I have a confession.

The last time I was at Great American Ballpark the Reds got absolutely crushed by the Brewers and I still had a great time. The Reds are a bad team, we all get and understand that, but the one thing the Reds haven’t been bad at since the Castellini group took over is their ability to churn out a fun and entertaining in game fan experience year after year. For what the Reds organization lacks in its approach to developing a winning baseball team on the field, they make up for in great giveaways, a nursery for new mothers, a live in game rock concert and cool bars scattered throughout the stadium off the field.  The Reds truly are a marketing machine.

Down the street, you could say the exact opposite is happening. Although better as of late, the Bengals still aren’t up to par with their fan experience compared to the rest of the NFL but have quietly become one of the best run organizations in terms of player development and wins and losses in all of sports. The Bengals consistently draft well, scout and evaluate talent well, and most importantly: win.

The dynamic shift that has happened between these two organizations over the years is quite interesting. Not long ago the Bengals were the laughing stock of the NFL and the Reds were the toast of the town. The Reds were considered a model organization and the Bengals were the next door neighbor with the unkempt yard.

So, what happened? How did the Bengals turn it around and the Reds turn upside down? It’s the same way any organization rebounds from years of underperformance: change of leadership. The Bengals and Mike Brown gave more control to Katie Blackburn and Duke Tobin to handle organizational decisions and player development. The results have been nothing but positive.  The Reds have been plagued with bad decisions over the past few years and it’s finally catching up with them.

So the question is, what’s more important to you? What do you want from your organization? Would you rather have an off the charts fan experience that’s both entertaining and capable of numbing you from what’s actually happening on the field or would you rather have a perennial winner that doesn’t offer much other than the product on the field?

I think I know the answer to that question. I also think the Reds can eventually do both. The most intriguing prospect of this entire rebuild isn’t Robert Stephenson or Jose Peraza, its new leadership partnered with old leadership. Its Dick Williams teaming up with the Castellini group and producing on field wins to go along with their current off the field success.

35 Responses

  1. Michael

    Great read. Thank you for posting. You nailed the quite change in the way the Bengals have run their organization. Their player development and drafting has been praised for a half a decade inside the nfl.

  2. Brian

    You wanna really know the answer to why the Bengals have been a consistent winner over the last several years? Yes, it’s the change in leadership/decision making, but it’s largely due to revenue sharing. This is what enables the Bengals to have a competitive payroll and team, year in & year out. I wish to God that MLB had this bcuz maybe, just maybe the Reds would be a consistent winner and we wouldn’t have to trade our stars like Cueto, Leake, Chapman & Frazier. We maybe could’ve afforded to keep some or all of them and/or go out and get a big name player/Free Agent more often. There would be very little need for rebuilds (and the subsequent losing). I know revenue sharing isn’t a guarantee of a winning automatically or even every year, but it levels the playing field a little more and creates opportunity to put a competitive, winning team on the field almost every year. I suppose that the reason this hasn’t happened in MLB is bcuz of old fogies/traditionalists who fart dust and maybe even selfish team owners who don’t want to share. They all need to grow up and stop acting like children and do what’s best for competitive balance.

    • Michael

      Revenue sharing has zero to do with player development and nailing the draft. It does help you keep the talent once they reach free agency.

      • Brian

        That’s all I’m saying. Being able to keep our stars that we develop and/or going out and getting a big name FA that won’t hurt our payroll for years.

    • Chuck Schick

      Revenue sharing has existed in the NFL since George Halas and Wellington Mara agreed to share the immense TV money garnered by the Bears and Giants in the early 1950’s. Since then, most revenue has been shared by teams so your comment doesn’t make sense to me. The Bengals have always operated in a revenue sharing environment and were often bad. You always seem to not understand there is significant revenue sharing in MLB.

      Perhaps you were confusing revenue sharing and a salary cap? Assuming that’s true, the salary cap went into affect in 1994 and the NFL, like the NBA, has no better competitive balance than baseball. The Bengals, Steelers, Patriots Etc. are good because they draft well and manage the cap well. The Browns are bad because they don’t.

      The Yankees, Phillies and Angels are currently bad/rebuildin . The Cubs rebuilt from 2012-2014. The Red Sox finished last 3 of the last 4 years. These are 5 of the top 10 teams in terms of revenue. If revenue is so important then how could those teams have suffered their recent poor play and the Royals are the 2 time AL champs?

      The Reds are bad because they’ve made bad decisions. That is all.

