Bengals fanbase in Columbus grows thanks to online community

Tom Magin has been a Cincinnati Bengals fan since he was 6 years old.

Growing up in Dayton, his father had season tickets and often took Magin and his two brothers to games at the now demolished Riverfront Stadium. When Magin started college in the early 1980s, he attended the University of Cincinnati just so he could watch more Bengals games.

But when Magin moved to the Columbus area in 1988, he discovered that Bengals fans were rare.

“It was really hard to find a band over the years, and you kind of gave up,” he said.

Thirty-four years later — with the Bengals slated to play in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday — that trend is starting to change.

Magin, 57, is the organizer of Columbus Bengal Nation Facebook Groupwhere fans across the state post photos of themselves dressed in Bengals gear and share articles and videos of the latest team news.

The Columbus’ Far East Side resident said the group – which numbered 700 members as of Thursday – has slowly grown since he formed it a decade ago, but membership has grown significantly since the Bengals won the AFC Championship last month, securing them a spot in the sport’s biggest game against the Los Angeles Rams.

On game days, several members of the Columbus Bengal Nation meet at a bar called The Pub in Gahanna to watch the game together. Magin said that before the current season, between 20 and 30 people would usually show up. But for the last four games the Bengals played just before the playoffs, about 100 people filled the spot.

Members of the Columbus Bengal Nation group stand outside the pub in Gahanna, which is their meeting place on match days.  The Facebook group has grown to 700 members.

“My God, people are just coming out of carpentry,” Magin said. I have a guy driving from Cleveland to our group. And then I had other people who came from London, Ohio recently.

“They drive up because now it’s fun because there’s a band. It’s great to shout at the TV whether it’s good or bad in a group.”

Ed Phelps, 63, joined the Columbus Bengal Nation three years ago. He said he had season tickets for the team for 18 years but never found anyone to go to games with him. The Powell resident said he’s glad social media has made it easier for fans in the area to connect.

“Over the past three years, it’s really exploded,” Phelps said of the band. “A lot of them were probably just lone Bengals fans who no longer shy away from showing their loyalty.”

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Bengals vs. Browns

When Magin first moved to Columbus, he noticed that when it came to NFL football, more local fans favored the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers than the Bengals.

And according to Twitter data, Greater Columbus’ loyalty to those teams rings true. In 2014, the social media site analyzed the number of people who follow each NFL team on Twitter and their location to come up with a map showing where NFL allegiances are, reported the Cincinnati Business Courier.

The Browns had a stronghold in Franklin County, with 23% of fans being Browns supporters. The Steelers got 13.2% support in Franklin County, edging out the Bengals’ 13.1% support. Without surprise, the Bengals dominated Hamilton County and the rest of the Cincinnati area.

But attracting growing numbers of Greater Columbus fans, Magin and his band succeeded in making The Pub the place for Bengals fanatics to watch the games.

Magin said four years ago he was looking for a new bar to host get-togethers when bartender Cindy Disbennett suggested they go to The Pub. Even though owner Mike Hardin is a Browns fan, he agreed to let the group come on Sundays, Magin said.

“We had Browns on one side of the bar, Bengals on the other for games,” Magin said. “It was great. It was even better when we played the Browns. But since then we’ve pretty much taken over the helm.”

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Who is in Columbus

Now that the Bengals are on their way to the Super Bowl, more and more people and businesses in Columbus are showing the team some love.

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On Thursday, Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Polaris had tables filled with Bengals t-shirts, hats and jerseys. Restaurants and bakeries such as Schmidt’s Sausage Haus and The Buckeye Lady were offering Bengals-themed sweets and treats. On Sunday, Taft’s Columbus Brewpourium will have loaded tots with Skyline Chili and hot dogs, plus custom pint glasses with the Bengals logo included on them.

And the Columbus-based company Homage, which has stores in Easton, the Short North and Cincinnati. has sold thousands of Bengals-specific merchandise since the NFL playoffs started. A popular item was a T-shirt that read “Why not us?” referring to a team mantra.

“This product just couldn’t stay on our online or in-store shelves,” said Homage VP of Brand Marketing Nathan Okuley.

The company has worked diligently to keep Bengals clothing in its Easton and Short North stores, while other companies have not been so lucky.

“We’ve had friends and family send us pictures of empty and ‘out of stock’ stores online,” Okuley said. “It’s a disappointment because it’s such an exciting time for Cincinnati fans across the country. There are definitely supply chain issues that have impacted the entire industry. So I know everyone is working as hard as they can and trying to make the most of the moment.

soccer fanatic

Meanwhile, Disbennett, 57, said she was happy The Pub hosted The Columbus Bengal Nation, as she herself is a big fan of the team, having followed them since she was a child.

In 1984, Disbennett said she and a friend traveled to Cincinnati to try out for the Bengals cheerleading team. They both ended up making the cut.

“We were so excited and we both got jobs that didn’t allow us to fit their schedules the way we wanted,” Disbennett said.

Instead, she continued to follow soccer and play the sport, joining women’s teams such as the Columbus Pacesetters and Columbus Comets.

Like Magin, Disbennett sees more Browns and Steelers fans in Greater Columbus. But the Glenford resident said she would stay with the Bengals no matter what.

“A lot of people jumped off the Bengals bandwagon, but I never jumped off the bandwagon. I always loved my Bengals,” she said.

Before Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow became one of the team’s most popular players, Disbennett remembers seeing him play football at Athens High School and then at Louisiana State University when the Tigers won the national championship in 2019. She said even then that she knew Burrow would be a star.

Disbennett will watch the Super Bowl with other Bengals fans at the Mill Dam Corner Grille in Hebron, which she owns. She said between 75 and 100 people showed up for the AFC Championship, so she expects a similar crowd for Sunday.

“I’m super excited about this,” Disbennett said. “I’m just happy that they pulled it off. If they pull off one more miracle and win, I’ll be more ecstatic. But even if they don’t, I’m so proud of them.”

Expedition reporter Erica Thompson contributed to this story.

mwalker@dispatch.com

@micah_walker701

superbowl

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Rams

When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday

TV: NBC (Channel 4)

Radio: WBNS-FM (97.1)

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