F.C. Cincinnati CEO: We want to start Ohio-Kentucky bidding war to build our new stadium

As discussed last week, F.C. Cincinnati is considering stadium sites in either Cincinnati or Newport, Kentucky across the Ohio River, to the degree that its stadium renderings can’t seem to decide where they are relative to downtown Cincinnati. Now, though, owner Carl Lindner III has made clear that his intention isn’t so much to identify the best site as to get a bidding war going between the two cities in an attempt to shake loose $100 million in public money:

“It would be an exciting place, a transformational-type investment that would be made,” Lindner said of building a new stadium in neighborhoods such as the city’s West End.

But, he quickly added: “It’s ultimately going to end up being where we can get the support.”

This is a common gambit, and sometimes works — Minnesota United‘s owner playing off St. Paul and Minneapolis for tax breaks comes to mind — but sometimes doesn’t — think the Los Angeles Angels‘ owner’s failed attempts to shake loose money from Anaheim by threatening to move to Tustin, only to have Tustin turn them down for money as well. Best you can say is it’s worth a shot, though it’ll depend on elected officials in one city or another thinking that the presence of a soccer team will be worth more than $100 million in economic benefits, which isn’t likely. (Isn’t likely to be worth that much, I mean; what the officials will think I can’t say.) At that price point, for 19 home games of soccer, a reasonable response would be “Wait, somebody else will pay for this thing, and our residents still get to go see games just by going across a bridge? Don’t let the door hit you!”

Lindner’s best bet might be less playing the two cities against each other than shopping around his stadium demands around to every level of government — both states, both counties, both cities — in hopes of finding some group of politicians susceptible to the “If you build it, spending money will come” argument. That’s a lot of government bodies, and he only needs one to bite, so, sure, maybe — there have to be some politicians somewhere out there who can’t do math, right?

43 comments on “F.C. Cincinnati CEO: We want to start Ohio-Kentucky bidding war to build our new stadium

  1. Kinder has done this before with the Reds. Chances are this team won’t pull trigger on expansion fee without public subsidies. On other hand I think St.Louis is bluffing and will privately build their stadium.

  2. I can’t decide what is more stupid – MLS expanding to smaller, saturated sports markets like Cincinnati, or the cities continuing to cough up 9 figure subsidies in the era of crumbling infrastructure and underfunded public pension liabilities.

  3. MLS is not going to put a team in northern Kentucky, period. They learned their lesson with the Bridgeview Fire.

  4. MLS is a time bomb. They can’t expand forever but they haven’t figured out anything else to fill the coffers beyond expansion fees. They’re on their way to having 30+ teams when they already have trouble fielding decent talent today with just 22 teams. And when the bubble finally bursts the worst place to be will be one of the last cities in who hasn’t had time to build a solid fan base.

    • You could make the argument that even teams in the so-called marquee locations are struggling to remain relevant — where are teams like NYCFC, Red Bulls, LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, New England Revs, etc in their respective cities’ sports pecking order?

      The only towns where the MLS teams are remotely even close to being top dogs are those that only have one or two other “big league” teams — Portland, Orlando, Seattle, KC et al — and you can only sell them as must-see teams so many times to a national audience.

    • I don’t think talent is an issue as you get quality players from all over the world. The biggest problem regarding the quality of play is the travel distances so one way to solve that problem would be expansion as it would shorten distances between teams.

      • You can only get quality players from all over the world if you can afford them.

      • Wasn’t development of domestic talent one of the stated purposes of MLS’ existence? Well, let’s see how that’s working out:

        More and more foreign players brought in to eat up payroll? Check. More top domestic players heading overseas than staying home? Check. MLS expanding for the sake of expansion fees, necessitating the influx of MORE foreign players because teams prefer a midfielder from Uruguay than one from UCLA or North Carolina to keep up with other teams doing the same thing? Check. USMNT still a second-tier team on the international level after 20+ years of MLS “developing” homegrown players by letting them watch extraneros play instead? Check.

        Yeah, this is going GREAT.

        • It’s revealing then, that perhaps the most promising soccer player to ever come out of this country introduced himself in a Dortmund shift.

          Frankly, we should *want* our best youngsters to develop overseas, rather than be doomed to stagnation in a domestic landscape that is somehow suffocating and bloated all at once.

  5. For whatever it’s worth, the rise of FC Cincinnati into an organization capable of mounting an extortion scheme roughly mirrors that of Orlando City about 5 years ago.

    1. “Minor league” team sets up shop in an “underserved” soccer market
    2. They manage to attract a huge following within a few years
    3. By year two, they have enough ammo to draw the attention of MLS (results and/or big attendance numbers)
    4. They then start talking up the prospect of becoming part of MLS, which, oh by the way, will require a new soccer-specific stadium — specifically, a taxpayer funded one
    5. They then get their troops (aka their most hardcore fans) and the propaganda machine (aka the local sports media) to do the bidding for them

    Granted, Orlando City still ended up going the private financing route, albeit only after they got tired of waiting for state funding to come through. Given all the claims about Cincinnati being tapped out on the stadium financing front (even more than Orlando, at that), you’d think the end result would be somewhat similar in this situation.