      • Brian

        Chuck, I don’t care what it’s called, I just want something to be done in baseball that gives the Reds and every team nearly the same amount of payroll so that we have a shot at winning almost every year. Yes, drafting and developing plyrs is important but couple that with a payroll that’s nearly even with everyone else’s and it could be exciting times for the Reds. As I said earlier, I understand that revenue sharing wouldn’t guarantee a winning product EVERY year but MAYBE having an equal payroll would help us avoid decades long losing seasons streaks or even 2 or 3 straight losing seasons. Whatever it takes (other than relocation) to give the Reds an equal payroll is all I’m asking. I don’t care how it gets done, but it needs to be done nonetheless.

      • Chuck Schick

        Payroll doesn’t win…..competence does.

        Your arguement has been constantly disproven over the years. The Royals have won just as many WS as the Yankees over the past 15 years. The Cardinals spent in line with the Reds and are the most consistent franchise in the sport. The Twins win consistently with no money….and have lost consistently with some money.

        The Reds resigned Votto, Philips and Bailey so they do have the ability to resign their own players. One could argue they lacked the competence to sign the right ones.

      • Carl Sayre

        Payroll being nearly the same for all clubs would not do the trick. That would make teams in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles along with a a few others at a disadvantage because of the cost of living. The thought that it may give teams like the Dodgers, A’s Diamondbacks and Rays an advantage because folks prefer to live in that area. The contradiction there is what makes it so absurd. I know salary is a huge factor but geography, taxes and proximity to a place all factor in so the salary cap is a minute issue! There is a decided lack of enthusiasm by players to play in Cincinnati, it may be a misconception of the area but more likely it is a lack of desire to play for an inept organization. Players want to get paid but they also want to be in a “nice” city that will vary by what a player considers important. All players want to be on a winning team, a team that makes decisions that make them competitive. I love our Reds but they are not going to attract free agents without extremely over paying because management is inept!

      • StillRed

        In response to Carl below, I think all the players you mention would have most happy to stay in Cincinnati, if they could get paid what they are worth in the open market (maybe even a little less). I think being a small market team is a convenient excuse for ownership not to dish out some extra bucks to keep the players they’ve developed around.

    • Jeff Gangloff

      The payroll answer is such an easy excuse for people to make. Fact of the matter, year after year teams with low payroll are winning. They win because they have a solid understanding of what they need to do to win.

      • Brian

        Jeff, more payroll equals going out and getting better players and keeping the ones we are lucky enough to develop into superstars. Therefore, more payroll is just better, it just is, ok! AGAIN, it is important to draft and develop plyrs and to also have people who understand the game, but in those many years that we are impatiently waiting for those drafted players to develop, MAYBE having more payroll would allow us to win while we wait years for those prospects to develop. AGAIN, not a guarantee of winning (I understand that) but it would create opportunities that we don’t currently have to MAYBE win while we wait for plyrs to develop.

      • Jeff Gangloff

        Having a higher payroll can help, sure. To argue your point though, the Red’s organization has paid it’s super stars over the years and it really hasn’t panned out well. They paid Votto, Bruce, Phillips, Bailey, Mesoraco, etc.

        In my opinion, smart organizational moves and player development Trump’s higher payroll almost every time.

  3. Scotly50

    I am not from Cincinnati, so cant relate with the Bengals. I live close to Nashville with the Titans. They are inept. So my sports teams are on par with each other. Though not winning, I have a good time when I attend either place.

  4. Eric

    This discussion (and every one involving how to improve team performance) is predicated on the assumption that a pro sports team owner’s goal is to win games. Their goal is to make a profit. And that’s it.

    Now, of course, a winning team usually increases attendance and merchandise sales. Winning is often a good business model in pro sports. And I’m sure there are many owners that take pride in owning a winning team.

    Nevertheless, I’m not convinced every owner is as concerned about winning games and championships as fans are. McDonald’s is not trying to sell the highest quality food and Walmart is not pretending to sell the best clothing. Some restaurants and apparel stores do try to do that, but only if they think it can make them money.

    I don’t know the Castellini family. Maybe they sincerely want the Reds to be winners regardless of profit. But I really doubt it.

    Pro sports is solely an entertainment industry. I love baseball and, being a Cincinnati native, I am bonded to the Reds in pretty deep ways. But I’ve come to feel like what I should love, support and believe in is the game itself, not the business manifestation of the game that often times seems to me to care for the fans and the community only so far as it can turn a profit. Hey, that’s great. I’m a capitalist. But I’m not a fool. I’ll save unconditional loyalty for my family.

