New Team in Town 9

FC Cincinnati Soccer Wins Fans & Games

Tens of thousands of sports fans recently packed a Cincinnati stadium. The crowd, dressed from head to toe in orange jerseys and scarves, was there to cheer on the hometown squad against their rivals out of Pittsburgh. Before you shout, “Who Dey!” you should know the contest at hand wasn’t a violent AFC North battle between the Steelers and the Bengals, but a soccer match between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League.

Soccer is back in the Queen City in a big, big way. In this, their inaugural season, FC (Fùtbol Club) Cincinnati is already making its mark on the local sports scene. In just its fourth home game, the team set a USL attendance record, packing Nippert Stadium with over 23,000 soccer-crazed supporters. The buzz surrounding the team is palpable, and General Manager Jeff Berding attributes that excitement to the product on the pitch.

“When you come to an FC Cincinnati match, you see constant action. There are very few breaks, very few stoppages. Each game is a high-energy environment and that makes for a lot of fun,” Berding says.

The talented club, which includes local products and MLS draftees Luke Spencer (Winton Woods, Xavier) and Austin Berry (Summit Country Day, Louisville), certainly draws a crowd with their play. But the match-day experience is what builds a loyal fan base, and the club has implemented some unique programs to make sure everyone’s interests are met.

Ticket sections aren’t divided so much by distance from the field as they are the experience of the individual. For the sign-makers, the face-painters and the chant-shouters, there’s The Bailey. Named after a castle armory, this is the FC Cincinnati supporter section. It’s a raucous carnival behind the home goal where the diehards go to light a fire under the team. No one in The Bailey leaves a match with their voice intact.

FC Cincinnati offers college students a stadium section that’s all their own—The Legion. The Legion gives fans from UC, Xavier, NKU and Cincinnati State a chance to meet, mix and mingle in a unique environment. The stadium also includes general seating for adults and families with older children, and a section just for youth soccer teams. To provide financial assistance to local youth soccer programs, the club has instituted a Youth Soccer Giveback Program. Attendees can select a registered team when purchasing tickets online, and twenty percent of the ticket’s face value will be donated to the selected youth team. For Berding, programs like this are a way to grow the local fan base.

“There are more people playing soccer across the world than all other sports combined. It’s extremely popular with millennials. There’s the potential to one day grow as big as the Reds and the Bengals,” says Berding. He should know; he spent 19 years as an executive with the Bengals.

The club is finding creative ways to make matches affordable for every fan. Ticket prices are commensurate with the demographics and desired experience of attendees in a particular section. The strapped-for-cash college student will pay $5 for a ticket in The Legion, and youth teams pay $12 per seat. Seats in The Bailey cost $10, a small price to pay for a fanatic, and general admission tickets cost between $20 and $25. Premium seating is available for private parties.

Parking is ample around Nippert Stadium, as fans can park in any number of the lots or garages in the immediate area. Aware that parking is a headache for all sports enthusiasts, FC Cincinnati uses social media to alleviate that pain. The team Twitter account (@fccincinnati) updates followers as to which parking areas are full and which concession stands have long lines to save fans time and stress. The team is also on Instagram (@fccincinnati), where they share photos of games, fans and behind-the-scenes moments. You can have a peek at what you’ve been missing using #FCCincy.

Berding and the entire FC Cincinnati organization haven’t let the fact that they’re the new kid on the USL block temper their expectations. They’ve set their sights high.

“We’re just like every other professional sports franchise—we want to win a championship. Besides that, we want to have the best first year we can and begin to earn our way into the conversation of top American pro soccer cities,” he says.

More than 23,000 orange-clad supporters agree that FC Cincinnati is well on its way.