Could MLS Expansion Be the Wrong Move for FC Cincinnati?

nippert-crop

Editor’s Note: A lot has been written about FC Cincinnati’s bid for MLS expansion. Many of those articles assume that expansion is inherently desirable and make little mention of possible risks involved in competing in the expansion race. While Orange & Blue press is clearly a supporter of #MLS2CINCY, I thought it was worthwhile to balance the conversation with the voice of a supporter who’s uncertain whether expansion, at the current pace and under the current conditions, is in the best long term interest of the club. He refers to himself as the Losantiville Firm, and submitted the following viewpoint to Orange and Blue Press which we are pleased to share.

You have been to the games and heard the attendance numbers, 15,000…20,000…even 30,000 fans screaming one thing in unison. We represent a teeming grass roots movement akin to Obama’s campaign that summed up a hive mindset with one phrase…“yes we can!” What is the slogan those 30,000 FC Cincinnati fans are screaming?

“MLS or Bust!”

As fans we want to take that next step. We will do whatever we can to make this club a success. Success is making it to MLS, right? Or could the pursuit of MLS be our downfall? Are we so quick to chase the MLS dream that we don’t see any inherent danger in the endeavor? What happens if FC Cincinnati spends all the money, meets every Don Garber sanctioned requirement and then…doesn’t get in? Would there be a point for having FC Cincinnati any longer? I say yes of course, but what irrevocable damage could be done by rushing to make such a speculative gamble?

Let’s take Sacramento Republic FC’s bid as a case study. If Sacramento has taught us anything, it is that we are relying on the fickle requirements of MLS, and they have all of the advantages in this negotiation. MLS has an excessive number of clubs interested in expansion. All of those clubs have strengths and deficiencies, but few have a more complete package than Sacramento. The fact that they have not yet been offered a spot, and have recently fallen from grace as the “expansion darling,” should give us pause.

By holding off on inviting Sacramento, MLS has shown they hold all the cards. We as supporters of the club should not make hitting MLS benchmarks our measurement of success. MLS is looking to advance their own interests with expansion. FC Cincinnati should look to advance its own interests first and foremost. They should do so in a controlled manner that may not include joining in MLS’s near term expansion. They should instead focus on their own infrastructure, financial goals, and carve out their own unique niche in the international soccer landscape.

By focusing on making ourselves a healthy and well rounded club, we stand to make a greater long term impact and create a more attractive club. With the current MLS TV deal coming up for renegotiation in 2022, we could position ourselves as a reliable and growing soccer market. By that time MLS may find fewer desirable expansion markets than what they currently have. Then again, the opportunity could be gone. So I say go for MLS, but I refuse to allow FC Cincinnati to risk failure, just to meet arbitrary benchmarks that may not be in our club’s best interest.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, different viewpoints and ongoing dialogue about what is in the best long term interest of FC Cincinnati is a recipe for a healthy supporters’ culture. 

5 thoughts

  1. Whether the focus is on MLS expansion or enhancing their own infrastructure, financials and brand, the common link between the two and a necessity moving forward is building their own stadium. MLS won’t accept them as an expansion team without a stadium plan. And it just doesn’t make financial sense to rent out Nippert for an extended period of time. They need their own place to play. Easier said then done, I realize that.

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  2. I disagree with regard to the stadium. Building a stadium is not like owning your own home where you build equity over time. A soccer stadium is a singular use facility that requires huge amounts of upkeep and a round the clock staff to maintain. And for a facility that is used 16 times a year, do we as a one year soccer club want to shoulder that much of a financial burden? Maybe in 5 or ten years we can legitimize the up front cost. But Nippert offers as intimate of an environment as anything found in the Premier league. Outside of meeting an MLS requirement what upside does a stadium offer that Nippert does not? However if you can provide details on stadium generated revenue, I will definately rethink my stance. Thank you for the comment would like to explore topic further.

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    1. There’s many positive factors in having their own stadium. One of which is that there is a significant increase in revenue opportunities. I can’t speak of the current arrangements with between FC Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati, but I would imagine that UC gets a percentage of all ticket and concessions sales on match days. The University keeps all the money from parking ($10 per car x 2,000 cars = $20,000 per match, and that figure is probably low). And they collect a per event rental/usage fee for use of Nippert Stadium.

      By playing in their own stadium, FC Cincinnati wouldn’t have to share revenue with anyone else. They would have full control over all concession prices. They’d hopefully be able to select a large enough piece of property to build on which would allow them to have parking available on site. They could build a stadium that has private suites/sky boxes that could be sold at a premium. Certain season tickets could be considered premium seats, thus requiring a personal seat license (added revenue opportunity). The club could sell the naming rights of the stadium to a large corporate sponsor, which usually generates a large influx of revenue annually. Other benefits of having their own stadium include customizing the locker room, onsite strength and train rooms.

      As mentioned previously, a soccer stadium does require year round upkeep, and typically there are only a small number of games played in it per calendar year. However, the stadium could be used for other purposes, aside from just FC Cincinnati soccer matches. The stadium could house the team offices, as well as a fan shop which could be open throughout the year. The stadium could also host other soccer events such as; the US Men’s and Women’s National teams, NCAA soccer tournaments, World Cup qualifier matches, International friendlies, local high school soccer events and state soccer tournaments. In addition, the stadium could have the ability to host lacrosse, football, or rugby events, should there be a desire to do so. And lastly, the stadium, depending on where it would be located, could be used as an outdoor concert facility, similar to what the Columbus Crew Stadium does for the annual Rock on the Range music festival.

      Playing at Nippert right now is safe and convenient. The club should play one-two more seasons there, just to get a feel for what the average attendance is going to be over multiple seasons. That will help determine the size (seating capacity) of the stadium they would need to build. There certainly isn’t a rush to build, but prolonging the building a stadium isn’t good financially for the team.

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      1. Very good points Marcus and ones that do support the argument for the stadium. I would agree that a stadium would create a healthier financial team because it controls different streams of revenue. I believe a stadium does need to be in the equation. But that should be something explored after MLS expansion is achieved or ends without FCC being a part of it.

        The 150 million entrance fee and then stadium costs, at minimum will create a 300 million dollar deficit if we think both are needed to join MLS. Outside of lining the pockets of current MLS owners there really is no reason why a 150 million entrance fee is needed to enter MLS. And under the current revenue sharing for tv money, which is biggest financial benefit, it only would net roughly 5 mill/year.

        So to decide how to approach the stadium issue, the club has to decide how they want their cash flow and debt to be structured. If Garber expects fee and then willing to wait on stadium. We are guaranteed less than 5 mill a year in tv money. If we choose to do stadium and wait on paying expansion fee, we rely on tickets, concessions and stadium income on paying down the 150 million deficit for the stadium and eventually paying entrance fee. If we need both, that might be a financial hole that eventually sees us either being sold to another owner or folding as a club and there is s useless stadium that was just built. So if both are needed maybe we are better off where we are , than in going to MLS that has a history of losing franchises due to poor financial management. Let me know what you think thanks.

        Losantiville Firm

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