    • Jeff Gangloff

      I don’t know the Castellani family either, but I honestly truly believe that they are 100% committed to putting a winner on the field. They have their limitations, though.

      They have bellied up over the years and opened their wallets to pay players, almost to a fault.

      You could almost say they are over committed to winning with some of the over aggressive questionable decisions they made in the past, especially considering that the Red’s are a smaller market team.

      • jessecuster44

        They certainly aren’t 100% committed this year. I could draw 8 Free Agent relief pitchers out of the entire pool and come up with a better bullpen than was assembled.

      • tralfaz

        They made a number of bad decisions with contracts by doing what owners should never do – falling in love with their own players. I sincerely believe that had the baseball staff been left to their own devices they would not have done either the Votto, Phillips, or Bailey deals. The Votto deal was the most interesting since he had almost two full years left before he would have become a free agent and they were at the time bidding against themselves. Their hearts were in the right place but they should have realized it wasn’t sustainable. Of course this wouldn’t be as big an issue had the farm system no fallen on its face when it comes to developing major league ready players.

      • StillRed

        If they hadn’t made the Votto Phillips Bailey deals they would have no deals at all really…except maybe smaller ones to Mesoraco and Bruce. I have to say, the Bailey deal was a real head scratcher. It took the kid so long to get up and stay on the team…but even then was inconsistent…especially with Cueto coming down the pike, or even Leake. When they signed Votto, I don’t know what this blog felt, but I was “Yeah, finally willing to open up the checkbook.”

  5. Patrick Jeter

    I’ve sworn off the Bengals until Marvin Lewis is dismissed. He’s not capable of winning a playoff game.

    • Takao

      I disagree with you, but understand where you’re coming from. Will you change your mind if they make a deep run next year though?

  6. Phil Gasson

    Marty b.: ” Votto has stranded enough Runners to populate a small town”. At least one person in the media understands the situation.

    • Jeremiah Grissom

      The reds are just experiencing the natural order of mlb these days. They could have used better wisdom starting the rebuild a little earlier, but I think they thought they could be like the cards and contend every year. I think if they show improvement next year and especially in 2018 they are on their way. The terrible bullpen has been a disappointment this year but the reds didn’t full anyone into thinking they would be good or that they were trying to be good this off-season.

  7. tralfaz

    In a perfect world I’d like both winning and amenities – especially when team owners tell you the amenities are needed to generate the revenue needed to win. That said given the choice between GABP and it’s myriad of attractions and old Riverfront Stadium, I enjoyed my trips to Riverfront more because more years than not, the teams were at least competitive. In 33 seasons at Riverfront they only had 12 non-winning records. In 13 seasons at GABP they’ve only had 3 winning records. If you don’t really care about the game, GABP is far more enjoyable, but my personal experience makes me long for the days at sterile, gray, dull old Riverfront.

  8. Anthony

    The reds just stink. Period. The problem with this franchise, is that the average age of the owners have been what, 80+? Owners who dont want to spend money, cant understand labor contracts, or the fact that the more they make, the players make.

    We need a young, vibrant billionaire to come in here and say hey, “i will win at all cost”. Somebody that will cut front office bloat, hire the good scouts, not the discarded ones, and take analytics seriously. The problem is ownership that just buy teams like the reds to add to the portfolio. They’re Not real baseball lovers. I want a Bill Dewitt Jr. Here. A smart no holds barred owner who has his own vision for the club he owns.

    Castellini has no vision or love for baseball. Hell he doesn’t even care anymore. Not one owner in baseball would have jocketty as a general manager today. He’s horrible. Why do you think we’ve been lowballed on every trade taking not players we need, but players teams wants us to have. The chapman trade still eats at me. The most dominant closer in baseball, we get basically nothing. Why? A thin case of domestic abuse. Hell, when the reds were scrambling to trade him, there wasnt even an investigation. They could have sat on him till this year. Other teams knew they were desperate. Worst trade in reds history.

    So, you can write about castellini making it great for family night and all, but you’re just like all the news stations here in Cincinnati. Just like 700wlw. Keep ignoring the fact the organization stinks from the top down. Those same news organizations ripped mike brown. Ripped marvin lewis, but they let the reds get away with murder.

    As a die hard reds fan, Ill be rooting for Nats this year. Watching the manager who people felt wasnt good enough, win with players who are good enough.

