-03, 6:15 p.m.

Updated: 1-29-03, 11:10 p.m.

Updated: 1-30-03, 3:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals' ticket prices, 10th lowest in the NFL last season, won't change in 2003. Excluding club seat premiums, the average ticket price was $49.23, $3.50 less than the league's average price last season.

"I'm pleased that the club is able to keep ticket prices at this level so we can get our fans to be excited about filling the house," said new head coach Marvin Lewis. "We have to do our part as a football team, but we'll always look for a big boost from our home crowd."

Opponents at Paul Brown Stadium this season (with their 2002 records) include Denver (9-7), San Francisco (10-6), Kansas City (8-8), Houston (4-12), Seattle (7-9), Baltimore (7-9), Cleveland (9-7), and Pittsburgh (10-5-1).

The ticket price schedule for general admission seats is as follows:

Zone CC (Convertible Club, Club Level) $54

Season tickets are on sale now through the Bengals ticket office. The phone number is 513-621-TDTD (8383).

BENGALS FIGHT SUIT: Claiming the Bengals have violated their stadium lease with Hamilton County by not fielding a competitive team, county commissioner Todd Portune Thursday filed a lawsuit against the club in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. Portune was also expected to name the National Football League in the suit.

Portune, who failed to convince the other two county commissioners in his effort to get the county to sue the Bengals, filed as a private citizen. He had set a Wednesday deadline for the Bengals and the NFL to respond to his call to re-negotiate the lease to Paul Brown Stadium that was signed five years ago.

The Bengals released a statement Thursday saying they will fight the suit.

"After the Board of County Commissioners voted not to pursue litigation against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on his own today filed a lawsuit against the Bengals and the National Football League, seeking damages and potentially to void the Paul Brown Stadium Lease," the release said. "The Bengals are confident the claims are without merit and will vigorously defend the action."

According to the Associated Press, Portune also has lobbied the NFL to provide a $80 million loan to enable county taxpayers to pay off the stadium debt within the originally projected 20 years.

But the country prosecutor and Portune's fellow commissioners didn't support the suit, and national experts told the AP that they didn't think he had a strong case.

Portune argues that since the Bengals haven't been to the playoffs since 1990 and are coming off a NFL-worst 2-14 season, they aren't living up to terms of the lease.

Yet one local expert says working in the Bengals' favor is their spending at or over the league's $71 million salary cap, as they have the past two seasons, according to various national reports. They also finished the season ranked near the middle of the NFL in offense (18th) and defense (17th).

"If they're spending at the cap, that hurts the case," said Jim Crowley, a Cincinnati lawyer who is a veteran of sports law. "There is just no precedent in sports with something like this. The difficulty is coming up with any evidence that ownership has committed malfeasance. They haven't gone out and drafted all Division IIII players."

Crowley said there is a good chance a court could throw out the case because it is so unique, and then tell the parties to work out their problems.

The AP said Portune demanded that the Bengals make $124 million in lease changes. He also cited the NFL's G-3 program, which provides loans to help build stadiums, as a basis for his call for the $80 million loan from the league.

STRONG START SOUGHT: If anyone knows how a NFL team is going to react to offseason workouts under a new coaching regime. it's new Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton.

Counting his run with the 1995 expansion Panthers, Morton is undergoing his fifth stint with a staff change.

Which means he expects a sizeable turnout when the club opens off-season workouts March 24. That might mean about half the 68 players currently on the roster and maybe more, which just might be the biggest turnout in the free-agency era. One of the bigger knocks against this team has been the lack of attendance at the March and April conditioning sessions that precede minicamps and voluntary workouts.

One stat that lends some validity to the criticism is that last year Bengals' starters lost 68 games to injury, the third most the NFL.

"Typically that first year, it's a good turnout. High percentage," said Morton, who reports to work next week. "And it makes sense that it would be. Put yourself in a player's shoes. He's trying to learn the new staff and what their expectations are. If you're committed, it would behoove you to be there for at least some of the segments and get to know us and our demands. It's not mandatory, but we strongly encourage it."

Who ever shows up, it's going to be a different weight room right down to the layout. Morton is ordering his style of equipment, which will be mixed in with some machines already in place.

For instance, he'll probably have more free weights on hand than before, and he'll probably have some heavier cardiovascular equipment. Keep an eye on that. Head coach Marvin Lewis likes treadmill tests.

Plus, Morton might do a little redecorating in the room.

"It's the same idea no matter what equipment you have," Morton said. "You have to make sure it's being used properly and consistently. And we want to come up with some different and exciting things to keep them coming back."

Not only was Morton there in the first year at Carolina, but he was there when Bobby Ross arrived in San Diego in 1992, Brian Billick in Baltimore in 1999, and Steve Spurrier in Washington last year. He has seen a typical workout day.

"After they get done with their workout," Morton said, "they can do some things on the field with each other, quarterbacks and receivers can throw, and they can watch film. There's always film to watch. Like Marvin says, it adds to esprit de corps."

And you might see some atypical stuff. Like you feel like you're watching ESPN 2 in the middle of the night.

"As we go along," Morton said, "we might do some of those "Strongman," type deals. We've been known to flip some tires. We'll see what we can come up with."

**

MARVIN MANIA ROLLS ON:** Marvin Lewis is in the midst of a good-old fashioned honeymoon any first-term president would love.

The Bengals don't begin their 2003 ticket push for a few more weeks, but bengals.com has received nearly 1,200 ticket information request forms for the month of January. That doesn't mean people will buy, but it indicates the Lewis hire has stirred Bengaldom out of the fall malaise. About 59 percent of those requests are for season tickets.

Lewis is helping his cause by being visible. Management wants him to be the face of the franchise and he

is putting it out there. After swinging by the Channel 5 studios for the 5:30 p.m. news, he dropped the puck at the Cyclones game. Then he'll be up early Thursday for the Channel 19 morning show.

But his best move Wednesday probably came when he convened a group of all Bengals' employees in the team's Paul Brown Stadium meeting room so he could introduce his coaching staff.

Lewis then went around the room and had each department head introduce his or her staff. Bengals President Mike Brown introduced his family and praised Lewis for the idea, saying it was probably the first time everyone had been in the same room together and what a good idea it was.

Lewis explained his philosophy of organization and accountability, stressing the important role every person plays in the building.

"I want you people to know that people around the league who do your job think that we are in a very exciting situation," Lewis said. "We appreciate the job you do and we're going to do whatever it takes to put the best product on the field possible.

"We have to do it together," said Lewis, emphasizing the team concept. The end result?

"Hopefully we'll all be together soon at the Super Bowl," he said.

Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, the lone player in the meeting because of his Achilles rehab, liked the sounds of it.

"It was interesting because it was behind-the-scenes kind of stuff," Gibson said. "I respect his attitude and the initiative he's taking from the bottom up. It's like anything in any corporate structure. There has to be a chain of command. Mr. Brown said pretty much (to Lewis), 'Here's the ball.' It was all positive."

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