I’ve lived in Columbus nearly full-time since I enrolled at Ohio State in the fall of 2006. In the past five years, one of the most unique things about Columbus to me was that as united as everyone was in scarlet and gray on fall Saturdays, that’s how divided campus and surrounding areas were on Sundays. As you could guess, there are three big players in the Columbus market: our Browns (141 miles from OSU campus), the Cincinnati Bengals (111 miles), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (188 miles). Via merchandise, advertising, television programming decisions, and interaction with coworkers, friends, and complete strangers, I’ve come to learn how this battleground State has a battleground city when it comes to the NFL.
When I started at OSU, it was not a fun time to be a Browns fan. The team was coming off a 6-10 season in 2005, while Bengals’ fans, the bandwagon bunch that they are, were all sporting brand new Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson jerseys coming off a division title and a 11-5 record. Seriously, has anyone seen a Bengals’ jersey more than ten years old? I know I haven’t in Columbus. I sat through multiple insufferable “Who Dey” chants on campus and in class orientations and the like, and the CBS affiliate seemed much more keen on delivering Cincinnati games to the Columbus market. As a result, on weekends that I didn’t go home to North Central Ohio, my buddies and I would often go down to the old Ohio Union to watch the Browns game on a projector screen with fellow students and Browns Backers.
As I noted above, one of the most visible forces at work is the TV programming decisions made by 10TV, the CBS affiliate, and in some cases, FOX28 here in Columbus. 10TV’s official stance is that their goal is to primarily serve Browns and Bengals fans, while accomodating Steeler fans as much as possible when it does not interfere with either of the two Ohio teams. To me, that’s the way it should be. The way they determine this is strictly based on television ratings, as the station points out that polls can be swayed by dedicated message boards not representing the true population (read: Hillis Madden cover).
Pittsburgh has a strong national fanbase due to their sustained success, and that’s no different in Columbus. The trip to the Super Bowl last season really spiked the amount of Steelers’ jerseys I saw around the city. Meanwhile, fast forward to this season, and the 5-2 Bengals finally sold out a home game after seven straight home blackouts. If they don’t get to see the game in Cincinnati, I find it hard to swallow that it should take priority and be shown in Columbus. Furthermore, the only team I see advertising for in Columbus (billboards, television commercials on local stations, radio ads, etc.) is Cincinnati. The Browns fan base in Columbus is not overpowering, but it is strong and established. It doesn’t fluctuate with bandwagon fans, because let’s face it, if you are a bandwagon Cleveland fan, you don’t understand the meaning of the word.
This season, there are 7 games where either the Browns and Bengals play at the same time on the same network or CBS/FOX does not have a doubleheader and must choose just one game. This week, the Browns/Texans game won out over the Bengals/Titans showdown. Last week, however, the Bengals/Seahawks game was shown here in Columbus over the Browns/49ers. That sent my friends and I to a campus area bar, and while it was a good time, I much more enjoy watching the Browns’ game in my own home to hear the game commentary and track game stats.
This three way split is part of the reason why Columbus could never sustain an NFL team, in my opinion. The majority of people are set in their loyalties, and having three established teams within 200 miles of the State capital makes it unlikely that would ever happen despite the fact that Columbus has a greater population than Cleveland.
So, what do other readers from Central Ohio think? I’ve heard reactions via social media about the frustration of the TV situation as well as bars or neighborhoods around them being predominantly pro-Steeler or Pro-Bengal. For me, while it can be trying at times, it certainly keeps things interesting as compared to where I grew up. The only split growing up that I had to worry about was the Ohio State-Michigan one. What about those of you not currently in Ohio? What opposing fanbases do you have to deal with regularly? Have you found that pocket of Cleveland fans?