Bengals opt into NFL ticket option

CINCINNATI -- In an effort to increase the number of their home games that are available on live television in the Cincinnati home market this season, the Cincinnati Bengals have accepted the NFL's option to have blackouts lifted when 85 percent of non-premium tickets at Paul Brown Stadium are sold.

Previously, games had to be completely sold-out of non-premium seating within 72 hours of kickoff in order to avoid being blacked out locally. The idea had been that by enforcing a local blackout, fans were forced into buying tickets if they wanted to see their hometown team play. The league recently offered options to ease those blackout restrictions.

"The thought process is simple -- we want the games sold out for local TV so as many fans as possible can watch," Bengals director of ticket sales, Andrew Brown, said in a news release. "Having games on TV locally does not benefit the club financially, but it's in the best interest of the fan base, and we believe it's in the club's best interest as well to make local broadcasts more achievable."

In other words, it's a move the Bengals wish they could avoid with better ticket sales, but since they can't, they are banking on using this to grow their fan base among those who can't afford the high costs associated with going to games these days. If the Bengals have to use television to grow their fan base, a method that isn't as financially lucrative as selling out the stadium, then so be it. The hope is at the very least this will positively affect the growth of the fan base in the long term. In this instance, the long term would include this year's postseason and future seasons.

Teams must accept or decline the option for the full season, so the 85 percent rule -- or, what some long-time Bengals fans might affectionately nickname the Ochocinco Rule -- will be in effect for all eight home games.

"We're proud to be one of only five teams in the playoffs each of the last three years," Brown added, "but the fact is that sales are not as strong to date as we'd like. Even under the 85 percent plan, we will need strong sales from this point to get games on TV. But the option is helpful, and we are continuing with a maximum sales effort.

"It's evident around town that fans are excited by this year's team, but now we just need to see that excitement translate into ticket sales."

The Bengals' local television market stretches from Lexington, Kentucky, to Dayton, Ohio.

Cincinnati is coming off a franchise-record third-straight playoff appearance. Like the four playoff appearances before it, the Bengals lost in their first-round game. This time, it was a 27-10 loss to the Chargers at home last January. Otherwise, they had a strong year, finishing 2013 with an 11-5 regular-season record and an AFC North Division title. They also went 8-0 at home in the regular season before the playoff loss.

Paul Brown Stadium's capacity listing of 55,449 non-premium seats will remain available for sale, but under the option, the Bengals agree to accept a decreased share of revenue should sales go beyond the 85 percent level. Club seats and suite seats are not factored in consideration for local TV coverage.

Cincinnati's home opener against the Falcons on Sept. 14 still is far from being sold out or even at the 85 percent threshold. NFL rules still mandate that for blackouts to be lifted, games must meet sellout requirements 72 hours prior to kickoff. The deadline for next week's home opener will be at 1 p.m. Sept. 11.

The Bengals report that their strongest ticket sales to date have been for the Dec. 7 game against Pittsburgh and the "Monday Night Football" game Dec. 22 against the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos.