A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

FCC on both sides of river as Cinci council committee approves stadium infrastructure money

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

FC Cincinnati engaged in a full court press across Greater Cincinnati Monday.

FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding listens to the discussion at a Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday. The committee voted 5-2 to recommend approval of up to $37 million in funding for infrastructure improvements needed for a new soccer stadium in Oakley (photos by Mark Hansel).

FCC President and General Manager Jeff Berding and supporters of a new soccer stadium in Oakley attended a Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting trying to convince its members to support up to $37 million for infrastructure improvements.

Several miles and a river away, in a much less publicized meeting, FC Cincinnati Chief Branding Officer Kevin Butler was giving a presentation to the Florence Rotary Club about the team’s bid for an expansion franchise. The so-called Ovation site in Newport was seen as a possible alternate location for a new stadium if Cincinnati rejected the plan for infrastructure upgrades.

The hopes for an MLS team in Northern Kentucky were dashed a few hours later, however, when the Cincinnati City Council committee voted to recommend approval for the infrastructure funds.

The decision virtually guarantees that if FC Cincinnati is granted an expansion franchise, the new stadium will be built in Oakley.

Butler assured those in attendance that no matter where a new stadium was built, FC Cincinnati was the region’s sports team and needed support from Northern Kentuckians to be successful.

“Without our supporters, we are nothing and that is so crucial to who we are as a club,” Butler said.

The strength of FC Cincinnati’s Northern Kentucky fan base was evident in March, when Berding was asked to speak at the NKY Chamber’s Eggs ‘n Issues forum, in the spot traditionally reserved for the Cincinnati Reds.

Berding was scheduled to give the Florence Rotary presentation, but the budget committee meeting in Cincinnati understandably took precedent.

FC Cincinnati Chief Branding Officer Kevin Butler gave a presentation to the Florence Rotary Club Monday. A few hours later, a Cincinnati City Council committee voted to recommend approval of infrastructure improvements needed for a new stadium to be built in Oakley.

The MLS is the major leagues of soccer. Currently there are 22 teams in the MLS, 19 in the United States and three in Canada.

FC Cincinnati now plays in the USL, which, along with the NASL are the next level down in the U.S. Soccer pecking order.

While 12 cities submitted proposals to be awarded one of the two MLS expansion franchises, it has been widely reported that three cities, Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati, are the finalists.

Butler said FC Cincinnati is making every effort to win one of those two bids.

“There is room in Cincinnati for another sports, franchise, (along with) the Reds and the Bengals,” Butler said. “Soccer reaches a completely different market, it’s skewing a little bit younger and it’s a totally different fan experience.”

There are no commercial breaks every few minutes in soccer, as with most other professional sports. Teams play 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission, followed by another 45 minutes. There is no overtime in the regular season and teams earn three point for a win and one point for a tie.

Tournament games include extra time and penalty kicks to ultimately decide a winner if the game is tied at the end of regulation.

FC Cincinnati cleared a huge hurdle in its effort to gain an expansion franchise with the Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee’s 5-2 vote to recommend approval of the money for infrastructure improvements. There are only nine member on the full council, so supporters almost certainly have the votes needed for approval, which should come Wednesday.

The recommendation came despite considerable public comment against the proposal, including a unanimous no vote by the Oakley Community Council. The group objected to the use of tax increment financing (TIF) money to help fund the improvements.

Several FC Cincinnati supporters sporting scarves with the team’s colors were in attendance at Monday’s Cincinnati City Council committee meeting.

Several who opposed the proposal, including some Oakley residents, said the money would be better spent in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, or on other infrastructure needs, such as the Western Hills viaduct.

The plan was proposed by Cincinnati Mayor John who attended Monday’s meeting and said it is not the close call some have described.

“We understand it’s (perceived as) a close call because of the history of the stadiums in this community and the questions that people understandably have as a result of that,” Cranley said. “But when you get past the rhetoric and get into the facts, it is a clear case of growing and building this community in a way that doesn’t come along very often.”

Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to approve $10 million from the hotel tax in addition to the $15 million already committed for a parking garage. That still leaves a funding gap of more than $20 million, but allows FC Cincinnati to submit a proposal that includes a soccer-only stadium, which is expected to be delivered in the next week.

The FC Cincinnati ownership group has agreed to pay $350 million to fund the building of the stadium, which is a prerequisite for approval, and the MLS franchise fee.

Berding released a statement thanking Cranley, the committee and the FC Cincinnati faithful for their support of the proposal. He said FC Cincinnati will continue to work with stakeholders, including the City, the County, the Oakley Community Council, and residents across the city, to finalize a plan that serves the best interests of everyone.

Members of the Florence Rotary Club prepare to hear a presentation from FC Cincinnati Chief Branding Officer Kevin Butler Monday.

“City Council’s vote and hopefully Hamilton County’s support on Wednesday to approve the funding for streets and parking, brings Cincinnati one step closer to checking the final box for our application to win a franchise bid and bring major-league soccer to our city…We are confident in our vision of Major League Soccer and what having a franchise in the first division will do for our region. Our city has a very unique opportunity to position itself in the global economy and use the passion behind soccer to build upon the renaissance Cincinnati is experiencing.”

The growing popularity of soccer is undeniable, both as a spectator and a participant sport, with 270 million people playing it globally. Butler said soccer is currently the fourth most popular sport in the United States, behind the NFL, MLB and college football and is the third most watched.

“This is why big brands are starting to jump on board, such as Heineken, Adidas and Fox Sports,” Butler said. Heineken’s brand manager has said there are more soccer fans in the U.S. than total people in the U.K.”

The 2000 World Cup final was viewed by 715 million people worldwide. By 2014, that number had grown to 1 billion people globally, 105 million of which were in the United States.

There have been other professional sports franchises that have attempted to cultivate the Cincinnati market, without success.

Butler said the ownership group of FCC is one reason the franchise may achieve its goals where others have failed.

“You couldn’t ask for a stronger ownership group than Carl Lindner, Scott Farmer and George Joseph,” Butler said. “They are leaders in the community, leaders in their corporations, they all have strong will, great faith. Jeff Berding has literally gone through a city council experience and has experience with the Bengals and . . .he’s leading and driving our bid for application.”

If Cincinnati is selected for an expansion franchise, FC Cincinnati would begin participating in league activities in 2019 and begin play in its completed new stadium in 2020.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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One Comment

  1. J says:

    Sounds like a Cincinnati thing. Leave it over there.

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