Cincinnati will soon be home to MLS, as the league announced Tuesday that it has approved an expansion bid from FC Cincinnati.
Under the current plans, FC Cincinnati–currently of the USL–will begin MLS play in 2019. The club will play matches at its current home facility, Nippert Stadium, until construction of a new soccer-specific stadium on Cincinnati’s West End is completed. The new stadium is currently expected to be finished in 2021, meaning that Nippert Stadium will be FC Cincinnati’s home for the 2019 and 2020 MLS seasons.
FC Cincinnati’s managing owner is Carl H. Lindner III, the co-CEO of Cincinnati-based American Financial Group, which owns Great American Insurance. Among Lindner’s partners are Scott Farmer, Chairman and CEO of Cintas Corp., and George Joseph, President of Joseph Toyota and Principal of other automobile dealerships in Greater Cincinnati, as well as members of the Lindner family and other regional business and civic leaders.
“Major League Soccer is proud to introduce Cincinnati as our 26th team,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “The rise of Cincinnati as a passionate soccer market in recent years, coinciding with the city’s growing economy and reputation as a top destination for young professionals makes it an ideal city for our growing league. We congratulate Carl Lindner and his partners, and also the soccer fans of Cincinnati, who have passionately supported FC Cincinnati in the USL.”
Since its first season in the USL in 2016, FC Cincinnati has had tremendous fan support, setting attendance records including three crowds of more than 30,000 fans during the club’s run to the semifinals of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. During its first two USL seasons, the team has shattered league records for total attendance, average attendance and single-game attendance. The attendance of 32,250 for FC Cincinnati’s semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls is the second-largest in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup history, and a club-record 35,061 fans attended a friendly against Crystal Palace in 2016. In 2018, the club has surpassed 17,000 season tickets and has so far averaged almost 24,500 fans per game.
The corporate community has already shown its support for Cincinnati’s effort to attract an MLS team in a significant way. The club recently finalized a partnership with Mercy Health, the largest hospital system in Ohio, to become the team’s jersey-front partner when it begins play next season in MLS.
“Cincinnati’s selection by Major League Soccer for an expansion team is a triumph for the continued renaissance of this incredible city,” said Lindner. “I have to start by thanking the supporters of FC Cincinnati, because from the beginning they were the foundation of the efforts of our bid to join MLS. We could not have done this without them. This has been a true team effort among the soccer fans, our partners and our civic and corporate leaders. This is a city with a historically deep relationship between the people and its teams, and we are going to take that to even greater heights in MLS. Thank you to Commissioner Garber and all of the league’s owners for their faith in Cincinnati. We’re excited to be part of Major League Soccer’s tremendous future.”
With Cincinnati in the fold, MLS will have 24 teams competing in 2019 after playing with 23 clubs in 2018. Approval of FC Cincinnati’s bid ends months of uncertainty, as the club was one of four finalists considered by MLS in December. It was initially anticipated that the league would select two bids in December, but it selected Nashville and held off on decisions regarding the other finalists–including Cincinnati, Detroit, and Sacramento. That afforded Cincinnati more time to finalize its stadium plan, which calls for a new soccer-specific venue to be constructed on the current site of Taft High School’s Stargel Stadium. FC Cincinnati will compete in MLS before expansion clubs in Nashville and Miami begin play.
“The news of Cincinnati joining Major League Soccer makes this a landmark day for our city,” said Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. “I want to thank Commissioner Garber and everyone with MLS for believing in Cincinnati, and I’m delighted that the faith shown in our beautiful city by Carl Lindner and his partners has been rewarded. In MLS, FC Cincinnati and its new world-class soccer stadium in the West End will spur additional economic and cultural growth for our city.”
Image courtesy FC Cincinnati.
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