Miami’s MLS Expansion Spot, in Cincinnati “Process is more involved than expected”

MLS has officially landed in Miami while FC Cincinnati continues to tackle an expansion process that’s more involved and more time-consuming than expected.

David Beckham and Don Garber officially announced the long-awaited Miami-based MLS franchise on Monday. The event was big on fanfare and short on details, but the Miami Herald reports that the franchise expects to begin play “at a temporary site” in 2020. The team name and branding were not revealed. Beckham gave a surprisingly long and somewhat a heartfelt speech which reflected the difficulties his ownership team encountered during the process. He finished with, “Miami is a city built on dreams, today you made my dreams come true…it’s a special day for all of us.”

The announcement brings to a close a four-year-long saga where Beckham and company worked to secure an ownership group and stadium site suitable for MLS. The logical question that some Cincinnati soccer fans are asking is, “Does the news in Miami hurt FC Cincinnati’s chances for MLS expansion?”

The short answer is no. MLS chased and supported a Beckham led Miami franchise for a very long time, long before FC Cincinnati was even a sparkle in Jeff Berding’s eye. This announcement should have come well before the current round of expansion. Garber has been extremely patient, and MLS believes that the Miami ownership group finally has enough sorted out to call it official. Cincinnati was never going to displace Miami, a huge media market, with a star-studded ownership group, that’s also an attractive tourism destination. The only thing Miami’s bid was ever going to impact was the timing of when FC Cincinnati enters the league, if granted a bid. Miami’s lengthy delays could still provide Cincinnati a chance for earlier (2019) entry.

Cincinnati – “Process Is More Involved Than Expected”

In Cincinnati, Jeff Berding made appearances with a few local media outlets over the past week, to talk about the shorter-lived saga that is FC Cincinnati’s MLS bid.

“We’re not quite there yet. The process is more involved than we expected. We appreciate people’s patience, . . . we hope we’re going to host a big party here sometime soon.”

A few themes repeated themselves in these interviews. Berding reiterated that they consider all three sites (Oakley, West End, and Newport) winning sites. A purchase option is signed on the Oakley site, and that was the primary site presented at the December 6th meetings with MLS in New York. However, all three sites were presented, as was FC Cincinnati’s ability to redirect efforts to any of the three sites (if local or MLS interests drove things that way). FC Cincinnati committed to performing a traffic study on the impact of building a stadium in Oakley. Berding also committed to a holding a community dialogue in any location where they try to move forward. He put a major emphasis that any stadium plan needed to be a win for the neighborhood in which it would be located. “We’re going to increase home ownership in the neighborhood, we’re not going to displace anyone”. [WCPO]

One implication of the information shared in these recent media appearances is that further clarification on the specific stadium site does not seem to be a prerequisite for winning the MLS bid. The narrative he presented is about needing to first secure the MLS franchise, then having a dialogue with the community and city leaders about the best place to locate the stadium.

It is interesting that some of the hurdles in Miami were attributed to not having the stadium site locked down. So how can Cincinnati secure a franchise with a number of questions outstanding about its own stadium proposal? No one’s really sure. Miami’s bid had more problems than just stadium details though. Those problems were resolved by revamping their ownership group and adding Jorge and Jose Mas. It appears that the local ownership piece in Miami was perhaps the biggest deficit, and with that resolved, they got the green light from MLS to move forward. And Cincinnati certainly isn’t Miami. It’s a different situation, and somewhat different criteria might be used by MLS to decide what “ready” looks like there versus here.

This brings up another point. There isn’t much point in speculating on when and how this decision will be made by MLS. But everyone’s doing it, because 1) it’s fun, and 2) there’s a dearth of information coming from the real sources. Without clear information and MLS leading the dialogue about what’s happening, people are going to speculate, and Don Garber is clearly ok with that, or he would have said more by now.

Why hasn’t he said more? There could be some simple explanations. Defining the specific criteria for acceptance suggests that MLS’ decision is an equation, and if a city’s bid plugs in the right numbers, stadium + ownership + finances + support, MLS spits out a winner. One could argue it’s not that simple. It’s a subjective decision, it’s nuanced, and ultimately it’s a judgment call for MLS to decide which city’s situation has the best chance of improving the league and improving the financial prospects of its owners. It is a business after all.

Also, there are serious financial implications for the winning (and losing) cities and the ownership groups involved. It behooves MLS not to make the exact decision-making specifics public. If they did, it locks them into what was stated and gives them less flexibility to change their minds or re-evaluate things as each city’s bid evolves. It could open them up to criticism or even legal recourse if they stated detailed specifics and then didn’t follow them “to a T”. So while it’s annoying, confusing, and frustrating to many fans and onlookers that the whole expansion situation is opaque, it seems to be so by design.

Waiting Game

So FC Cincinnati fans must wait. The good news is that there is an end in sight. Don Garber said MLS’ decision on the next expansion team will happen before the first game of the MLS season (March 3rd).  So, it’s likely that the news will come sometime in February, perhaps even early February. Moreover, preseason is kicking off for this year’s exciting and revamped USL squad. FC Cincinnati leaves for the preseason IMG tournament in Florida on Friday. Alan Koch’s new-look team will be back in action in eight short days against the New England Revolution. So there will actually be some real soccer to keep us busy while we wait. And isn’t that actually what it’s all about?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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