Are Bengals Benefiting from Hard Knocks?


Before you read further, ask yourself this: If you were an NFL Coach, would you want Hard Knocks to feature your team?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is pushing all the teams in the League to share the obligation of Hard Knocks, a sports documentary series produced by NFL Films that airs on HBO. Of the eight seasons the show has aired, six of the thirty-two teams in the NFL have been featured with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals being highlighted twice. There are numerous benefits for the League as a whole including positive publicity at little financial cost and a well-produced show that yields increased fan awareness and knowledge. There is no question that the Hard Knocks TV series has helped the NFL’s reputation.

But do NFL teams benefit from doing Hard Knocks?

The marketing staff would quickly jump on this question and answer ‘yes.’ Like Goodell, they probably see the documentary series as a relatively ‘cheap’ marketing tool that results in increased fan interest. Giving fans the opportunity to see training camps, meetings, home life – all of which you can’t get from watching Thursday, Sunday, or Monday Night Football – generates interest and a deeper connection to the team. Fans become invested when they are in-the-know; it is why reality TV and twitter are so successful. Fans are getting access to what was previously unknown. While football players may not be ‘ordinary people,’ we enjoy seeing them do normal things (train, sit in meetings, participate in healthy competition), react to and deal with situations (kids, coaching styles, named to the roster), and overcome hardships (injuries, lay-offs) just like we have to. Typically, you’ll see a direct correlation between fan interest/excitement and sales (tickets, merchandise, etc.).

While I agree that Hard Knocks does spark excitement for fans by giving them an inside look at the players professional and private lives, it does not seem to be resulting in increased demand for Bengals tickets. The Cincinnati Bengals are being featured on the current 2013 season of Hard Knocks. Let’s look at the numbers. In 2012, Cincinnati Bengals tickets averaged $104 and were seventh cheapest in the League. At that time the average NFL tickets were $155. In April 2013, Bengals tickets for the upcoming season averaged $141. Now Cincinnati football tickets are averaging $23 less at $118 and are eighth cheapest in the League. The League average is currently $182. So, while the NFL has seen an average price increase of $27 since last year, Bengals tickets have only increased $14. And since the show debuted this season on August 6, Bengals tickets have not changed in price.

Sure, there are other reasons prices could have changed between seasons: win-loss record of previous season, roster, injuries, and opponents; but, relatively speaking the Bengals are entering 2013 with a similar makeup to the 2012 Bengals squad. If anything the 2013 rookies in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard make the offense stronger and the tandem of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton have one more year of experience behind them. Regular season records were similar, the Bengals earned a spot in the Wild Card game both years, lost the Wild Card to Houston each season, and had a similar strength of schedule (based on opponents records from the year prior).

The ticket prices listed on are issued by the seller. Our registered sellers determine the price of the tickets based on market demand. Market demand is the price that consumers are willing to pay for a ticket to a specific event. Market demand is based on the simple rules of supply and demand. The more demand and the less the supply, the higher the price of the ticket. The lower the demand and the higher the supply the lower the price of a ticket. The supply in this case is the number of tickets listed; when both the average price for Bengals tickets was examined in both 2012 and 2013, the difference in the number of available tickets was very minimal. With the supply of tickets constant, the difference in prices is due to demand. While we’ve seen the average price of Bengals tickets increase $14 since last year, it is less than the NFL increase in price.

“I don’t think it brings anything to the team. It’s so not about who we are. I don’t think it’s in the players best interest.” – Giants co-owner Steve Tisch

I imagine that outside of the marketing department, a majority of the front office is saying ‘no thank you’ to the opportunity to do Hard Knocks. Increased interest in the team and individual players is not translating to more dollars and higher demand for tickets. The Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Houston Texans all turned down the opportunity to be featured on the series. Not only are the organizations finding that there are more downfalls that upsides to doing the show, so too are the players. The camera crews are a distraction to the coaches, teams, and athletes. When teams open up the locker rooms, playbooks, and homes to these filmmakers, they’re opening up the chance for ridicule, scrutiny, opinions, in addition to revealing their strengths and weaknesses to the competition. Bengals linebacker James Harrison has not held back his dislike of the camera crews at training camp, saying “I don’t feel they deserve to be here… no one deserves to see this, to come inside of this unless you’re a part of this.” He’s also been heard saying that the whole thing “is a pain in the butt.” The players are certainly not being compensated much for the extra annoyance. According to an article in the New York Times, the star players of the Baltimore Ravens who were featured in the first season of Hard Knocks, received $8,000. That may sound like a lot to us, but considering a top speaker, which Ray Lewis is looking to become after he writes a motivational memoir, make $20,000 – $75,000 per gig.

Hard Knocks is good for the NFL and the fans; but when all things are measured, the benefits (marketing the team, giving players national recognition, familiarizing fans with rookies and acquisitions, allowing fans to feel they are in-the-know) for a team do not outweigh the costs (distraction, little increase in demand for tickets, ridicule, exposing weaknesses in the structure, players, and coaches).

Image Credit: Leigh Taylor (The Enquirer)

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2 comments on “Are Bengals Benefiting from Hard Knocks?
  1. Mike Willins says:

    You are leaving out a few key benefits for the Bengals. They have been the butt of jokes and ridicule as an organization for years. Only in recent years have things changed in the front office. Exposure like this shows the public, as well as free agents, that the organization has truly changed. FAs also see the great chemistry among the players, and perhaps, want to be part of that. There also is the benefit of exposure for their OC and DC, for potential head coaching jobs. Everyone in te organization feels Zim should be given a head coaching slot. HK highlights his personality and connection to the players. Finally, in a small market like Cincy, any revenue gain helps.

  2. Christi Goza says:

    Thanks for the comment Mike, these are all really good points. While our focus is on the change in ticket prices on the secondary market, I think the benefits you mentioned are certainly valuable to the team and coaches. Positive publicity is always a plus!

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