By Jon Cassidy | Ohio Watchdog
COLUMBUS — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been pressuring the National Football League for the past two years to get more home games on television, but just when it seemed he might win, he was sold out, so to speak, by the Cincinnati Bengals‘ owner.
The Bengals are putting a few hundred thousand dollars ahead of the chance to improve on a sorry 2011 broadcast schedule that had just two out of eight home games air on local TV.
Since the early 1970s, the league-wide policy has been not to broadcast games within 75 miles of the stadium, if they’re not sold out 72 hours before game time.
The Bengals announced Tuesday that the team would not take advantage of a new policy that allows home games to be broadcast in the home market, once 85 percent of tickets have been sold. The Cleveland Browns said the same thing last week.
Brown, a Democrat, wrote letters in 2010 to the NFL and twice in the past year to the Federal Communications Commission, which agreed in January to review the blackout policy.
Taking the initiative, the league announced July 2 that teams could broadcast home games, once 85 percent of tickets had been sold, as long as they shared some of the revenue from the other 15 percent with the rest of the league.
Brown’s responsewas to celebrate “that all Bengals fans can root for the home team — not just those who can afford tickets.”
Cincinnati taxpayers still are suffering from a downtown stadium deal the Wall Street Journal called “one of the worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government,” one “that has fanned the county’s current struggles.”
One study calculated the stadium’s cost to taxpayers at $555 million, the most any football team has received.
Not that the team is showing gratitude by making more games available on TV. It would cost a total of just $186,739 to institute the new policy, if attendance this year is the same as last year, Forbes calculated.
The Bengals chose to keep the money.
“If you think back when they passed the sales tax to finance the stadiums, they did it so people could come downtown to the stadiums and watch games,” Bengals’ owner Mike Brown told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “They didn’t do it so people could sit at home and watch games on television.”
The Cleveland Browns announced July 16 that it wouldn’t take advantage of the new policy.
Three days later, Brown and two other members of Congress were back to pressuring the NFL in another letter, making the point that revenue sharing is a “punitive policy” that “dissuades teams from trying” the new arrangement.
Neal Gulkis, the Browns’ vice president of media relations, told the Akron Beacon-Journal that the blackout policy was a non-issue.
“Our fan support has been tremendous, and we fully expect that all of our games will be sold out and televised locally,” he said.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the only team around the league planning to adopt the new policy.
But there’s hope for Bengals fans. The team made the playoffs last year, cut ticket prices in the offseason, and have sold out two games this year, giving fans some hope that they’ll have more chances to watch Taylor Mays try to prove he’s not a liability in coverage.