Today was the big announcement. Cincinnati is (finally??) getting the invitation to the MLS. Yippee! We are going to have three major league sports in our small city, putting us on the field with just a few other in the country. And yet I have to ask…why?
Before you start thinking this is a bash soccer article. It is actually the furthest thing from it. Of all the sports kids play, the only one I consistently played growing up was soccer. To me it is probably the most physically demanding sport of all the major team sports. Yeah in football you get hit, but in soccer you run, and run, and then run some more - and you get hit too - and you are not wearing a suit of armor when you do it.
So what is my point? My point is that Cincinnati has openly supported this start up, second-tier professional soccer team called FC Cincinnati. They have consistently set attendance records, topping most MLS franchises in this country. And that is EXACTLY why we should be asking why.
FC Cincinnati has done a phenomenal job of creating interest, loyalty, and draw in a highly competitive small market. They have done this because several things have come together to make it possible.
- Low ticket price - FC Cincinnati tickets average around $20 for most matches. A family of four can go enjoy a game, have a couple of hot dogs and be out the door for right around $100
- Great location - playing at Nippert Stadium in the middle of the University of CIncinnati, they are able to draw a large following from the college students who live there. This is is their home, and walking out the door of the dorm and into a nice inexpensive game works for them
- Success on the field - FC Cincy has done very well for a startup club. Enjoying very successful seasons and even besting a few ‘higher level’ teams on occasion
- Fun experience - while I have never been to a game, I hear that they are fun, exciting, and fan friendly, much like most minor league games are in baseball and hockey.
- the Reds suck - for the past 3 seasons our beloved Cincinnati Reds have not put anything on the field that is remotely competitive. Therefore there is ‘disposable’ entertainment dollars available
So what could possibly go wrong by taking this whole thing up a level? Well simply - EVERYTHING!
- MLS Ticket prices - the average price at the Columbus Crew? More like $35 for a similar ticket. Mid field lower level? try $60 a seat versus $35. Nearly double. Food / beer prices? I am sure they are more than double as well. So your $100 night out, just became $250.
- The West End? - no college there, no restaurants there, no bars there, wait a minute - theres nothing there. Lets see how many walk-up UC students you get at one of those matches?
- Increased competition - do you think the opportunity for a successful season increases or decreases at the next level. Fans are fickle (as UC Football can tell you), and if FC Cincinnati costs over 2x more, and they aren’t winning - see you later.
- Pro atmosphere - I have never been to an MLS match, but if the difference is anything like the difference between MLB and NHL and their respective minor leagues - it could be about as boring as watching paint dry.
- The Reds get GOOD! - imagine a pennant race by our Reds? (Ok I know it is a pipe dream, but it is possible, maybe?!) This is a baseball town - THE ORIGINAL baseball town. And if our Reds go on a run - those discretionary entertainment dollars suddenly start flowing back down to the riverfront. Suddenly nobody will even care who FC Cincinnati is. And if Luke Fickell does anything close to what is possible, then there is double trouble on the pitch.
From my point of view they have the best game going - right now! They are enjoying success, people are enjoying the atmosphere, and the city is embracing them like they have always been a part of our city. And for some ungodly reason that I cannot comprehend, they desire to drop over $400 million into this venture that has more signs pointing at failure than success. I don’t claim to have any knowledge fo the financials of running a MLS soccer club, but there must be some real magic behind the scenes that make this all worth while. Or maybe it is the desire to ‘play with the big boys!’ Either way I guess we will just have to wait and see if I am right or wrong on this one!