Fans celebrated as Major League Soccer descended upon Cincinnati and for good reason. A long and uphill battle was finally won, a battle in which supporters were called upon time and time again to prove that Cincinnati was a soccer city. FC Cincinnati has not just pushed for admission into MLS, they have also created one of the greatest United Soccer League experiences in the country. Cincinnati Soccer Talk has recently published several pieces to get fans ready for MLS. At the same time, FC Cincy has already been doing several things at a major league level.
These last three years in the lower division USL has allowed fans greater freedom and access than many of our peers in MLS enjoy. These perks have been key to the rise of FCC’s popularity in the city. Cincinnati already has two other Major League teams and each carries their own set of problems when it comes to fan satisfaction. FCC came into the sports landscape with transparency, follow through, and full access to players and management. They have won the hearts of the people of Cincinnati, and it was no small task to achieve. For the club to continue that success, they need to keep doing the same things that earned them an MLS bid.
Player and Front Office Access
Supporter relations has been a key part of FC Cincinnati’s success in the Queen City. The club has designated staff members to work with SGs and Media Relations to work with the press. FCC was one of the first clubs in the USL to create a supporter council to bounce ideas off of one another. That council is in its second year and has been a tremendous success. Beyond that, nearly every member of the front office has been on television, radio, and podcasts in order to reach the fans. When over-crowding issues arose in the Bailey, Groups recommended wristband tickets, and the team made it a reality. Players are in the community on a weekly basis and regularly volunteer their time to be on shows like ours. MLS rules will make this harder, but the FC Cincinnati front office needs to continue to stay visible. Concerns need to be addressed and transparency needs to be a focus. FC Cincinnati is different than every other team in town because we can hear and see people like Jeff Berding. Fans can stay after a game and shake hands with people at the top of the organization. Keep FC Cincinnati a club for the people.
Strong Retail Partnerships
One of the things that may go unnoticed locally is the strong licensing deals FCC has put in place the last several years. Fans are not forced into buying club only items from the downtown FCC store. The front office has allowed several local companies like Cincy Shirts, Koch Sporting Goods, Rally House among others to create, sell, and use the team’s logo via a licensing deal. The spread of FC Cincinnati’s popularity through these channels cannot be overstated. It has given rise to a whole new breed of fun ideas and ways for fans to get creative with the team. Cincinnati people love Cincinnati businesses and MLS’s single entity model will complicate this successful program. All licensing will need to go through MLS vs FC Cincinnati. Hopefully, the club can work with MLS to make sure these types of local partnerships continue.
The rise of FC Cincinnati did not come from the die-hard soccer fans in the area. It came from families and people looking for an affordable entertainment option in the city. For continued success, FCC needs to keep this core group of fans as they make an MLS transition. Ticket prices will go up and most people understand that. However, Nippert Stadium, a venue that seats nearly 10,000 more than the newly proposed stadium, is still the club’s home for at least two more years. FC Cincinnati has an opportunity to fill every seat if the pricing model is done correctly. The sports world is changing. Atlanta has shown how people respond to cheaper concessions. The Cincinnati Bengals recently introduced $200 season tickets to re-engage fans. Fans no longer just accept large price hikes the way they would have five or ten years ago. FCC needs to find a happy balance that allows them to stay competitive in MLS but also keeps fans happy and renewing season tickets year after year.
Match Day Environment
MLS has stricter rules on match day. Several clubs around the league are not allowed to use smoke devices. Security policies are tougher, and several teams have switched to clear bag policies. Entering Nippert Stadium has always been quick and easy, even for fans in the Bailey. The club worked with supporters to create the march, which is an experience that fans in every section can enjoy. This is another area the front office will need to handle with care. They will need to find a balance between following MLS regulations and fans entering and exiting the stadium without much hassle. Safety is a big priority but long lines or a stifled Bailey will hurt the overall atmosphere and leave fans dissatisfied. Harmony can be reached, and it will need to come with compromise from both MLS and the fans of FC Cincinnati.