Many fans may have seen the Cincinnati Enquirer news story today referencing the ESPN The Magazine article ranking our Cincinnati Bengals franchise poorly among professional sports teams.
These types of fan rankings are common in the sports industry and are not like the professional public opinion polls that most companies and news organizations use. But we care about the opinion of our fans, business partners and the public, and since we have a different perspective than ESPN's, we wanted to share it.
First of all, this Magazine ranking is very subjective and based on criteria subject to personal interpretation. Just five years ago, the Bengals ranked 19th in this same poll.
This is largely a fan ranking, and of course fans are sour right now. We all are sour. Last year's poor season, coming off of a division championship and high offseason expectations, is extremely disappointing. We understand. And we want to affirm that we hear the feedback and continuously are working to improve in each of these areas.
The criteria for the ranking were the following:
Ownership – Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community.
Fan Relations – Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management.
Affordability – Price of tickets, parking and concessions.
Stadium Experience – Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment.
Players – Effort on the field and likability off it.
Coaching – Strength of on-field leadership.
Title Track – Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans.
Bang for the Buck – Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules.
We cannot comment on other clubs, but we know that we have plenty to highlight in these categories:
1. As for ownership's loyalty to core players, the team through the years has extended the contracts of many of its key players. As for the community, in the last six years we have donated more than $1 million to help Greater Cincinnati public schools build and renovate their football stadiums and recreation fields. We also have given $250,000 to help build the riverfront park and $250,000 to help build decks over Fort Washington Way. Additionally, we donate and help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Freestore Foodbank, Greater Cincinnati Boys and Girls Clubs and many other local charities. Last year, our organization contributed more than $100,000 to the Greater Cincinnati United Way. In partnership with ARAMARK, we offer dozens of local community groups the opportunity to staff our game day concessions stands, resulting in more than $500,000 in total donations in 2010. The Bengals welcome the opportunity to give back to the community that has unconditionally supported the team for more than 40 years, and we contribute quietly, not with trumpets.
2. With fan relations, our training camp at Georgetown College is among the most accessible in the league and our players offer a great deal of time and energy signing autographs. Our coaches are also very involved in the community, led by Marvin Lewis and his Community Fund, which has donated more than $5.5 million since 2003. We had a free public practice last year in Dayton, and hope to go back this year, where fans were treated to a fun practice and player autographs afterwards. We have provided countless free tours of the stadium to our fans, and we work with and support youth and high school coaches and players in numerous ways. For example, the club financially recognizes high school coaches with its Coach of the Week program and annual Paul Brown Excellence in Coaching Award.
3. For affordability, we have not raised ticket prices during two of the last three years, and our tickets continually rank in the lower third of the NFL. We are very mindful of the size of our market and the economic challenges of our fans while we strive to financially compete among our peers in the NFL. We have also worked to hold the line on concession and parking prices and keep them as affordable as possible.
4. We are very proud of Paul Brown Stadium and think it is among the very finest stadiums in the country. We think fans are treated to a high quality fan experience here, and we are continually working to improve the game day atmosphere, including through investments in new technologies, sound system improvements, an expanded JungleZone last year, the installation of the "jerk line" and more.
5. We do not understand and take great exception to our ranking last in our players' effort on the field and likeability off it. At times, our solid core of players has been overshadowed. They are a group that two years ago swept what is regarded as among the toughest divisions in football while contributing tremendously in the community. Andrew Whitworth and Leon Hall are two of the best players in the league who also have their own charitable foundations. Bobbie Williams and Reggie Kelly are among the friendliest NFL players anyone could ever hope to meet, and both are very visible in our community. Dhani Jones has his own charity, does plenty of high profile events and is among the most likeable, interesting players in the league. Many more of our players make significant charity efforts with their own foundations, including Cedric Benson, Quan Cosby, Chinedum Ndukwe, Chad Ochocinco, Antwan Odom, Carson Palmer, Frostee Rucker, Pat Sims, Andre Smith and Roy Williams. Many more of our players regularly visit and give to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, as well as sign hundreds of footballs to provide to charities as fundraising tools. Many actively participate in our Hometown Huddle day of service to create a lasting impact in the community, and support the Freestore Foodbank during the Taste of the NFL and the annual Hoxworth Center Blood Drive at Paul Brown Stadium.
6. Our coaches, like our players and everyone in our organization, suffered a disappointing year in 2010, and the team collectively takes full responsibility for that. But it is easy to forget that in 2009, Marvin Lewis was named the NFL Coach of the Year by three prominent entities – the Associated Press (this is widely considered to be the flagship award), Sports Illustrated, and Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America. Additionally, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was named the Assistant Coach of the Year by Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America, as well as CBSSports.com.
7. Finally, regarding the title track: While the team has yet to win a Super Bowl, we are among 14 of the 32 NFL teams to have won two division titles in the last six seasons. Still, we know we have work to do to get back to that level of success.
The Bengals have been a franchise with great support from our fans and the community. During this past 2010 season, the club enjoyed a record-setting 57th straight sellout. Our games have been the most-watched television program in the local market for the 96 consecutive weeks in which we played. Each weekend we have a Bengals game, there are more than 250,000 homes in Greater Cincinnati (nearly half of all homes) watching our team on television. We are very grateful for our fans, and we consider ourselves fortunate to be a part of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Our record is not what we want it to be, for sure. But it is unfortunate that a national publication has derided the organization, which includes all of our employees, coaches and players – people who care, work hard and do good things. Every person who works at Paul Brown Stadium wants the same thing – to win a Super Bowl for the fans and Cincinnati. Until we win that final Sunday of the season, we know we have fallen short of our goals and leave our fans unsatisfied and wanting more. We want more as well. Make no mistake … the goal every season is to win the Super Bowl.
We look forward to a fresh start in 2011 with Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden leading us in a new direction. We believe that we have a solid mix of veterans, rookies and coaches who can win this year, and win the Super Bowl we all seek.
Thank you for taking time to consider our perspective, and we thank you for your support of our Bengals and NFL football in Cincinnati.