Columbus, Ohio: One Unique NFL Market

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?

  • 216in614

    I think the NFL needs to get there crap figured out.

    How much more money would they make if you could just order the NFL network like you order HBO?

    I don’t want direct TV but I just might switch next football season so I don’t have to miss watching browns games here in Columbus.

  • B-bo

    I have been in the Tampa area for 8 years now. Broadcast tv was (as one would expect) dominated by the Bucs. Once the notoriously bandwagon Bucs fans hopped off and the blackouts became the norm, the Jags or Dolphins began to receive the spotlight due to geography, though neither has any sizable following around here that I’ve ever witnessed. Steelers and Pats make in on quite a bit as well. The Browns have made it on regular tv (thus allowing me to watch from home, which I prefer) roughly 7-8 times, generally when matched up with one of the Florida teams. Therefore, I am regularly forced to either go out to a local pub where I used to work, where they have Sunday Ticket (or listen to Jim Donovan do his thing via’s Audio Pass). It makes for an interesting study in fandom.

    The owner is from Philly, so the Eagles draw fairly well. There are decent-sized Packers and Vikings contingents, as well as a regular block of Bears fans. New York is always represented, though more so the Giants than the Jets. A few Cincy fans make it in regularly, as do a couple of diehard Saints, Colts, and Bills fans. Among the employees, the Ravens, Cowboys, Niners, Browns, and Skins are present. Tebow fans have popped up over the past year (that’s right, Tebow fans, not Bronco fans. They’d be wearing whatever team their golden boy played for). But there are two groups you can count on to dominate the scene on football Sundays, and they are nearly equally loathsome: Patriots fans and Steelers fans. To the point where you’d think it was a pats or yinzers bar, if not for the pockets of other jerseys throughout. There are certainly pockets of Browns fans to be found here, though the local Browns Backers bar is an awful combination of overpriced and dive-y, and therefore I avoid it.

    For the most part, I’ve enjoyed getting to know fans from such a wide variety of teams. Packer fans are consistently awesome people in my experience, and Bills fans seem to understand our plight pretty well. Bears fans are entertaining and loud. There are even a few decent folks in Welker and Polamalu jerseys in this world. But my least favorite groups to deal with overall are Steelers fans, Patriots fans, and Bucs fans (when they actually come out). Steelers fans for all the obvious reasons. Pats fans for the same reasons no one likes Red Sawx fans. And Bucs fans because they are obnoxious as can be when they are winning, yet they disappear when the losses start rolling in. I have zero respect for fans like that.

  • Lyon

    216… I felt teh same way when I lived in Toledo. There would be times when the Browns wouldn’t be on due to Lions. Those times I really wished I could have NFL Sunday Ticket, but didn’t have directTV.

    Now that I moved back to Cle I’m happy, but still, how much more $ could they make if everyone could order Sunday Ticket? Isn’t that all the NFL realy cares about anyways?

  • ClevelandBreed

    I moved down to Columbus less than a year ago and obviously am a die hard Browns fan. Before I moved I was warned by my Fiance’s cousin how bad the steeler fans are down here. I’ve been around and have witness the obnoxiousness of steeler fans. I went to college at Kent State, and for people who aren’t familiar, there is a huge steeler fan base at Kent. Next to Pitt, Kent is the largest college so it draws a lot of students from the pittsburgh area. I have also been to numerous games at Heinz field. Side note, I dont care what anyone says Heinz field has got to be one of the worst stadiums in the NFL. But for some reason it seems like steeler fans in the Columbus area are really bad. They seem to be more of the front running type, and a lot more aggressive. I have been out to watch a few Browns games in Columbus this year, and it never fails every time someone says something to me, or most often my fiance. At games in pittsburgh no one really says much unbelievably. But here it just seems to be worse, maybe front runners here feel the need to prove they are really fans or maybe its just because I am new to the area and havent got used to it. Whatever it is I am just glad I am a Browns fan!

  • R

    The Colts don’t have a following in Columbus?

  • Tearoy0

    The Colts have a small fan base here as I know a few Colts fans but I may see only a jersey or two when I go out out to a Sports Bar to catch The Browns play. I see almost as many random Packers, Lions, Cowboys, Patriots, & Redskins fans as I do Colts.
    I hate when I call my brother up north and he is watching the game and I am stuck with the Bengals and an infomercial. And most Sports bars are dominated by Steelers and Bengals on the west side (Hilliard area) of Cbus. I agree with Kirk about the joy of watching my Browns play at home and this year we have received most of the games which has been nice compared to previous years. I wish I could just pay Channel 10 some money and have the Browns on my TV while neighbour could get the Bengals when he wants it.

  • Brick

    Having the Browns, Bengals, and Steelers all playing at once is the perfect storm. I ended up having to go to a campus bar (Eddie George’s), too. What ticked me off the most is that they had the audio feed set to the Steelers game! At least pick one of the Ohio teams. From what I could tell, there were quite a few more Browns fans there than Steelers fans. Also, my “chicken wings” looked more like Funyuns. Serves me right for getting boneless.

  • Scott

    Obviously, I’m fortunate given the fact that I live in Cleveland, thus avoiding the layered market, but I also have DirecTV and can say that – as a sports fan – I’ll be hard-pressed to ever go back. RedZone channel, fantasy updates customized for your players throughout the day, and any game you want to watch regardless of geographic latitude. Can’t ask for much more.

  • Jay

    I am a Columbus native living in Toledo for the past few years while in school. I hate the sports landscape here:

    NCAA fans are split bout 50/50 between Ohio State and that school up north.

    NFL is predominately Lions with a handful of Cincy and Browns fans mixed in.

    Hockey is intolerable, all I want is to watch the Blue Jackets but only the red wings are ever televised, the only time I get to watch the jackets is when they play the wings.