    That’s probably wishful thinking, though…

    • So if Orlando City privately paid for their stadium , it renders your point null & void.

      • Not really. Orlando City pushed hard for public dollars until they realized that they could fund it by selling US green cards to their friends.

        • Even if its true his argument is still null and void. Didn’t read anything in his theory about selling visas or passports.

          • So you’re acknowledging that Orlando City spent years trying to extract local and state tax dollars for a stadium that they should have built with their own money in the first place, yes?

            Just because they didn’t get what they wanted it in the end doesn’t mean the sequence of events that I outlined in my original post didn’t happen. Those things did take place precisely as I described them.

            If anything, I think it’s smart (in a more than slightly sinister way) of FC Cincinnati to use that exact same playbook in their own scheme.

            By the way, PeteyNice’s point about green cards and stadium investments? That’s 100% valid; hell, our man Neil covered it ON THIS VERY WEBSITE.

          • Now, there’s a lot to be said about the fact that they had to rely on a “green cards for greenbacks” scheme to draw investors into the project — if sports venues really were such money-printing machines that damn near every team owner and municipality in America insist that they are, then investors ought to be trampling over each other to get in on the action, and no team would need to rely on foreign capital to get these projects started, right?

            But that’s obviously a different discussion for a different day ;)

          • Actually the city and or county offered money and they left it on the table because the state refused to give them the 2 million in gift money they give to every sports team in the state that doesn’t play soccer. The owner and other investors paid out of pocket for stadium. You should instead focus on the team in town that has over the years received 1.5 billion in subsidies. Governments sell green cards to wealthy foreigners all the time. Perhaps you should talk to your congressman instead of blaming Orlando City for being the only team in central Florida to pay its own way.

        • I mean, if you want to disregard every comment I’ve ever made on this site vis-a-vis sports subsidies in Orlando (and Florida as a whole) over the years, then that’s not really my concern. Can’t stop you doing that, any more than I can remove that outsized chip off your shoulders.

          But really though, don’t you find it revealing that Flavio and Phil felt compelled to look overseas for investors in their stadium project, going so far as to put a US green card in their hook? There might be a suggestion that no local (or even American) investor thought the risk was worthwhile, in spite of the relatively low cost of a MLS venue — which would then say plenty about how dubious this investment might have been for local and state governments, and how much worse the past investments have been in context of the “Big Four” sports.

          On your last point: I really hope our conscience as a society has sunk so low as to think that a pro sports team should somehow be lavished with praise for building their own stadium with their own money. Seriously, think about how absurd that concept sounds.

          • Yes I have a chip on my shoulder , high strung and a hot head. But I see things clearly. A rags to riches owner that privately built a stadium out of his own pocket. If a few green cards got handed out successful foreigners that want a better future for their children So Be It ! Save your disgust for the Magic or 5-10 publicly funded baseball parks within driving distance of Orlando purple kingdom.

          • Okay, we’ve had one “hot head” and one “disgust” — can everyone please take a step back and keep your criticism to the comments, not the commenters? Otherwise I will need to douse any flamewars with a healthy bucket of comment moderation.

  6. Wanting a team in D1 is fine and good, but there is way too much in flux right now to think buying a franchise in MLS is a good idea. The league is already too big and adding 6 more teams on the field in the next few years without letting owners freely spend will just water it down even more. Quality of play is substandard compared to top 10 leagues in the world, so with cable TV people are totally bypassing it altogether as a viewing option. Also, The potential $200mil franchise fee alone is ridiculous. Add in the fact that in ’23 they will have to negotiate a new contract with a league that doesn’t not have good viewership numbers. Add of of this together and you have a potential train wreck coming for the league as a whole, not just the franchises that are struggling. Build your fan base first without regard to league initials (DCFC, Chattanooga, Louisville), then worry about this other stuff.

  7. Somebody might want to tell the league they’re a ticking bomb. Today they bought back shares at 3 times the price they sold to Providence equity partners of Wall Street. They believe in their product and put there money where their mouth is. Talk is cheap ! Average age of an MLS viewer is 40. For PGA 67, NASCAR 59, MLB 57.

    • Average age doesn’t mean nearly as much as scale. What good is having a relatively younger audience when other sports have upwards of 10x, 20x, or even 50x the fanbase that MLS has?

      Either way, the average audience of a Liga MX and a Premier League match is pretty much the same as that of MLS; that honestly should be more concerning to Don Garber and his cohorts, given the scale of those fanbases in America, relative to their own league.

      • The MLS & NBA are the only leagues with TV viewers under 50. What it says is that those fans will continue to consume the product they’re selling for at least another 30 years. While the PGA viewers die off. Its called a trend and its why MLS has no trouble attracting sponsors & investors. They know this is the first generation brought up with MLS and one or 2 generations more they will have that SCALE !

