Mike Brown isn’t especially gifted in terms of economic generosity, entrepreneurial enterprise or assembling winning football teams. When it comes to unintentional comedy, however, the Cincinnati Bengals owner has no peers in his profession.
Year after year, Brown is the NFL’s answer to Yogi Berra. At league meetings you can always count on the backward-looking, disapproving Grinch to make a self-serving comment that leaves the room in hushed silence – and, later that night, provokes uncontrollable fits of laughter at dinner tables and on barstools.
There was the time Brown, while making an analogy about his change of heart regarding the waiving of club-seat premiums, invoked the name of Adolf Hitler. Another year Brown was the lone owner to speak out against commissioner Roger Goodell’s personal-conduct policy, insisting that each owner should be able to keep his/her own house in order – and ignoring the irony that the Bengals employed more miscreants than any other franchise.
Last spring Brown was at it again, this time as one of the only voices against lengthening the regular season. Brown’s concern about a potential move to an 18-game regular season (while cutting back to two preseason games) wasn’t based on player safety; rather, it had to do with weather considerations. “If you were giving me my choice,” Brown told a stunned audience of 50 owners and club executives, according to two witnesses, “I’d rather sell an extra preseason game in August than another regular season game in January. It’s bad for us to sell tickets in the cold. My fans would rather have the game when it’s warm.”
To Brown’s credit, he announced at last week’s owners’ meetings in Atlanta that he had changed his mind – he’d rather have a ninth regular season contest at Paul Brown Stadium than a second preseason home game. There was just one caveat: no home games in January. When NFL schedule czar Howard Katz assured Brown, “You can be away the last month of the season,” the owner enthusiastically agreed.
Said one NFC owner: “There are 31 teams who’d rather play at home down the stretch … and then there’s Mike Brown.
Brown, shrewd and ever-conscious of the bottom line with perhaps the sweetest stadium deal of any owner in sports, reportedly offered $40 million in lease concessions to cash-strapped Hamilton County in exchange for the option of getting out of his lease (which runs through 2025) almost 10 years early, potentially increasing franchise value. On a league level, Brown is viewed as a contrarian with an aversion to progress. “He doesn’t have a conscience,” says the aforementioned NFC owner. “He’s all about revenue-sharing – he comes right out and says, ‘I just want some of your money.’ He’s worn out his welcome with 99 percent of that room. He came out and said that new stadiums are the worst thing to happen to the NFL because they raised the bar for other clubs. Unbelievable.”