CINCINNATI (WKRC) - FC Cincinnati has finished its pitch to join Major League Soccer as an expansion franchise.
Club leaders made their case Wednesday afternoon at MLS offices in New York along with three other markets.
"In short, we demonstrated that Cincinnati is a proven market and that FCC’s vision of soccer in our country has been realized due to strong ownership and professional management, and which includes an electric atmosphere, exciting soccer and a commitment to better our community. We feel our vision of soccer is in line with what is occurring in Major League Soccer today," said FC Cincinnati's General Manager Jeff Berding.
It seems like just yesterday that Cincinnati city council and the Hamilton County Commissioners said ‘yes’ to public infrastructure dollars for a new soccer-only stadium in Oakley.
Without that commitment, FC Cincinnati probably would have had no chance. Now, everyone just has to wait and see.
FC Cincinnati wants to move up from the lower tier USL in Nippert Stadium to MLS in a soccer-specific stadium.
The other three finalists are Nashville, Sacramento and Detroit. Detroit is considered least likely, because the plan there involves Ford Field, the NFL stadium. MLS prefers soccer only.
One expert says Detroit is being told you're close, but maybe next time.
“My opinion is MLS is signaling the ownership group and the fans in Detroit and saying ‘you've made it all the way to the final round but we're signaling you you're not going to get in,’” said NKU Sports Economist Professor Joe Cobbs.
Some say Nashville and Sacramento are the likely winners, because of more locked-in commitments to specific stadium sites and infrastructure funding.
But Professor Cobbs is not so sure. He thinks Cincinnati will get a bid.
“Nashville and Sacramento do not have some of the things FC Cincinnati brings to the table in terms of the demonstrated fan support, and the team's play on the field. That's why if they don't pick Cincinnati, I think it sends a message to soccer fans that I don't think MLS wants to send,” said Professor Cobbs.
If it seems like Cincinnati’s total bid package came together at the last minute, well, Sacramento’s came together at the last second. Just on Wednesday, billionaire industrialist Meg Whitman was added to the ownership group.
Wednesday's presentation was to the MLS expansion committee.
Team owners meet a week from Thursday, on December 14th. The announcement of the winning bids is expected within a few days after that.
FC Cincinnati's General Manager Jeff Berding released the following statement following the meeting:
We are appreciative to Major League Soccer and the Expansion Committee for the opportunity to present Cincinnati as a proven market that we are confident would be a strong addition to a growing MLS. The presenting group was led by Carl H. Lindner III, representing the Lindner Family and joined by David Thompson his son-in-law, and included Scott Farmer, representing the Farmer Family, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and me.
Over the course of two hours, we presented Cincinnati as an asset to the growth of MLS. Providing an overview of our vision and experience, our ownership group is one of the many strengths of our application. Led by Carl Lindner and Scott Farmer, we have a committed ownership group that is leveraging $350 million in private dollars to bring MLS to Cincinnati and ensure that the city’s future can leverage the global passion for soccer in the new economy.
We highlighted Cincinnati’s strategic regional positioning with easy access to major cities in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois. Our city includes eight headquartered Fortune 500 companies with 15 publicly traded companies based in Greater Cincinnati.
We spoke at length about FCC’s success as arguably one of the country’s hottest soccer franchises in the past two years with over 800,000 fans enjoying the FCC experience since we launched in the 2015 season. The club averaged over 21,000 fans in 2017 and we already have 13,000 paid season tickets as our public launch began today, making us confident that we will average 25,000 paid attendance in 2018.
We presented concrete plans for a soccer specific stadium with strong public support.
Our success has led to a partnership with Mercy Health that was announced last month, a five-year $26 million-dollar commitment as a future kit sponsor, one of the largest in MLS. However, our partnership also includes the commitment to better our communities. FCC and Mercy Health will work together to provide health screenings in underserved areas as well as advocate for healthy living for our children.
In short, we demonstrated that Cincinnati is a proven market and that FCC’s vision of soccer in our country has been realized due to strong ownership and professional management, and which includes an electric atmosphere, exciting soccer and a commitment to better our community. We feel our vision of soccer is in line with what is occurring in Major League Soccer today and I would like to end by thanking our fans. Their support and passion for FC Cincinnati has helped us be in a position to be a strong city in this competition.