My last post seemed to awaken Bengals Nation, so I felt the need for a followup. A lot of the commenters thought that I was defending Mike Brown, and that was not my intent. But after some thought, I think that I do need to defend Mike Brown. Not because I’m a believer in how he runs his team, but because I think he is unfairly criticized for how he runs his team. Now there is definitely a record of ineptitude when it comes to drafting and signing players, and a record of major frugality during his tenure, but guess what folks? He’s allowed to operate that way! Brown is lucky to be a franchisee in a business that allows you to run your franchise in the worst possible way and still make a huge profit. But it’s not his fault that he gets that freedom; it’s the system he gets to operate under. The NFL is not a purely capitalistic endeavor. It’s a mix of welfare (stadium subsidies and tax exemptions), communism (revenue sharing), socialism (the draft and the television contract), regulated capitalism (free agency, the salary cap), and pure capitalism (retail prices for tickets, concessions, and some merchandise). This system allows the Mike Browns of the world to pocket millions of dollars from television and revenue sharing, and field a team that plays in a largely publicly funded stadium. That’s all there before he drafts or signs anyone.
But that’s not all. Under the labor agreement he has to spend at least 99 percent of the salary cap on player salaries, so for all intents and purposes that’s a fixed cost. The only real variables to his operating costs are: how much to spend running his teams front office and how much to spend wholesale on in-stadium concessions. He chooses to keep the former as low as possible (I have no idea how he does with the latter), and he’s allowed to because the resulting on-field failures do not prevent him from making lots of money. If you are looking at things at a purely business prospective, why not be like Mike Brown? Our best entrepreneurs are often motivated by the fear that if they start mailing it in, they will soon be out of business. What motivation is there for Mike Brown to spend a lot on scouting, other than personal pride? How much more money did Green Bay make than Cincinnati last season? Was it substantial, or insignificant? I’d be willing to bet that the difference doesn’t warrant the extra expenditures that the Packers incurred from a pure dollars and cents perspective. Now that doesn’t mean that Brown doesn’t want to win. I’m sure he does. But he wants a higher profit margin more.
The Bengals are a sports team, not a restaurant or a retail store. He doesn’t have to offer the best product out there, or the best service. For the foreseeable future, there is absolutely no way he will go out of business. And as long as there is no danger of Brown being on the street with a ‘Will Work for Food’ sign, he’ll do what he has to and little more. We’re hypocrites for wanting more from him. We’re not so much outraged at his choices as we are envious of his freedom to do so. We wish we could get away with his kind of performance, and that we were born into a family that made us owners of a franchise that does not need to be run well in order for us to stay rich. But we can’t and we weren’t. Now, we wouldn’t all run things the way that Brown has run the Bengals, but some of us would. Remember, it’s a business and if your bottom line is good, then the details are just that; details. Brown doesn’t have to sweat the details, so he doesn’t. We hold up the NFL as the ideal for how to run a sports league; however profitable their methods may be they enable the like of Mike Brown to do what he does. Brown is much the NFL as Jerry Jones is, as the public ownership of Green Bay is, as the Rooney family is. You can’t accept them and shame Brown; they’re all doing what they are allowed to do.