Long ago I wrote an article about why the Cincinnati Bengals would never be a championship team, even if they could load their team with all first-round draft picks. It was never about talent; the Bengals have always had great talent that was worth watching. I usually go to a few games a year even though I am not particularly keen on the Bengals because of their losing reputation, and I really enjoy watching Carlos Dunlap play, along with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. There are others as well. There is a lot to like about having the Bengals in Cincinnati and the NFL experience in general, but I typically don’t get very excited about them because of their front office approach to the customer base. Mike Brown as an owner never really understood what his role was as an owner and people do resent him for it. Sure they buy the product the way people in Russia bought bread during the height of communism, because there wasn’t any other option. Mike Brown was happy to just barely get by and keep his team in the black financially, but he has shown that he doesn’t care about the customer in the stands buying his product.
Since I do love the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I did go to the home Bengal game when they played in Cincinnati at the end of October. Tampa Bay has been good some years and not so good other years, like this year. But what I see out of their organization every year is an attempt to win. They may get the combinations wrong, but at least they try, so I remain a loyal fan. As many who have read here for years know, I became a Tampa Bay fan because Mike Brown fired Sam Wyche when he was the head coach of the Bengals back in 1992 for one bad season. I never thought it was fair and I followed Sam Wyche to Tampa and remained a fan even after all the many coaching changes there because I simply think the Glazers are good owners and I cheer for their teams because I like them as people. Good people, good product, good public. Tampa Bay is a great place to watch a game win or lose, because you always feel they are trying.
However, after the Buc, Bengal game on a very beautiful day in Cincinnati where the home team held on to win in a close game that was very exciting I was in the Club section using the restroom after and by the way the fans were talking you’d think that the Bengals had lost. The talk after the game was that it was a miracle that Marvin Lewis didn’t find a way to lose the game, not that the home town Bengals had won, and I actually felt sorry for the team. Honestly, the Bengals played a good game. The Bucs at the time were playoff contenders so there was a lot for Bengal fans to be happy about. But the reputation of the team has left a fog over the entire organization that was costing them millions and millions of dollars and it was quite embarrassing.
Like I said, I go to a few games a year. I love the Club section because it’s usually a business class of people and I like the indoor amenities. There’s room to get up and walk around that you don’t get throughout the rest of the stadium. But I noticed that during the entire game almost no seats around us filled up with people. While the season ticket holders and hard-core blue-collar fans who have invested many of thousands of personal dollars into the Bengals and are willing to overlook the Bengal faults due to their own large investments into the NFL experience, the business class people see clearly what is going on with the Bengal organization and they aren’t supporting them even when they get free tickets through business associations. They simply have better things to do with their lives than watch losers play. Because business people know that even when losers sometimes win by accident, they are still losers, and that is the state of the current Bengal ownership under Mike Brown and they reject the product wholesale. When you can’t even give away free tickets, there is a problem with the product.
In business we are all trained, especially these days to give value to the customer, the people who pay for your product. If they aren’t getting value, what incentive do they have to continue using the product. The days of old top down relationships with the customer that large companies and monopolies had could afford to ignore the customer experience somewhat. For instance, the reason GM is failing isn’t because of large tariffs, but because they have a lackluster labor force that builds bad cars people don’t want. People bought them back when only America was building cars. But when there are better options, people will go where their value is massaged. In the case of GM put a Chevy Cruz next to a Toyota Corolla and the differences are obvious. I personally still support the GM brand, my family likes the cross-overs, but for sedans, there isn’t any question as to quality between the two. It’s the same with the NFL, Mike Brown thinks that just having a professional football team is all it takes, and up until a few years ago he was partially right. People were happy to have an NFL team in their city whether they were winners or losers, just the experience was worth the cost of the product. But times have changed, where the Bengals haven’t.
With the advent of Fantasy Football and the video game culture of Madden, the new generation of football fans are less inclined to love the home town team as they are players that they can invest in. The loyalty to the team as a whole has been broken up in these days of more individualized experiences such as we see with the smart phone revolution. That means that if a football team doesn’t occasionally win a big championship fans will drift away onto other interests, and the product will be permanently impacted. It’s a simple value stream kind of thing that any business would track trying to ensure that the customer experience is something they could build a business on. The Mike Brown assumption that people will buy his product regardless of what decisions he makes is really quite an insult especially to the business class people who spend their entire work week trying to figure out how to make their customers happy only to spend their leisure time getting spit in the face by Mike Brown. The final straw for Cincinnati fans was a few years ago when the Bengals were winning a playoff game against Pittsburg and they blew the ending with stupid penalties. Marvin Lewis stuck by those players not trying to recruit better personalities in the offseason and for smart people, they saw a lazy coach who was just riding the cart Mike Brown was pushing. And that was why fans were in the bathroom on a really wonderful day with a Bengal win against a good team complaining about Marvin Lewis when they should have been celebrating.
Whether the product is government, entertainment, or general business, the first obligation is to the people who give you money for that service. A few years ago when there was only the Post Office, there wasn’t anywhere to complain about the lazy postal worker who carelessly threw mail on our front porches. But with the rise of FedEx and UPS, that changed. The same with phone companies, it used to be that if you made a call outside of your home zip code, you would be charged for long distance communication. Now there are many communication options and those costs are long gone. And when it comes to sports, there are lots and lots of options and these days it’s actually more fun to watch them on the big magnificent televisions in the comfort of our homes. I still like to hear the roar of a crowd and see things in person, but if the customer experience sucks, I’ll just stay home. And that is what is happening to the Bengals. I wish I hadn’t been right all those years ago, but as usual, unfortunately I was. The Bengals under Mike Brown ownership will never win a championship. He has disrespected the customer base to a point that it will never recover and that’s a shame. Especially when Cincinnati has given him so much by way of tax relief and other benefits. Mike Brown didn’t respect Cincinnati enough to at least try to win. He is happy with mediocrity and his insult to all of us is that he insists that we like it.
I’d love to love the Bengals and take my grandkids down to the field to get autographs by really good people and players like Carlos Dunlap. But because of Mike Brown’s terrible leadership, I just can’t.
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