Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Bengals let go of sellout guarantee

Lease change means county won't buy leftover tickets

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County won't have to buy any tickets to Cincinnati Bengals games during the team's first two years in Paul Brown Stadium.

        A clause in the Bengals' lease, signed in 1997, would have forced the county to buy as many tickets as needed to guarantee 50,000 were sold for each home game during this season and next.

        But Bengals and county officials have agreed on a change in the lease that will remove that clause.

        In exchange, the Bengals will get all revenue from any Charter Ownership Agreements sold between now and Aug. 1, when that money would have gone to the team anyway.

        The COA charge, a one-time payment of between $300 and $600 for the right to purchase season tickets, had been going into county coffers as the Bengals' contribution toward construction of the $450 million stadium.

        The lease amendment becomes official Thursday, when county commissioners meet in a special session to approve the deal.

        Commission President Bob Bedinghaus said the county isn't really giving up much cash. The county would have had to spend money on advertising to sell the COAs, and that would have negated much of the profit, he said.

        “The whole idea of the county being involved in ticket marketing was to help fund the stadium,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “Once we got beyond that, it really became obvious it was the Bengals' responsibility.

        “We got the money we needed. Now it's time for the Bengals to step up and sell tickets.”

        Bengals owner Mike Brown agreed. He said this is more about thanking the community for its support in building the new stadium.

        The guarantee was put in place, he said, because when the lease was negotiated, the Bengals were in a rare situation — a team staying in the same town while trying to sell COAs.

        “We were concerned that it would be a burden on our season-ticket holders, and our base would suffer,” Mr. Brown said. “That didn't happen.

        Team officials said the number of seats sold for each game varies, but is nearing 50,000 for every game of the inaugural season in Paul Brown Stadium.

        “This magnificent stadium ought to be more than enough for us,” Mr. Brown said. “We shouldn't ask the people of Hamilton County for more.”

        Critics say it's not that simple.

        Democrat Cincinnati Councilman Todd Portune, who is running against Mr. Bedinghaus for a seat on the county commission, said the deal is more about politics than ticket sales.

        Mr. Brown and his family have been big financial supporters of Mr. Bedinghaus. Also, Mr. Portune says, this agreement was reached only after it became apparent that waiving the guarantee wouldn't hit the Bengals in the wallet.

        Mr. Brown said that's unfair. The Bengals are taking a risk, he said, particularly next year.

        “I don't apologize for my support of Bob. Without him, the development of our riverfront would have languished,” Mr. Brown said.

        The announcement means Cincinnati lawyer Tim Mara will dismiss part of his lawsuit against the county. Mr. Mara had sued the county because he thinks the guaranteed ticket sales and potential charges if the stadium opens late are against Ohio law.

        “Sure, I'll gladly dismiss that aspect of the suit, because we wanted all along to make sure that taxpayers aren't held accountable for that expense,” Mr. Mara said.

        Mr. Mara's suit also takes issue with other aspects of the Bengals' lease, which gives the team control over riverfront property surrounding the stadium and does not charge the team rent during the middle 10 years of the 30-year lease.

        Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Nurre said at a hearing on the suit Tuesday that he will hold off on any ruling until after Aug. 19, when it will become clear whether any late payments will be made to the Bengals.

        The team and county already have announced that the first preseason game will be played in Paul Brown Stadium. Still, the lease has not been modified to take out the possibility of a $2 million late charge if the game is not played at Paul Brown Stadium.


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