    Baseball is predominately Tigers but the Tribe is represented nicely by UT students.

    The part that gets me are all the people here who are Ohio State fans but are die hard Lions/Tigers/Wings fans. Isn’t this some form of mutiny or maybe communism? Maybe its just me but I cant stand it. Whats your thoughts on this?

  • Kirk

    To address the multiple comments about secondary factions in Columbus, I’m guessing I’ve seen two-thirds of the NFL teams’ jerseys on a Sunday in my five years. The most common secondary followers I’ve seen are definitely Packers, Bills, Colts, Patriots, and Giants, roughly in that order. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to pick a second favorite NFL team, it would be the Colts, so I tend to not be bothered by Indy fans at all.

  • Pete

    Its the same in Athens. Bengals fans wax an wane depending on their record, their are real steelers fans and front runner fans, the only constant are a strong browns base. Luckily me and my friends who all work at a bar are all browns fans so on gameday we put the browns on every screen and let the bengals have the little 24 inch in the corner haha.

  • Scott w

    Fo the overall question from the article: no, I don’t think Columbus could sustain another NFL team. I’ve always maintained that the only other pro sport Columbus that could do well in Columbus would be baseball. It’s got the greatest atmosphere for casual fans and only competes with OSU football and the blue jackets for a small portion of the season.

  • B-bo

    @Jay I’ve gotten grief for the fact that the Red Wings are my team of choice, despite my love of the Cleveland teams and Ohio State. But the fact is that the Blue Jackets didn’t arrive until 2000, and by that time my Wings fandom was deeply ingrained. When I was young it was either the Wings or Pens that you could get with any regularity on tv, and it wasn’t hard to choose against Pittsburgh. No way I was going to turn against my favorite team just because one showed up in Ohio.

  • Jay

    I suppose your hockey choice is understandable but Toledo is on OHIO for GODS sake at least show the Jackets on STO or something, they just black them out and show the red wings every night.

  • Dan

    I have lived Richmond, VA for 8 years now. It seems to be a 40-30-30 three-way split of Redskins-Cowboys-Steelers fans here. While I don’t mind the Skins, I do hate the Steelers and Cowboys! Talk about obnoxious fans! There are plenty of Midwest transplants here so I do see many Lions, Packers, Bills fans as well. Central VA Browns Backers is a great group with die-hard fans.

  • false~cog

    Jay, you are thinking of boundaries as fixed and immemorial. In reality, Detroit is only about an hour away from us, and Ann Arbor about 45 minutes. There was once a war and much disagreement over whether Toledo was part of Ohio or Michigan. This city is the most battleground of all Ohio cities. I say this as a Columbus transplant of ~8 years and now oddly-proud Toledoan. If you would like to hang at a Browns bar, join us at the Ottawa Tavern on Adams St

  • ohiomike

    You know….ill bet if a certain amount of browns fans in columbus reallly, really wanted an NFL team….the browns could be had for pennys on the dollar!!! Hint….hopeing!!!

  • Swig

    The majority of my friends are Browns fans, most are from NE Ohio (pure coincidence). Although most cbus natives are also die-hard Browns fans, not sure why. The Steelers fans I know are predominately from PA, can’t fault them too much. The Bengals fans are life-long, but quiet. I guess they can’t take the punishment of sub-mediocrity like a good Browns fan. At least everybody here hates the Ravens.

    I have never heard someone say Columbus needs an NFL team, but I agree it would never work.

  • Pale Dragon

    The NFL’s broadcast rules are ridiculous and outdated. Why shouldn’t 10TV be allowed to broadcast one game on the regular channel and the other on 10.2?

    It is unfathomable to me that you can live in Ohio and be unable to see an Ohio team play for free on Sunday.

    NFL Sunday Ticket sounds awesome, but I don’t want satellite and I don’t want to pay $300 to catch the 2-4 Browns games a year that aren’t broadcast.

    The NFL should offer an online service like I would pay for that.

  • D’oh Browns

    I will say as a lifelong resident and Browns fan, Columbus is pretty evenly divided. BUT Browns fans are by far the most organized as a group with several Official Brown’s Backer locations to escape from the hillbilly front-runner Steeler “fans” and the every other year Bengal fans. I can also attest to the obnoxiousness/aggressiveness of the Central-Ohio Steeler fans. They tend to usually be, as I stated previously, hillbillies or drunk assholes, in general. Which after visiting Pittsburgh last year, is a big departure from actual Pittsburgh based Steeler fans(‘yinzers’) who were unexpectedly pleasant. It’s an odd phenomenon. It is also fairly common for Bengals and Browns fans to unite to trash the Steeler “jag-offs”. I can also speak to Athens at OU where each of the three have their own official bars to watch.

  • Vince

    As a Browns fan, its extremely irritating when you’re on campus and fully expect the Browns game to be on, yet they decide to broadcast the Bengals game instead.

    That being said, I was surprised they broadcast the Browns games at all. Firstly, they really have become a “factory of sadness”, but more importantly, I’ve found that, especially on-campus, it is predominately Pro-Bengal. The Steeler fan base here, at least from what I’ve seen, is similar to the Steeler fan base in Cleveland.

    Regardless, it makes me happy to see the Pro-Brownie crowd down here, and we always aknowledge each other. You can easily find one as they are typically the only fans frowning/crying around 4pm every week.

  • Grif_E

    Using city populations when talking about football markets is nonsensical. I bring this up because you backup a point in your article by saying Columbus is bigger than Cleveland. Football is all about television markets and the Cleveland market is the largest in the state of Ohio followed by Cincinnati and then Columbus. In future conversations please be aware that “city size” doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just a vestigial construct of balkanization we have in our local politics and it varies widely from major city to major city and as such is a silly metric to cite to for a lot of purposes.