On Saturday July 2nd, FC Cincinnati defeated Bethlehem Steel FC 1-0 in front of 17,380 fans. There were many reasons to consider this game important. It moved the Orange & Blue within one point of 2nd place team New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference and only 4 points behind the leader LouCity with a game in hand. It also extended the teams unbeaten streak to 11 games. But, it was also the 15th game played in the USL. With 30 games in the season, this officially marked the halfway point and it seems worthy of reflection.
Almost one year ago, on August 12, 2015, FC Cincinnati formally announced they would be a new USL expansion team. There has been a fury of chatter on social media since then regarding sponsors, coaches, players, supporters groups, uniforms, and a lot about expectations and goals. Jeff Berding, President and General Manager at FC Cincinnati, called the club goals “a moving target”. What a great situation to be in when goals are met and the club raises the bar. Kudos to all of the owners and staff of the organization for refusing to be content with “good enough”.
That said, it seems worthwhile, midway through the season, to look back at those original goals and see how far we’ve come. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that few if any of us truly expected to be where we are today when this all began. So what were the original goals? What did we need to accomplish to consider this season a success?
10,000 tickets sold per game (on average)
With 9 of 15 home games played, this is how the attendance has stacked up.
- 23,375 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds
- 20,497 – Louisville City FC
- 19,112 – Toronto FC II
- 17,380 – Bethlehem Steel
- 16,097 – Harrisburg City Islanders
- 14,658 – Charlotte Independence
- 14,267 – FC Montreal
- 11,318 – Wilmington Hammerheads FC
- 11,278 – Richmond Kickers
The bottom 4 games could be explained away to weather or other conflicting events, but regardless, FCC has NEVER had any USL game draw under 10,000 tickets. The average attendance per game currently sits at 16,442 and the total attendance to date is 147,982. If one considers that our original goal was 10,000 per game for 15 games, then we wanted to draw 150,000 total fans into Nippert, for the season. FCC has almost done that with 60% of the home games played.
If we factor in the 2 “special” games, the U.S. Open Cup and the international friendly against Crystal Palace FC, then we are looking for a total of 170,000 tickets sold for the season. The U.S. Open Cup game against Indy Eleven NPSL only drew 8,668 fans, but Crystal Palace was close to 25,000 tickets sold last week and we still have 2 weeks of sales till kick off. Considering these games, we have around 181,650 tickets sold and have already surpassed our goal for the season.
5,000 season ticket holders
Before the season began, FCC was targeting 5,000 season ticket holders. To hit their target of 10,000 tickets per game, they wanted half of those tickets already spoken for. By March of 2016, the club had announced 4,000 season ticket holders and before their first home game in April, they had surpassed 5,000 season tickets. In June, Jeff Berding revealed to the USL that FCC has over 6,000 season ticket holders.
Just for fun, if we keep the math going, that amounts to a guarantee of 36,000 tickets sold in the remaining 6 games and a minimum of 217,650 tickets sold for the season. Suddenly, a quarter of a million tickets sold for the season seems within our grasp. You can easily see why the club is so interested in their season ticket holders.
Competitive on the pitch
Jeff Berding was fairly conservative when he described the club goals on the pitch. You bring together a couple dozen players and put them into a league you’re not incredibly familiar with and it’s awfully difficult to predict what’s going to happen.
Did anyone expect the team to be sitting solidly in third place midway through the season? Hope? Yes. Expect? No.
And yet, here we are. The team finally dropped a game snapping their 11 match unbeaten streak. They play an attractive game of possession soccer. The defense is getting tougher and more cohesive and clean sheets are coming more often.
Have the goals been revised and lifted? Of course. At this point, Jeff Berding commented that the team now expects to sit high in the table and make a playoff run.
Wherever we end up for the season. However deep our playoff run takes us. There is no doubt, that Coach Harkes and the team he has assembled have been more than “competitive”.
It’s no secret that the club and it’s ownership has set its targets on MLS. MLS has 20 teams with 4 additional teams already selected and planned for over the next couple of years. The expansion goal for MLS is currently 28 teams with many teams wanting those last 4 expansion slots. Eliminating teams that aren’t currently being considered for those slots and there are still more teams than slots. 3 months ago, at the beginning of the season, Cincinnati wasn’t on any list. FC Cincinnati is now part of the dialog. MLS has commented on the city, the team and its fans, and has added it to the list of teams under consideration.
There is also no doubt, though, that this is a long term goal. MLS expansion is several years off, so while this may not seem like a large thing, just getting a seat at the table for the discussion is huge. We have their attention and we have the opportunity to dialog and adjust. There are many teams that haven’t been given this opportunity.
So I ask “What constitutes success?”
By all definitions, we have already succeeded. We are a success. Does that mean its time to relax? Absolutely not. If we want to continue to capture the attention of the USL, and hopefully MLS, we have to continue to maintain and grow what we’ve already created. We need to show everyone paying attention that not only does Cincinnati have interest in Pro Soccer, but that that interest is sustainable long term. And the team needs to continue to excel on the pitch as well. Not only will this keep bodies in the seats, but we need to demonstrate a capacity to compete at a higher level.
It is, however, worth taking a moment to pause and pat ourselves on the back and acknowledge what this team and this city has accomplished. It’s worthy of pride to have come so far in such a short period of time.
But, maybe it’s time to grow up a little and realize that we’re no longer the little fledgling team any more. We don’t need to talk about players still learning each other’s habits and styles. When we lose a game, it’s because the other team was better on that given day. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others. When you have MLS aspirations, it’s easy to look up at the MLS teams and make comparisons, but we don’t need that.
We know who we are. We know what we’re accomplishing and when MLS makes a decision regarding Cincinnati, it’s going to be based on what Cincinnati is, does and brings to the table. Let’s not lift ourselves by pushing others down. A rising tide lifts all ships and FC Cincinnati is a rising tide swelling up from the passion and hunger of a market that has been craving pro soccer for a long time. It’s time for FCC to focus on itself and to lift up soccer within the state and the region. Let others compare themselves to us.