Best of 2018, #5: FC Cincinnati’s MLS Expansion Bid Approved

New FC Cincinnati stadium rendering

We end 2018 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #5: FC Cincinnati’s MLS expansion bid receives approval

For FC Cincinnati and its fans, 2018 has been a magical year.

The biggest development for the club this year was its successful MLS bid. In May, commissioner Don Garber praised the city and its fans as the club had its bid approved to become the 24th club in Major League Soccer, beginning play in 2019. “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.”

For a club that only began USL play in 2016, it has been a remarkable rise. That rise has been driven primarily by two factors: demonstrated sustained fan support, and a facility plan that came together early in the year.

A few years ago, Cincinnati was an outlier in the conversation about an MLS expansion slot. But as jaw dropping attendance figures rolled in, it was obvious to the league that the club could succeed at the next level. The club set attendance records the last two seasons, and continued to impress this season.

In 2018, 437,197 fans attended FC Cincinnati matches, an average of 25,717 fans per match, both USL attendance records. Attendance was up some 21 percent over 2017, more than doubled Sacramento Republic FC, it’s closest attendance competitor in the league. For its final game of the season, 31,478 fans packed Nippert Stadium, a USL single-game record.

Part of the key to the team’s success has been the venue – University of Cincinnati’s football field, Nippert Stadium. Originally built in 1915, last renovated in 2017 to accommodate a full-sized soccer pitch, its capacity of over 33,000 has facilitated huge crowds. Very few USL clubs (the exceptions being Indy Eleven at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Nashville SC who sometimes plays at Nissan Stadium) can draw even close to that number. The club plans to play its first two MLS seasons at an upgraded Nippert Stadium.

The other major development this year that vaulted the team into the MLS was the agreement between the club and the city, county and school district to build a soccer- specific stadium in the city’s West End to open in 2021.

Plans were recently unveiled for a stadium designed by Meis Architects (rendering above), with local support from Elevar, with a seating capacity in the range of 25,500 to 26,500, which would make it one of the largest soccer-specific venues in North America. Groundbreaking on the new stadium took place this week.

To cap it all off, and perhaps key to its future success, FC Cincinnati also began construction a new $30 million dollar training facility in suburban Milford. The Expressway Park site will feature three full-size, lighted soccer fields (two grass, one artificial turf), a 30,000-square-foot building for MLS facilities, and more. The goal is for the first team to use temporary facilities at the site starting in January 2019, with the complex fully operational by next summer.

When 2018 began, Cincinnati soccer fans had a USL club playing in a college football stadium. As 2019 dawns, those same fans have a new MLS club, with a new training facility in the works, and a massive new soccer-specific stadium under construction.

For Cincinnati’s soccer fans, it has been a magical year indeed.

Here’s our Top Ten of 2018 to date:

Best of 2018, #6: St. Louis’s MLS Hopes Revived by New Bid

Best of 2018, #7: Nashville MLS Stadium Plans Finalized

Best of 2018, #8: New Louisville City FC Stadium Plan Makes Progress

Best of 2018, #9: Atlanta United FC’s Successful Sophomore Season 

Best of 2018, #10: New Beckham Group Stadium Plan Emerges in Miami

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August Publications