I'll give the Bengals this: 2011 has been one hell of a season. It's only fitting that the last week of the season promises to be a dramatic blow off top on a couple of levels. The first level is on the field, where the team needs to beat the holy-crap-when-will-it-end Ray Lewis era Ravens. I don't have much to add there except to say that the Bengals are perfectly capable of winning and as 2.5 point dogs at home I'd even consider putting money on them.
The second level of interest is fan attendance. Listening to local talk radio, it seems to be the main focus in fact. Make that national media too. See Pro Football Talk, Shutdown Corner at Yahoo!, ESPN and National Football Post for more. I expected many of these outlets to get this story completely wrong, and call out the city for having "bad fans". Instead, they get it kinda sorta correct and highlight the souring relationship between the fans and the ownership. Gregg Doyel actually comes down harder on ownership than we probably do here at WDR.
With paid attendance seemingly fluctuating more or less in the 40,000s, essentially the Bengals have about 20K+ season tickets available for future seasons they would love to sell. Another way to put it is that they are operating at 75% of the stadium's capacity. I wanted to take a look, using the best data I could find with some basic searching, to see exactly what is going on here in Cincy. We all have our own opinions and narratives we want to use to explain this story, but a little hard data goes a long way.
For starters, I'm working off of ESPN.com's attendance database, which is only good from 2006. Not perfect, but good enough because it captures the growth just before the Great Recession, the Great Recession, the Lockout and some of the economic recovery. For those interested, here's a spreadsheet of the data: Download Attendance Trends
In short, here is what has happened in Cincinnati: Since 2006, paid attendance in capacity terms has fallen roughly 27%. This happened in steady drips from 2007-2009 and then accelerated in 2010 and 2011.