Carl Lindner III bringing new pro soccer team to Cincy – Cincinnati.com
The âbeautiful gameâ will have a new home in Cincinnati, but will it last this time? The city has seen many soccer teams come and go, but with a prominent home, notable backers and a solid league, the latest endeavor will attempt to last.
The Enquirer has learned that an announcement will come Monday about Futbol Club Cincinnati, a United Soccer League team funded by Carl Lindner III and other investors. The team will take the field in spring 2016.
The team will play at Nippert Stadium, the University of Cincinnati’s newlyÂ renovated, 40,000-seat football stadium, a source told The Enquirer. Tickets will go on sale after Wednesdayâs announcement and will range from $50 for students up to $595 for club seats for 15-17 games.
An $86 million renovationÂ of Nippert currently is on time and on budget, and the seating capacity is expanding from 35,000 to 40,000 for the Bearcats’ upcoming football season. The stadium will be configured to utilizeÂ 10,000 seats for USL matches.
Former Cincinnati Councilman Jeff Berding has left his job as director of sales and public affairs with the Cincinnati Bengals to be the team’s president and general manager.
What is the USL?
The USL, currently comprised of 24 teams, is the third tier of American soccer, below top-tier Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League. Several USL teams are designated affiliates of MLSÂ franchises â teams likeÂ LA Galaxy IIÂ andÂ Toronto FC II.
For some, the phrase “minor league” might result inÂ direct comparisons toÂ Major League Baseball’s tiered system of affiliates and lower-league teams. There are key differences, though.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament offers USL teams an avenue to compete in meaningful matches againstÂ MLS clubs.
American baseball doesn’t have a competition like the U.S. Open Cup, and it’s not uncommon for USL teams toÂ upsetÂ MLS sides in the competition. First-year USL franchise Charlotte Independence turned the trick in June when it upset four-time MLS champion D.C. United to advance to the last 16 of the tournament.
Another key difference is some USL teamsÂ are attempting to moveÂ into America’s top league. One of the Cincinnati’s new peers,Â Sacramento Republic FC, has previously statedÂ it’s desire to make the jump to MLS. AndÂ Orlando City SC serves as an example of a USL club that already succeeded in jumping to MLS.
Orlando City now routinely plays before home crowds of tens of thousandsÂ and is fronted on the field by Brazilian starÂ Kaka.
Soccer hasn’t stuck before
This might be the most prominent soccer league of which the city has been a part, but history has shown that past efforts have not ended well.
Cincinnati has seenÂ a variety of soccer teams come and go throughout the years. Some were of the indoor variety, most notably the Cincinnati Kids, which played in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978-79. The team might have been best known Â for having Reds legend Pete Rose as a minority owner. Rose made the ceremonial first kick in the teamâs inaugural game in New Yorkâs Nassau Colosseum in 1978. The team only lasted one season.
The Cincinnati Silverbacks, also an indoor team, played at The Crown (now U.S. Bank Arena) as part of the National Professional Soccer League. The team existed just three years, from 1995 to 1998. The Cincinnati Excite of the American Indoor Soccer League lasted from 2004 to 2008.
Traditional outdoor teams have also not managed to stick in town. The Cincinnati Comets won the American Soccer League championship in its inaugural season in 1972Â but folded after the 1975 season.
The Cincinnati Riverhawks and the Cincinnati Kings, both of the U.S. Premier Development League, failed to last. The PDL is the fourth-tier of American soccer leagues, one level below the USL.
One team thatâs still alive is the Cincinnati Saints. The team is part of the 70-team National Premier Soccer League and has been in existence since 2009. The team, which plays home games at Angus King Stadium at Withrow High School, has been trying to grow its fan base each season. A May 2015 Enquirer article said the team drew 12 people to its first game, but had upwardÂ of 500 fans at games during its 2014 season. The team was hoping to double that this summer, in a season that saw them finish in last place in their division.
But those number are paltry compared to the attendance numbers that could be achieved in the USL. According to the leagueâs website, www.uslsoccer.com, the leagueâs single-game attendance record was 20,886 for its 2013 championship won by Orlando City in Orlando.
In contrast, aÂ team in much closer proximity to Cincinnati, the Dayton Dutch Lions averaged only 531 fans per home game in 2014.
A success story
Though Dayton hasnât seen full stadiums for its games, another city in the region is finding success with its USL team. Louisville City FC began playing in the league this season and has seen strong attendance and an enthusiastic fan base.
Steven Peake, director of media relations for Louisville FC City, says officials of the new Cincinnati franchise observed a couple of games at Louisville Slugger Field this season.
“I think it’s great for us,” Peake said of news of a Cincinnati team. “…Our fans are already talking about road trips to Cincinnati.”
Peake said the USL is expected to schedule several games in the spring of 2016 between the two teams given the regional geography.
Peake said the interest in Louisville has been excellent. The team started the season March 28 during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and it was well-received in its first spring. Louisville FC City drew 6,000 for that first game. He said the fan base was loud and they were very intelligent.
“We had supporters set up before the team was announced,” Peake said. “We couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Louisville FC City averages 6,391 fans, which is second in the league, according to Peake. The top attendance average in the league is Sacramento Republic FC with 11,274.
The regularÂ season concludes Sept. 19, and the playoffs follow that.
Peake said he heard from fans that didn’t like soccer before the season but came away very impressed with the atmosphere once they attended the Louisville FC City games.
“They would say, ‘This is awesome. I am coming back. This is great.â “
All USL games are broadcast on YouTube, Peake said. Louisville FC City has a great rapport with the local ESPN radio affiliate, he said. Bob Valvano does the color commentary on the radio in Louisville.
University of Cincinnati menâs soccer coach Hylton Dayes will get an up-close look at the new team since itâs playing on campus. Heâs seen the benefits firsthand of having a professional soccer team in town.
“I was around when the Riverhawks were here and it was great for the city,” Dayes said. “One benefit for us will be our guys having the opportunity literally to go from their dorm to Nippert and watch pro soccer. Watching high level soccer will help our guys improve for sure.”
Xavier University men’s soccer coach Andy Fleming welcomed the news and said it will add another element to the area soccer scene.
âAs a collegiate program that was built mainly on local and regional talent, this adds another gateway to professional soccer and is something that can only help with our recruiting, possible facility development and continuing the careers of our college players,â Fleming said.
The Courier-Journal reported MondayÂ the newÂ Fubol Club Cincinnati will join the Eastern Conference. Former U.S. star John Harkes is reportedly the new Futbol Club Cincinnati coach,Â according toÂ Sports Illustrated.
âObviously John’s name speaks for itself and adds instant credibility to the franchise, as we all know him as a true American great,” Fleming said.
As for fan interest, UCâs Dayes doesnât think itâll be an issue here.
“I think fans will be excited to watch pro soccer,â he said. âCincinnati is a big sports town and soccer has a long history here. I think people will support it for sure.”