MLS commissioner Don Garber formally announced FC Cincinnati as the 26th club in MLS. Joining him on the stage were majority owner Carl Linder III, President and General Manager Jeff Berding and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
Cincinnati will join the MLS in 2019 playing in Nippert Stadium on the campus of The University of Cincinnati. Their new 21,000 seat stadium in the West End is scheduled to be ready by the 2021 season.
The conference FC Cincinnati will play in is still up in the air, with the announcement expected in the coming months.
The most recent MLS expansion announcement was for Nashville SC on December 20, 2017. They are currently scheduled to begin play in 2020 in a 27,500 seat soccer-specific stadium.
The announcement was held at Rhinegeist Brewery, in Over the Rhine, about a mile from the new stadium site. The event kicked off with members of the different supporter groups singing and holding scarfs before taking their position on either side of the stage. Taylor Twellman and Adrian Healey, the MLS commentators for ESPN, kicked the event off and introduced speakers on the stage.
Berding stepped to the microphone stating, “This day was always the vision for Carl Linder and me, from the day when we began on August the 12th of 2015.” He then complimented Mayor Cranley saying, “You should be very proud of this guy,” after saying how he sold Cincinnati to the MLS and was a huge part of getting this bid.
When Garber got to the microphone the volume in the room rose because everyone knew what was about to come. He started off by complimenting the city and new stadium deal saying, “You shocked the world” and “This deal is unprecedented,” in how it is fully funded by the team and can be the pillar of the neighborhood. He compared the stadium’s potential to two legendary stadiums with large rabid fan bases, “This could be the Bernabau (Real Madrid). This could be Anfield (Liverpool).”
Then the announcement we were all waiting for, “It is my pleasure to announce Cincinnati as the newest club in MLS.”
Mayor Cranley came to the podium to announce, “It is now, officially orange and blue day in Cincinnati.”
It was a long road for FC Cincinnati to make it to the MLS. They were first announced on August 12, 2015 to begin play in the USL for the 2016 season with then Head Coach, former US Men’s National Team Captain, John Harkes. FC Cincinnati has made a name for themselves as one of the most enthusiastic fan bases in the country drawing over 330,000 fans in their first season.
The year of 2017 was what put FC Cincinnati on the map with a run to the US Open Cup semi-finals, beating the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire of the MLS and the NASL champions Miami FC before being knocked out by the New York Red Bulls. The game against Chicago was broadcast on ESPN with over 300,000 viewers, matching what MLS averaged on ESPN last season. The attendance was a staggering 477,331 across all competitions, including the Open Cup run, and 21,199 per league match.
So far in 2018, through five matches, they have averaged 24,416 per match totaling 124,333. Over 20,000 season tickets were sold for the 2018 campaign. A large crowd is expected to be on hand for the US Open Cup Fourth Round match against Minnesota United of the MLS next Wednesday June 6.
The fight off the field to get a soccer-specific stadium was a long and painful process. FC Cincinnati went through three different stadium sites, Newport, KY, Oakley, and the eventual winner, the West End. It was a roller coaster ride from the beginning to end with petitions, protests and city council hearings. The West End was selected as the stadium on April 16 by the Cincinnati City Council and the agreement was officially signed on May 16.