        • This assumes that soccer fans in America only watch MLS. And if we are to interpret your scale/logic in its most literal sense, then within the next generation, the average MLS match will have 3+ million viewers, while the likes of NASCAR and PGA will have about 300k.

          MLS isn’t even close to being the most popular domestic soccer league in its own country.

          • What I am saying is MLS ratings will go up as other leagues ratings stagnate or drop. We are already seeing this with all the US leagues and long established European leagues. Very soon except for the NFL there will be little difference in national ratings between the different leagues. So TV money will be more evenly spread out.

          • BTW NASCAR & PGA ratings and interest have instead fallen off a cliff. Soon both sports will join boxing & horse racing.

          • Per SportsTVRatings, the final round of the US Open yesterday averaged just over 5 million viewers over 8 hours of coverage. That’s gonna fall to a little over 2 million or so over the next generation (assuming that MLS Cup finals actually starts drawing that many eyeballs by then)?

            That seems like a bit of a stretch, no?

          • MLS ratings will double and at least half those PGA viewers will be dead. The truth isn’t pretty . Their average TV viewer is 67 !!!!!!!!!!!!!…. You do know people don’t live forever ?

  8. I would not call Cincinnati an underserved sports market and I think it’s crazy for any middle market MLB city that struggles, attendance-wise or from a TV market perspective, to pursue MLS. Portland, Sacramento, Orlando, and other middle markets with zero sports competition in the summer months are perfect for MLS (assuming the demand for soccer is there).

    • So if a town has a subway , pizza hut , and McDonald’s on every block but also has a large population that enjoys Mexican food , there’s no room for a Mexican restaurant. Every league is a business selling a product. If you have a great product you can survive the competition. Even if the competition is subsidized into the billions like the Reds & Bengals. They had 30k at their game this past week. Would you agree there might be a market for FCC’s product.

      • I do not agree that 30k for a USOpen Cup match with nearby Columbus means that Cincinnati is a viable MLS market and I’m concerned when government is handing out stadium dollars to business ventures that are more likely to fail compared to, say, Portland, a market that is roughly the same size, has no competition from MLB and much less competition for corporate suite revenue overall, and oh yeah had virtually no stadium subsidy.

  9. MLS is doing OK as a league. However, given the global nature of the game MLS will either miss talent (C. Pulisic) or have to sell it to richer leagues.

    MLS will likely have a future like the Dutch league–nothing wrong with that, but also nothing needing $200m stadiums.

    • Very good point ! That’s what they kind are already but on smaller scale. But the USA has the largest media industry in the world. As ratings for other sports go down and American kids continue to adopt soccer. The money gap between MLS and other soccer leagues will narrow. Once that happens MLS will allow its billionaires to spend more freely and MLS becomes a top 5 league overnight.

      • The “kids are playing soccer” argument has been used for 30 years. Citing the average age of baseball fans is about that old too, if not older.

        I’m not sure the causality you cite happens that easily. The big European teams have a global media presence in a soccer saturated market (I live in one). No MLS team is likely to reach that in my lifetime. MLS would do well to be a more national NHL.

        At any rate, nothing in the argument says MLS teams would be better in more expensive stadiums.

        • In today’s world a 200 million stadium is pretty much as cheap as you can go on a 20-25k stadium. 100 million gets you Columbus Crew stadium , basically a low level Texas high school stadium. In basic numbers 150m without a roof , 200m with a full roof over seats.

        • Yeah, and people have been saying for thirty years, “soccer is the fastest growing sport in the United States.” And it always will be.

          Kind of like, “Brazil is next great power.” Yeah, and it always will be.

  10. I’m with Neil–why in the world would a soccer team turn down a beautiful, historic venue like Nippert Stadium?

    I’ve said this here before–the average European soccer stadium is a lot more like the Crew stadium (or the Rose Bowl) than any of these swank $700M palaces built in the US in recent years. The general exceptions are those that have had World Cup games (UK, Germany, Italy) or teams with enough wealth to privately finance a stadium.

    European teams would never build on expensive, center-city land because they can’t afford it. And since most teams really can’t afford a stadium anyway, many European stadiums–even in big cities–are barely-varnished dumps. The average American soccer fan–who considers himself sophisticated to see the Bernabeu–don’t understand the reality of soccer life here.

    • I’ll agree with you when I see an MLS team building a 700m stadium on the public dime. I’ve never been to or seen Nippert stadium. However presentation is important in sports No one can argue that retro stadiums aren’t a big reason for MLB attendance increase from the 80’s. What MLS is trying to do is give fans an unique sporting experience that soccer in a park dedicated to the sport can provide.

      • MLS teams aren’t building $700m stadiums on the public dime because nobody’s offering them $700m, which is because elected officials mostly don’t give a crap about MLS. The end.

        • But as those millennials get older and into positions of power and influence… Guess what ?

  11. t least they haven’t dragged out the “think of the children” line to get public funding.