Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Bengals' settlement share drops

Miscalculation could put deal with county in jeopardy again

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Bengals' contribution toward settling a lawsuit with their fans is much less than Hamilton County officials thought last week.

        That revelation could jeopardize a proposed settlement among disgruntled Bengals fans, the county and the team.

        Six fans sued the county and the team last year, claiming they had paid to sit in specific sections of the stadium but were given seats in less expensive areas. That suit now includes all season-ticket holders.

        Bengals officials reported last week that the team would contribute 1,368 seats, with a value of $1.2 million, to a relocation program. This week, the number of seats dropped by 205, with 76 of those seats coming out of the most expensive zone A.

        The lost seats, caused by a miscalculation in the ticket office and brought to the county's attention by team officials Monday, drop the Bengal's contribution by $258,000.

        “This obviously raises some practical problems,” said Carl Stich, a chief assistant prosecuting attorney who is handling the case for Hamilton County. “It does have an effect on where the break-even point is.”

        The “break-even point” — the point where the team is contributing as much toward the settlement as taxpayers — is important because Commissioner John Dowlin has said he won't approve the deal unless that happens. Mr. Dowlin is the swing vote on the issue. Tom Neyer likes the proposed settlement, while Todd Portune is opposed.

        Mr. Dowlin, who is out of town until May 29, insisted that a vote on the matter be delayed until an analysis of how much each side is contributing is completed.

        The new break-even point is 79 percent. That means that 79 percent of the 1,900 fans interested in being moved into the zone they paid for must be relocated for the Bengals and the county to pay equal $1.7 million shares toward the settlement. Each fan who is moved increases the Bengals contribution toward the settlement, while at the same time reducing the county's liability.

        Bengals attorney W. Stuart Dornette said the confusion over the numbers was an honest mistake. He said there are more questions than answers with the lawsuit now.

        “I really don't know if we can accommodate (79) percent of the people” seeking relocation, Mr. Dornette said. “This settlement seems to have had more than its share of unexpected turns.”

        Lawyers for the county and the team met for nearly two hours Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Dornette argued that the county was not giving the Bengals full credit for their contribution, regardless of the number of seats.

        That's because 932 fans already have decided to give up their seat licenses and get full refunds — a cost the Bengals will share.

        Carl Stich, a chief assistant prosecuting attorney who is handling the case for the county, said no decision has been made on the appropriate way to calculate the Bengals' contribution.

        “I think they have a point,” Hamilton County Administrator Dave Krings said of the Bengals' argument. “I've thought that all along.”

        Further complicating the settlement are another 1,000 fans who have the opportunity to give up their seat licenses at the end of the football season.

        A hearing is scheduled for the lawsuit Thursday. It is designed to allow fans to voice their opinion about the settlement proposal.


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