While yesterday’s announcement was a celebration of Nashville being awarded a MLS franchise, FC Cincinnati shared in the attention and received praise from the Commissioner saying the club’s bid was “in a really good spot.” Don Garber was careful not to say anything specific about the outcome or timing, there are some things fans can take away from his comments.
To give this context, we need to review some of the terminology of this process and discuss the timing a bit. There is no MLS glossary or schedule of events so this is an educated guess.
Application: Any city that was interested in receiving an MLS franchise was asked to submit an application. This included a list of requirements from MLS. We know at a high level that the requirements included a strong committed ownership group, a soccer-specific stadium plan and a passionate fan base (attendance, media market, etc.). The applications were due to MLS in January of 2017. Only teams that submitted applications were considered for an expansion franchise for the next 4 franchises awarded.
Bid: Once the applications were submitted to MLS, the cities started working on their bid. Information could be changed from the application, such as Cincinnati moving their stadium site from Newport to Oakley, and the committed ownership group had to be more fully vetted and locked into their financial commitments. During this process, MLS named four finalists (Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento) and those finalists were asked to present their bid to the MLS Expansion Committee in December 2017.
Agreement: This is a new term that has cropped up in recent days. It appears that the agreement is a legal contract between the club/owners and the MLS. Jeff Berding mentioned this on 700WLW and said it was inches thick and lawyers were literally pouring through it and working overtime. When hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, the contract is going to be daunting. The agreement is certainly going to be revised. That’s what lawyers do. Both sides will try to protect themselves and will argue over words and terms. This agreement is what will lock down the club and ensure they build their stadium and within a reasonable timeframe but also that they have contingency plans in place. It will lock in the owners and will ensure that the business entity for the club is in place and up to MLS standards. It appears that only Nashville has a final agreement in place. It is unclear if Sacramento or Detroit are also working on an agreement, but one should expect that at least Sacramento is based on public activity surrounding the bid.
As mentioned above, the application was due in January 2017. The bids were reduced to 4 finalists and those finalists presented their bids in December 2017. No timeline has been given for the agreement at this point.
We know that FC Cincinnati worked on their stadium plan up to the presentation date. They submitted their final bid in New York to the Expansion Committee. Presumably, they then received the agreement and have begun work on that stage of the process.
We also know that Sacramento had ownership changes late in the process bringing in Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, days before the presentation to the Expansion Committee. Assuming that this upheaval meant their bid was also in flux up until the last minute, one can assume they also have only just begun to work on the agreement stage of the process.
Detroit, like Cincinnati, also changed their stadium plan late in the bid process. This was received poorly by MLS who canceled their visit to the motor city. Obviously, the Detroit ownership group smoothed things over after that and managed to make the final four bids, but it seems likely they were working on proving their NFL stadium reuse was viable up to the last minute.
Only Nashville seemed to have their bid in order early. There was a lawsuit related to their stadium site that got dismissed but from a bid perspective, they locked in their bid early. One would assume that they then moved on to the Agreement phase of the process ahead of the other cities.
So what does this mean for FC Cincinnati?
We can thank Pat Brennan and Sharon Coolidge, of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who traveled to Nashville and got to talk with Don Garber after the Nashville announcement. Beyond live tweets and a Facebook live event with fans in Cincinnati, they wrote up a couple of great articles.
Let’s look at some of the quotes from Don Garber.
“They came to the finish line first. They had their ownership group, their stadium, every element of their (bid) was there faster than anybody else.”
This is a reflection of the timing discussed above. People are reading into the delay that there is something wrong with Sacramento or Cincinnati or that Nashville was the preferred expansion franchise. It really appears, that they simply got done with all of the paperwork first.
“FC Cincinnati had an unbelievable pitch. They did a wonderful job. We’ve got great respect for Carl Lindner and his family and Scott Farmer, his partner. We’re totally intrigued and impressed with what’s been going on with FC Cincinnati… I’m confident they’re in a really good spot.”
Nothing of any real substance here other than Don Garber singing the praise of Cincinnati and indicating that things are “good.” But if there was a problem with the bid, this would be a bit out of place.
“We still like all three (stadium) sites”
Two things of note here. One, FC Cincinnati obviously presented all 3 sites. They said they would and they said all 3 sites were still on the table. That appears to be the case from the Commissioner’s comment. Second, there has been speculation that the stadium plan is the hold up for FC Cincinnati’s bid. Garber is saying publicly that that is not the case.
“They (FC Cincinnati) made a fantastic presentation, one that was impressive and one that was complete. I can’t say enough about what a good job Carl and his group have done… “
The presentation refers to the bid. Lots of praise, fantastic and impressive, but also noting that it was complete. This confused many people. How could it be complete and no announcement? Let’s look at the last quote.
“There really isn’t a hitch or an impasse in any way. You know, we want to have finalized agreements before we announce teams. Our expansion committee meeting was 10 days ago, and we are very confident that we are going to have that second team finalized but we’re not able to reach a final agreement. We didn’t want to announce anything until we had that final agreement.”
Here is a big piece of information. Part of the process we were not aware of originally, the agreement. Don Garber states that nothing is wrong, the finalized agreement is not in place. Obviously, MLS isn’t going to announce a new team until they agree on the contract. Obviously, a contract of this magnitude is going to take some time to process. FC Cincinnati has only had 10 days.
What does the FC Cincinnati GM suggest?
Jeff Berding is going to enjoy the holidays and suggests we do as well.
If we take Don Garber’s comments at face value, there is no “hitch” in the Cincinnati bid, our bid was fantastic and complete, but the final agreement is not in place. The FC Cincinnati legal team is working overtime on the “agreement.” Do large corporate contracts fall apart in the 12th hour? Sure, but Berding continues to express confidence and asks everyone to “trust the process.”
I know many fans wanted #MLS2CINCY wrapped with a bow under their Christmas Tree, but now is the time for patience. Relax. Enjoy your family. Build your energy. Soon it will be time to show Nashville how an MLS expansion party is supposed to go.
We got this!
— Bill Wolf (@billwwolf) December 21, 2017