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Ticket gambit opens interesting can of worms in Cincy

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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So the Cincinnati Bengals offered a buy-one-get-one-free ticket deal for their Sunday win-and-pray-or-bust showdown with Baltimore. And the debate rages on about:

A) Who is responsible for this?
B) Who will pay for it?
C) What happens if this continues?
D) What lessons can be learned?

Well, these are all fairly easy to determine, and settles all the arguments for you so that you can spend the rest of the week arguing about whether Tim Tebow could convince Kim Jong-Un to give up evil in exchange for an NFL franchise in Pyongyang.

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A) Mike Brown and the Bengals are responsible, because it is his responsibility to fill his stadium. Period. It is not the fan base's fault if it comes with better ways to spend a Sunday, and those of you who believe otherwise clearly have decided to become management tools. Remember, the customer is not obliged to do anything at all; he or she must be convinced that a football game is the best way to spend his or her money. It is not a civic or patriotic duty, and those who decide not to buy tickets are no less ardent than those who do. They have made an educated choice, one that the Bengals may wish to heed.

B) The taxpayers of Hamilton County will pay for it, since they have to buy the tickets that don't get sold as part of their deal with the Bengals when the stadium plan was devised. This is proof that citizens should never allow themselves to allow such a shameful hostage deal. If an NFL team cannot find money to do its own construction project, the owners deserve to perish, or be forced to sell. I mean, they're all essentially billionaires now anyway. (Correction: An amended agreement in 2000 voided the ticket guarantee provision of the team's lease with Hamilton County.)

C) If this problem moving tickets continues, the Bengals will go nowhere. For all the links to the Baltimore situation that separated the Colts from the place that made them meaningful, the league was in 24 metropolitan areas. It is now in 30, and the largest area not covered by an NFL team is Riverside, Calif., which would be swallowed up by the loss of the vacancy in Los Angeles. They can hint about all they want, but the Bengals don't have better cities available to them, since L.A. looks like a landing spot for the Chargers and then either the Rams, Vikings or Raiders. And that's even if the Bengals could break their lease, which most folks doubt.

D) Which brings us to the lesson. Moving tickets in a tough economy is, well, tough, and providing years of uninteresting product makes it worse. The Bengals are reaping their own whirlwind, and credit goes both to those fans who have stuck it out, and those who have stopped attending, for both groups are voting with their feet, every single week. If the Bengals can't convince enough people to attend, that is wholly, solely and completely the fault of the Bengals. And no matter what happens, that will always be true.

That said, if you can get a free ticket for Sunday's game, well, who are you to refuse a bargain like that? True, zero dollars is a tough price to beat, and you might find a ticket raise to, say, one is more than you can endure, but this is all part of the tricky business of finding out what the market will bear. In Cincinnati, the market has not been able to bear the Bengals, and that seems completely and eminently logical based on their results.

So if you can score a ticket for nothing, by all means do. Credit to you if you manage it, and credit to the Bengals for offering it.

But if it ends here ... well, look at the bright side, Mike. If you don't have revenue, you never have to share it.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com

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