Thursday, November 18, 1999

Brown shows no loyalty to city, fans




BY TIM SULLIAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mike Brown is within his rights. And yet, he is wrong.

        The Cincinnati Bengals' president owns all the leverage in the Cinergy Field turf war — his lease says so — but he appears to have misplaced his loyalty. After three decades of tedious squabbles with the Cincinnati Reds, Brown evidently has forgotten that the taxpayers who are funding his new stadium want both of their teams to prosper.

        The issue here is not grass. It is gratitude.

        County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus — that tax-and-spend Republican — staked his political career on selling voters on the necessity of two new stadia. He agreed to a lucrative lease for the Bengals, one that awarded the team site and construction priority, three practice fields on the riverfront and two years of substantial ticket guarantees.

        Now, Bedinghaus wonders about the Bengals' “seeming indifference to the community.” He probably wonders whether he can win re-election if his candidacy is too closely tied to Brown. He must, I suggested Wednesday, feel a little bit betrayed.

        “I don't know how to quantify how I feel about the whole thing,” Bedinghaus said. “But it really isn't an issue of how Bob Bedinghaus feels or how Mike Brown feels. I've not asked Mike Brown for any favors. But I thought this was an example of how those who were interested in the greater good of the community could have come to an understanding on this.

        “But perhaps, after 30 years of animosity between the two teams, this was inevitable.”

Bengals vs. Reds
        Both aesthetically and athletically, grass is the way to go. It's easier on the eyes and a whole lot easier on the legs. Everyone knows that, Mike Brown included.

        Yet because the Reds' plan to install a grass surface in time for next season was contingent on the Bengals' approval, the idea probably was doomed on the drawing board. The Bengals and the Reds have had more petty disputes over the years than Jan and Marcia Brady.

        Unless Paul Brown Stadium opens behind schedule, the Bengals will play their last game at Cinergy Field on Dec.12. Yet Mike Brown retains veto power on the Cinergy surface until his team takes the field at its new home. Brown has used that leverage to seek concessions from the Reds concerning conflicting playing dates. The Reds' decision to make the debate public only made Brown more intransigent.

        The Bengals claim to be concerned about the prospective field conditions in the event they are forced to stage some exhibition games next season at Cinergy Field. Yet those concerns are clearly negotiable. Bottom line: No matter how much you give him, Mike Brown always wants more.

        “If you're negotiating with Mike and you say "yes,'” a Bengals executive once said, “he thinks he left something on the table.”

        Business is business, of course, and Carl Lindner is certainly capable of playing hardball with Mike Brown. Still, any enterprise that continually angers its customers risks severe repercussions. The Bengals have been so bad for so long that their mistakes are magnified and their every move is examined for sinister motives.

        “If a meteor shower occurs this evening and a meteor hits an orphanage, it will be Mike Brown's fault,” Bedinghaus said.

Bad public relations
        So long as the Bengals continue to lose — and there's no end in sight — improving their image may be impossible. Yet Barbara Pinzka, formerly Pete Rose's public relations consultant, sees some strategic steps Mike Brown might consider.

        “I think he should reverse his decision on the (grass),” she said. “That's truly got people stirred up. It's the last straw for a lot of people.”

        Since the Reds already have admitted defeat in the grass impasse, Brown is unlikely to bend. He is less likely to adopt Pinzka's suggestion that he schedule public sessions to allow fans to vent and offer constructive criticism.

        Mike Brown always has doubted the value of public relations. But he's never needed it more.

        “This stuff doesn't mean a damn if you're winning,” Pinzka said. “But it can be everything if you're losing.”

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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