    • Chuck Schick

      There are a number of young billionaires looking to buy a baseball team in Cincinnati. Especially ones looking to just throw money away to win. She’ll ride into town on a unicorn and her magic dust will make everything better.

    • Phil Gasson

      You are a mind reader. CHEERS!!!!!!

    • lwblogger2

      There was the “thin abuse case” and considering that Chapman wasn’t arrested nor where there charges filed, I don’t think that was the overriding factor in not getting the value they perhaps could have. What was the main factor was that MLB was looking to make a statement with their new domestic abuse policy and any team taking on Chapman was likely to not have him available for a time (it wound up being 30 days). This basically in his last season of team control and while making a decent amount of money. I’m about as hard on the Reds’ front-office as anyone but honestly, I don’t think they could have done much better on that trade. Their big mistake with Chapman was not trading him last July. Even some of my opinion on that is with having the benefit of hindsight.

      Definitely wouldn’t say it was the worst trade. I mean, the “old 30” Robinson trade still probably holds that distinction.

  9. cfd3000

    I actually do know the Castellini family – I used to be related by marriage. And I can promise you they want a winning team in Cincinnati as much or more than we the fans. But they don’t have endless resources, so players like Cueto and Chapman can’t all stay forever. And they can’t predict injuries so sometimes the best pitchers in the organization aren’t on the mound. And they can’t control which prospects blossom and which struggle. And they don’t always allocate resources in such a way that with hindsight we can’t identify what would have been a wiser approach. I’m not trying to defend the Castellini’s or apologize for them specifically, just to point out that the Reds play in a very competitive league, against teams with differing resources, differing experience, and differing luck (injuries, prospect success, slumps, etc.). I’ll point out that I really enjoyed the winning teams and seasons of recent years, and I’m excited about the future with players like Bailey, DeSclafani, Iglesias, Lorenzen, Reed, Stephenson, Winker and Peraza on the field soon, and players like Votto, Cozart, Hamilton, Barnhart, Suarez, Bruce, Finnegan and Lamb already on the team. I don’t expect the Reds to be a playoff team as often as the Yankees or Dodgers or Red Sox, but I do expect them to be exciting and competitive in a year or two. And I’ll enjoy the in stadium experience on the rare chances I get to visit Cincinnati, and enjoy the team’s success when it arrives. The Reds are lousy right now, and I’m looking for some big changes – no Jocketty, no Price, and pretty much nobody from the current bullpen. But I’m also looking forward to the best of both worlds – a winning team with a winning experience.

    • Steve Mancuso

      The Castellini ownership group isn’t perfect. But overall they have been extremely positive in the growth and excellence of the organization.

      Alleging (without offering the slightest bit of proof) that they don’t care about the team and are only in this for the money might be the most incorrect idea ever expressed on this, or any other site.

      • StillRed

        Castellini is not the only person with a say in the organization. I was somewhat dumbfounded to hear that the Williams brothers are still involved…the same guys that systematically dismantled the Big Red Machine. While Castellini (or even Marge) might have done what it would take to put a winning team on the field year after year, I’m not convinced that the others (williams, linder) don’t want to try and do it on the cheap.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Bob Castellini makes the decisions, he’s majority owner. The Williams brothers are not the same people as were running the Reds in the early 80s. They sold to Marge Schott. The two Williams brothers now are sons of one of the Williams brothers from before. The Reds current General Manager, Dick Williams, is the grandson of the Williams from the 70s and son of one of the owners now. Carl Lindner sold his interest in the team to Castellini.

  10. jazzmanbbfan

    In response to your next to last paragraph, I go to games to actually watch the game. So, the “fan experience” matters very little to me.

  11. doofus

    Sorry, I don’t see Dick Williams and the Castellini group having the ability to build this ball club. They’ve had a chance and failed…miserably. If this was a west or east coast franchise this front office would have been long gone.

    Dick Williams is an owner’s son. Fat chance of him being replaced, if he doesn’t produce results.

    He made a comment recently, perhaps I’m para-phrasing, but it was something like: We always find a way. What a crock.

    Who traded Chapman for nothing, was it Williams or Jocketty? Who traded Frazier away for next to nothing, Williams or Jocketty? Has anyone in Cincinnati posed this question to the Williams/Castellini group?

    • Jeff Gangloff

      I dont think the Castellini group really failed with their last rebuild attempt. They positioned the Reds to have multiple attempts at success over the past few years and they just came up a little short. The choke of 2012 cant really be blame on the Castellini group.