I want to preface this story by saying these opinions are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of all members of the CST staff.
On Thursday at 4:30 p.m. EST, the expansion plans of Major League Soccer (MLS) became a little more clear for expansion candidates, their fans and their cities. MLS Commissioner Don Garber outlined many important factors for the media during the teleconference including making a declaration that MLS teams 25 and 26 would be announced in the 3rd quarter of 2017. MLS named 10 candidate cities that will submit applications to the league by January 31st to be considered for these spots, with teams 27 & 28 announced at a later date.
These cities: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, St. Louis, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa-St. Pete, all must submit plans to MLS on their viability as a franchise. Key criteria include: Quality (Rich) Ownership, Fan Support, Corporate Support and a stadium under the teams control.
Commissioner Garber ranked these criteria in different orders throughout the teleconference but a similar theme came up during the event. Each expansion candidate must take the steps to own their venue so they can generate the most revenue possible. This includes evaluating each clubs potential haul on naming rights to the facility, kit sponsors and training facilities.
I don’t worry about naming rights or sponsors with our current ownership group and the potential to add several high profile business leaders in the area. With 9 Fortune 500 companies and 15 Fortune 1000 businesses in the region, we will have corporate support for a third top-tier professional franchise.
Garber’s comment that most stood out to me was when asked on if the club could be in process of building the facility when they enter the league was that, the league expects clubs 25 & 26 to play in their stadium in 2020.
I am a huge fan of the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. The seats are close to the field, there are good lines of sight and Clifton has been a great location due to bars and hospitality functions.
This edict by Garber proves that what he said during the visit in November was true. Nippert is a great facility, but it is not the long-term solution. Of the 9 other candidates listed, 6 of them has Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS) plans. They all have different wrinkles and some involve public-private partnerships. I don’t want to say that one is better than the other, but I must point out the FC Cincinnati now must RUN down this road.
FC Cincinnati no doubt is in the top 3 in each category outside of the stadium criteria. Ownership net-worth over $2 billion, 17k average attendance, massive corporate support, etc. We are lacking on the stadium side and it seems THAT is keeping us out of the chance for club 25 or 26.
What will it take to get into spot 25 or 26?
FC Cincinnati will have to get a plan together fast. They will need to work with city leaders, perhaps 3CDC and lay out a plan to purchase land if they are indeed going to put the facility in a urban setting.
Find the location. They will need approx. 15-20 acres of land to have a minimum sized building site. I am all in favor of working to develop the West End community, but sites in Oakley, Silverton, OTR, Northside and others could all be considered. Land values in these neighborhoods could skyrocket, so an additional third party may need to be involved.
FC Cincinnati fans will begin to hear rumors, rumblings and more about this initiative or other candidates plans. The club must move fast if they are to even be considered for this next cycle. FCC will also want to stay in the expansion news cycle so a rapid announcement could work in their favor.
Their best hope however, is that there could be a problem with the Miami-David Beckham bid. If Miami somehow has a problem and must drop out of spot 24, this could leave an opening for a team who is “MLS Ready”. What I mean by this, is that the club picked has the staff, infrastructure and facility to immediately jump into the league. No one in the list of 10 is ready for that spot outside of Cincinnati.
San Antonio has a small SSS and Sacramento has a stadium plan, but I highly doubt a 6 month turnaround is capable for them. Cincinnati has already proved that they can move fast in setting up a club. It took 6 months for the team to sell 6,000 season tickets, hire staff and form a third place roster. Those are all selling points, but they would still have to prove to MLS that they will have a permanent stadium solution.
At the end of the day, FCC must show that a SSS is in the works and that it can be accomplished in less than 4 years. The goalposts have been moved for this round of expansion, but I trust that Jeff Berding and his staff are capable of meeting these goals and will bring an MLS club to the Queen City.
We all hoped that Nippert could be our home for the foreseeable future, but MLS is requiring that clubs 25 & 26 set a new bar for pro soccer in our country. Soccer Stadium or Bust? I think it has come to that IF we want to be in MLS.
Do we need one to be a successful second tier club? No, but wouldn’t you love to see it?
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