OK, fans, get ready to pay some more

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengal fans should brace themselves for some sticker shock. The cost of following pro football in this town may soon require a second mortgage.

Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus and Bengals President Mike Brown announced a memorandum of understanding Tuesday afternoon concerning the financial arrangements involved in Cincinnati's forthcoming football stadium.

Essentially, their understanding was as follows: Nothing gets built until the fans get fleeced.

Before the first spade is plunged into the soil, the county must sell at least $20 million in personal seat licenses. That works out to 40,000 PSLs at an average of $500 a seat. That's just the beginning.

The Bengals must negotiate 10-year leases on at least 80 percent of an estimated 100 luxury boxes, at an average rate of roughly $65,000 per year. That's exclusive of the price of game tickets. And that's not the end of it.

Another 6,000 fans must be persuaded to pay close to $1,000 annually for at least 10 years for the privilege of sitting in ''club seats.''

Bottom line: Bengal fans and corporate patrons must commit a minimum of $128 million between now and April 30 to plug any possible escape clauses. Otherwise, the entire deal could collapse and the Bengals would be free to relocate.

Will money be raised?

Six months after the half-cent sales tax holdup, Bedinghaus and Brown have again returned to the extortion racket. It's your money or your team, all over again. Only this time the payment schedule is a little more steep.

On one level, at least, this is probably as it should be. Those people who patronize pro football in Cincinnati should expect to bear a larger financial load than that borne by ordinary, ambivalent citizens. If you are unwilling to pay a premium for your autumn entertainment, you can hardly presume to stick John Q. Public with the whole check.

Question is: Does Cincinnati have the dollars to get it done?

''I think it will be a real challenge,'' said veteran fund-raiser Roger Ach. ''I think the business community will come together for their part of it, and I think there's very broad support for keeping the Bengals in town. But I'm not sure how deep it goes.''

Bengals' season-ticket holders are a remarkably loyal lot - either that, or they are masochists - but there are not enough of them to fill a 70,000-seat stadium. There are not enough Bengal season-ticket holders, Mike Brown acknowledged Tuesday, to cover all the personal seat licenses the county is obligated to sell.

Time to ante up

In order to meet their sales quotas, the Bengals must cultivate Central Ohio and Northern Kentucky. They need the architects to come up with compelling renderings to attract new customers. Above all, they must strive to maintain true minimum pricing.

''You'll find that it's scaled to our market and our situation,'' Brown promised. ''It won't be as pricey as they are elsewhere. We're a small market. We're the 31st-sized market in the country. We can't extract out of our market what you can out of Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore and some of the other cities.

''We aren't a new market. We understand that. There isn't quite the pizazz that you might have with a new girl friend. We're still running around with our old wives.''

Exact prices have yet to be disclosed, but it seems likely there will be a lot more used cars at future Bengal tailgate parties. There is only so much discretionary income to go around, and Joe Fan has to budget with the Reds' new ballpark in mind, too.

The Bengals' advantage here is that they are already moving ahead while Marge Schott stumbles around in a circle. Jeff Berding, the Bengals point man for prime seating, has already been in the pockets of corporate Cincinnati during the sales tax campaign.

''The business community has been very supportive,'' Berding said. ''During the campaign, they put up close to a million dollars with the understanding that if it was successful we would need to come back to them.''

That time has come. Let's have those wallets.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Sept. 11, 1996.