Time for FC Cincinnati to Enter MLS Expansion Center Stage

In an expansion saga that has been divisive among several potential MLS markets and local opponents, it seems that it could be time for FC Cincinnati to assume center stage in the MLS Expansion Race. MLS has evaluated markets on fan support, ownership, commercial commitment in the city and a stadium plan. FCC has high marks in the first three, now the final piece looks to become more clear.

On Wednesday evening, Enquirer beat writer Pat Brennan and politics contributor Jason Williams released a story outlining several potential sites for FC Cincinnati, including some preliminary financial aspects to the project. This came a day after Steve Watkins of the Cincinnati Business Courier reported that the club would pursue a “public-private partnership to build a new stadium.”

Following these stories was a fire & brimstone piece from Enquirer legend Paul Daugherty (Doc) decrying the use of any public funds for the soccer-specific stadium. In all three of these stories, a still incomplete picture was being painted on how the final project could come about.

FC Cincinnati President & General Manager Jeff Berding was quoted on the early stages of the plan. “Our prospective stadium finance plan is being developed,” Berding said. “Our effort to land an MLS franchise for Cincinnati starts with $250 million in private investment and would not include a new tax increase as speculated at the Hamilton County Commission meeting.” Berding also commented that the club is looking to build a $200 million facility to improve their chances of receiving an expansion bid to MLS.

Supporters chanting at #MLS2Cincy Q & A with MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

To provide a little context for his comments, the ownership group of Carl Lindner III is at least providing a $250 million legacy investment to the project. $150 million would go toward the MLS Expansion fee, while it is presumed $100 million would go towards the stadium. This as you can see leaves a potential funding gap in the total stadium plan.

While it seems that FC Cincinnati could require $100 million from taxpayers in that public-private partnership, Berding commented in another CBC article Thursday, “that the form of public money hasn’t been determined yet.” In the Watkins piece, Berding mentions that “club officials have had a lot of conversations with public officials.” He sees “an opportunity in using existing economic development tools. Public financing could be used for infrastructure or parking-related costs.” The club has commented that “suggesting that we are looking to raise taxes or introduce a new “stadium tax” is simply not true.”

A question I have seen on social media is “do we need a $200 million stadium in the first place?” The Orlando City SC soccer stadium completed in 2017 and regarded as a jewel of MLS stadiums was built for $155 million. In my opinion, FC Cincinnati needs to have a state-of-the-art facility to enhance our bid. With the proximity of Columbus Crew SC, our smaller market size and with the stadium plans of other clubs, the FCC stadium must stand out.  With these issues present, the club is under an even more intense microscope than our peer cities and any chink in the armor is cause for concern.

Watkins also compared FC Cincinnati’s request for public funding to the public money that helped General Electric decide to locate a huge office at the Banks or Medpace Inc.’s offices in Madisonville.

Would FC Cincinnati create 2,000 jobs? No, but MLS clubs routinely employ between 125 to upwards of 200 full-time positions. (Columbus Crew SC at approx. 105 + players) That would create an influx of jobs for the club up from the current 60 + positions including players).

What Can We Do to Strengthen the Bid?

As an FC Cincinnati supporter, it seems easy to attack Doc for his comments before all the details come out. It is even easier to rebuke some citizens of Cincinnati or other potential MLS markets who cry foul in the clubs plans or say that soccer is a fad.

At the end of the day, the facts aren’t out there and making more enemies is something that FC Cincinnati and it’s supporters cannot do. As I said earlier, this could be FC Cincinnati’s time to impress on the expansion “center stage”. Instead of insulting our detractors, let’s push the positivity that this project can bring.

Credit @AlexVehr, CincySportsPhotos

Just ask the local business owners around the city who have benefitted greatly from FC Cincinnati. The Clifton & OTR Entertainment Districts, National Flag Company, local retailers, and advertisers of the club have all seen a boon from the supporters of the club. Go down to the surrounding areas for the 17-20 dates per year for FC Cincinnati and you can see a significant impact of the FCC movement because that’s what it truly is.

All three locations for a potential FC Cincinnati stadium have great aspects. The West End location could help continue to revitalize the area and grow the imprint of one of the best areas in our town. Oakley is a thriving area that is extremely convenient to a large portion of FC Cincinnati supporters while Newport is experiencing a growth surge of its own.

We don’t have all of the specifics and I’m sure the picture will not become clear for some time. Until it does, would it hurt to give the ownership group, led by one of the town’s biggest philanthropists, the benefit of the doubt that they are about to do something truly great for our town? Instead of arguing with people who are against anything FC Cincinnati, let them tire themselves out or try to invite them to experience what we take for granted 17+ times per summer.

As a fanbase with high aspirations, we need to be buttoned-up and ready to go to help our club grow. Do we need MLS or a soccer-specific stadium to validate what we currently do? No, but how incredible would it be if this great dream of ours could be a reality.

For the people who have attacked or will attack the club and its supporters, we will respect your opinions and your thoughts. We just ask in return that you also show respect and give us the chance to bring Cincinnati another jewel to put on our city’s figurative crown.

@BryanWeigel for @CincySoccerTalk

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