At first, anyway, I didn’t think much of the press release in my email this morning about the Browns reaching a deal with a new Columbus sports radio station.
I work on Sundays in the fall, usually, and when I don’t and I’m in Columbus I usually go to a bar and watch 18 football games at once.
Rough gig. Somebody has to do it.
Anyway, the Browns, like all teams, send press releases so people will talk about them. And after I read it, I started thinking about something, and then started thinking about writing something about what I was thinking. That’s how these blogs often work.
And here’s what I think: It would be in the best interest of the Browns to try to matter in Columbus as this latest new group tries to build a brand, have success and sustain it. I’m not alone in my thinking.
“Columbus is an extremely important market to the Browns,” new team president Alec Scheiner said in a statement announcing the deal with 95.5 FM. “This addition to our network will allow our fans in this region to follow all of our games as well as other team programming.”
We know the only way the Browns are going to grow their fan base and visibility is to win on the field, and we know that’s 100 times more important than any marketing deal or radio announcement. But in just a few months on the job the new leadership group has already done a new radio deal in the home market and made several big-money hires in areas pertaining to winning (read: profiting) off the field even if the team isn’t winning on it.
I don’t live in Columbus — at least not on a full-time basis — but I see a lot of Steelers gear when I’m there. And a decent amount of Colts gear, too. And the Bengals are on the rise, and they’re only 110 or so miles away.
Columbus is far and away Ohio’s largest city. In the profit and TV viewer-driven world of the NFL in 2013, it’s a very valuable battle ground.
On Sundays at 1 p.m. in the fall, the Columbus CBS affiliate often has a tough decision to make on which game to show, Bengals or Browns. The way I understand it, showing the Browns almost always used to be the relatively easy call. The results of the last couple years when both teams play in the same window have changed that thinking. The bottom line is, if the Bengals are playing significant games in the back half of the season, the Bengals are going to be on TV.
In that case, Browns fans are going to have to go to the bar (they’re undefeated at that) or to the radio. And over time, the team that’s on more TVs is generally going to both gain and keep the most fans.
Additionally, I don’t know if NFL teams are still going to be leaving town for training camp very often anymore now that the new CBA has eliminated two-a-days and so many teams have so many amenities in their own, full-time buildings. But Browns CEO Joe Banner comes from the Eagles, who always went out of town for camp. And if that’s something the Browns ever explore, Columbus is not only going to be on the list of places to explore but probably at the top. More people equals more money and more buzz, and training camp remains one of the few things in today’s NFL that teams are selling on their own.
Columbus is very much a football town, and there’s every reason to believe it’s going to be home for the next several years (at minimum) to a championship-level football team that plays (almost always) on Saturdays. NFL scouts will be flocking to Ohio State, and it can’t hurt the Browns to make an effort to sell themselves around the city. Whether it’s riding the wave or starting a new one doesn’t matter. Keeping and gaining fans there does.
The NFL reaches its fans 12 months a year these days. The league and its 32 teams like when fans reach into their wallets.
Mostly, this is something to blog and talk about. But with Andrew Luck, the Steelers and the Bengals sharing that 200 or so mile radius, the Browns have a battle on their hands to regain Columbus. It will be interesting to see if they can.