FC Cincinnati will enter MLS next season led by outstanding management and enthusiastic fan support. The club emerged from the pack and earned its place in MLS by showing that it could be a part of this new class of franchises entering the league. However, there is a darker side to the league FCC is joining. The evidence of that dark side came courtesy of Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) and Columbus Crew SC. FCC and its supporters should learn the lessons from this story. They must do whatever it takes to ensure that top-tier soccer remains in Cincinnati for eternity.
What was the problem?
MLS dealt with multiple struggles in its early years, but the Crew was one of the flag-bearers. It built the league’s first soccer-only stadium and provided what became, in essence, a home field for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT). Much like FCC is doing now, the Crew set the bar for how a franchise is supposed to be run.
However, over the years, some issues emerged. One of the biggest problems was that there was nothing around MAPFRE Stadium. There were no real food establishments or other attractions for pre-and postgame activities. The bigger problem was that parking at the stadium was horrid with multiple choke-points that often kept people stuck in the parking lot long after the match ended. Over the years, the stadium’s location away from the downtown area and poor parking affected attendance.
MAPFRE Stadium originally seated 22,555, but the arena’s capacity has been lowered twice since 2008. Despite the larger capacity in a soccer-specific stadium, the Crew never averaged over 17,696 (1999) during its first 20 years there. Prior to Precourt purchasing the team, attendance dipped to 12,185 per game in 2011, followed up by 14,397 in 2012. Attendance then began to spike even higher once PSV purchased the Crew.
The kicker is this: it’s not that the Crew didn’t have support. The club did have support, but it failed in multiple areas. And it’s important to note that the fans must share the blame as well.
Digger deeper into the issue
The first lesson learned is that FCC supporters must hold the club accountable if it ever starts cutting back on marketing and fan outreach. This is something Crew fans as a whole did not do. Some individuals certainly spoke up, but in the end it wasn’t enough. The going is good now for FCC, but that doesn’t mean the club will always be safe. If the Columbus Crew can be in danger of moving, then FCC can be as well. Never stop holding FCC management accountable.
The Crew cut back on so much and then later wondered why game attendance dwindled. This is on the Crew, but the fans should have been more actively engaged. Please don’t think I’m pinning the problem on the fans. That’s not the case. Crew fans are getting shafted and have been for a long time. My point is that Columbus fans didn’t speak up soon enough, and now they have to deal with the potential departure of a team that never should leave the city.
European clubs generally stay in their home cities. They aren’t franchises that move at an owner’s whim. The American sports model is different. Hometowns rarely own a team, and when things don’t go right for the owners, they are often quick to leave instead of fixing the problems they have in their original city. This is what MLS is married to – the franchise system. Cincinnati fans must never forget that. Columbus is only the most recent example of the problems that arise under the American sports model.
Where is FCC different?
FCC’s more centralized stadium is a good fit for MLS both now and in the future. The Crew’s location north of downtown Columbus hurt the club long-term. FCC’s homegrown fan base traveled on the road to MLS with the club, which built bonds that perhaps Columbus did not have with the Crew due to it being an original member.
Finally, FCC’s management is wholly committed to the Cincinnati area, which is something the Crew have failed to show over and over again. PSV’s Anthony Precourt may have been the owner with eyes towards another city, but the Hunt family failed Columbus as well. As the years wore on, the Hunts’ level of engagement with the community lessened. That said, remember there was a time the Hunt family was actively engaged. FCC fans, don’t forget that. Always stay on your guard and protect this club.
Now as FCC prepares to enter MLS, its natural “Hell is Real” rival appears to be on its way to Austin. The American system is flawed. Never take this club for granted. In MLS, a team’s fortunes can turn in a moment. As Columbus has shown, the key to keeping this team forever sits with the fans. Considering what the Reds and Bengals have put the fans through, there is no doubt that FCC supporters are up to the task.