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Is Dropping the Bengals Ticket Guarantee Meaningful?

By Doug Trapp · July 20th, 2000 · Burning Questions
The Cincinnati Bengals and Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus have taken a great deal of heat for the ticket guarantee included in the Paul Brown Stadium lease. If the Bengals didn't sell 50,000 seats for any of the first two years of home games, the county was responsible for buying enough tickets to make up the difference.

After a lawsuit by stadium tax critic Tim Mara, much public criticism and rounds of negotiations with the Bengals, Bedinghaus -- along with his fellow commissioners and Bengals owner Mike Brown -- removed the ticket clause from the stadium lease at a special June 29 meeting.

The question is, with about six weeks before the first scheduled game on Aug. 19, had the Bengals already sold enough tickets so that dropping the guarantee wouldn't hurt them?

No, said Jeff Berding, the Bengals director of sales and public affairs.

Although National Football League teams don't release ticket sales until the Monday before a game, at the earliest, Berding said the Bengals could still lose millions of dollars by dropping the 50,000-seat guarantee, especially in the 2001 season. When tickets went on sale in May, there were 18,000 to 20,000 available per game.

Although no game has sold out yet, Berding expects one for the Cleveland game.

But the ticket guarantee's real purpose was to provide an incentive for the county to market charter ownership agreements, also known as seat licenses, according to Berding.

Under the Bengals lease, the county was responsible for marketing the licenses from 1996 until Aug. 1, 2000. The seat licenses -- which cost from $150 to $1,500 -- are a required buy that gives people the right to buy season tickets.

When the license plan was hatched four years ago, there was a lot of fear that Bengals season ticketholders for Cinergy Field wouldn't want to pay for the right to buy season tickets.

Berding said the fear turned out to be unjustified, however, and now there's no reason to keep the ticket guarantee in the lease. So far the county and the Bengals have sold 43,000 licenses for the 65,600-seat stadium, Berding said. The Bengals' dream figure was 60,000.

"It was successful," Berding said. "It wasn't as successful as we would have hoped."

In exchange for dropping the ticket guarantee, the Bengals agreed to take over ticket marketing on June 24, 38 days early. That means the Bengals, not the county, will receive all seat license revenues during that period.

But those 38 days of extra revenues won't amount to much, according to Don Schumacher, president of Don Schumacher and Associates, the firm handling the administrative part of the seat license sales since 1996. Its contract ends July 31.

Schumacher had no way of knowing how many seat licenses the Bengals might sell but estimated a good month might bring a few hundred sales. If, for example, the licenses cost $300 each and they sell 100 of them, that's an extra $30,000 in the Bengals pockets.

"In the overall scheme, you're talking about a small number of licenses," Schumacher said, noting that he bases that guess on the lack of a coordinated marketing campaign by the Bengals, who didn't expect to start selling licenses this soon.

But Schumacher, who said the new Bengals facility is "the best football stadium in the world," believes people will begin flocking to Paul Brown Stadium once they see a game played there just because of the facility's quality.

BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.


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