Monday, September 18, 2000

More Bengals fans upset over seats

By Kevin S. Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Swindled. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. That's how longtime Cincinnati Bengals season-ticket holder Daniel Weckstein felt when he discovered the Paul Brown Stadium seats he received were less expensive and more remote than what he thought he was ordering.

        The Mount Adams man said his Zone B seats were supposed to be between the 35- and 20-yard lines, according to a Bengals brochure mailed four years ago.

        Mr. Weckstein's seats ended up on the 2-yard line.

        “The Bengals totally misrepresented the seating diagram in the first brochure they sent out,” Mr. Weckstein said, noting that his seats in Row 29 of Section 144 (Zone B) are closer to being in Zone D on the original diagram.

        “It's disappointing to say the least,” he said. “I thought we would be treated better being loyal fans.”

        Mr. Weckstein is one of many season-ticket holders angry about their seating assignments at Paul Brown Stadium.

        On Friday, Glenn Reedy of Miami Township sued the Bengals and Hamilton Coun ty, claiming the highest-priced zones of seats were oversold. He seeks damages for himself and other fans of $300 to $500 per seat license, for a total of several million dollars.

        Some fans say they were guaranteed seats in specific zones of the stadium when they bought personal seat licenses. Fans must purchase seat licenses for the right to buy season tickets. A Zone B season ticket like Mr. Weckstein's runs $400.

        Other fans claim that, because zones with the best seats were oversold, other zones were redrawn to accommodate the demand. By redrawing the zones, some fans who had requested preferred seating were shifted to lesser zones, but have yet to receive refunds for the difference.

        Troy Blackburn, the Bengals' director of business development, admitted Paul Brown Stadium has undergone some “minor” changes since brochures were mailed in 1996. However, Mr. Blackburn denied claims that certain high-priced zones were expanded at the expense of others.

        “The fact of the matter is that in building the stadium some aisles have shifted slightly,” Mr. Blackburn said. “We have not added sections of moved seats.

        “The number of seats by section have stayed the same,” he said. “Zones A and B still have 9,000 seats. Zone A has always had three sections in the diagrams and Zones B and C stayed the same.”

        Mr. Blackburn said that, of the Bengals' 40,000 season-ticket holders, about 17,000 have been season-ticket holders for 25 years or more. He said that when seating assignments were being made, those with the most seniority got first crack at midfield.

        Tom Louis, 60, of Westwood said the same seating issues arose when the Bengals moved from Nippert Stadium to Riverfront Stadium (now Cinergy Field). He said he was promised preferred seating at Riverfront that year, but ended up with a seat in the far corner of the end zone six rows from the top.

        When he complained to Bengals management, he said he got “the same song and dance” season-ticket holders are getting today.

        “Their attitude was that if I didn't like my tickets then I could sell them, because they had about 10,000 people who wanted tickets and couldn't get them,” Mr. Louis said. “I wasn't thrilled about that, but there was nothing I could do. If I wanted to see pro football in Cincinnati, I'd have to play by their rules.”

        Charlie Disney, 53, of Middletown said he was disappointed by the Bengals' stance on the issue. Mr. Disney bought 20 season tickets for seats between the 40- and 30-yard lines. He received seats on the 10-yard line.

        “It's not anywhere what we thought we would receive for the money we paid,” he said.

        Mr. Disney said he was so upset by the seating mixup he would consider banding together with other fans to take legal action against the Bengals.

        “The fans have stuck by the Bengals for years and deserve to be treated fairly,” said Janet G. Abaray, Mr. Reedy's attorney.

        “Everybody wants to be in the middle of the field and that's understandable,” Mr. Blackburn said. “But because of the sheer number of requests and the amount of seats we had in those area, if you haven't owned your tickets for 25 years or more then you probably didn't get what you requested.”

        However, Mr. Blackburn said some fans' complaints are legitimate and the Bengals are trying to address those complaints.

        Paul Kelly, the Bengals ticket manager, sent a letter to season-ticket holders Thursday responding to some fans' requests to be moved into unsold general admission zones.

        Mr. Kelly told ticket holders the Bengals are trying to develop a fair process that would allow them to relocate their seats if they so desired.

        “While we too would like to have this process happen soon, some time will be needed to formalize the program to provide season ticket holders an opportunity to participate and then change their seat assignment when it can be accommodated,” Mr. Kelly said.

        The letter also stated the Bengals were revising their policy as of Oct. 1 so that children under the age of 2 will no longer have to purchase a seat. Before, they were being charged regular admission.

        “There are some fans at field level who feel that they are too low and want to move to the canopy,” Mr. Blackburn said. “Then there are other fans who are in the canopy that want to get lower. Some fans on the sidelines want to be in the end zone, so — as the Bengals have done for decades — we are trying to do everything we can to make sure our season-ticket holders are satisfied.”

        Everything, that is, except granting refunds for tickets.

        “There will be no refunds,” Mr. Blackburn said. “But if a ticketholder is that dissatisfied, they do have the right to discontinue their seat license at the end of the season.”

        Selling their tickets is also an option, Mr. Blackburn said. But it's not anything he or the Bengals encourage.

        “We haven't told anyone to sell their tickets,” Mr. Blackburn said. “We've got great and loyal season-ticket holders and we want them to be ticket holders for a long time to come. We don't want them to sell their tickets.”

        Still, even selling their tickets isn't much of a remedy for some disgruntled fans of the NFL's worst team of the 1990s.

        “There is not much of a resale market for Bengals tickets,” said Mike Samet, 43, a disgruntled ticketholder from Montgomery. “Believe me. I've looked.”


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