By Garth Shanklin – News Democrat
Hey, Cincinnati sports fans: are you tired of the Bengals constantly letting you down in the postseason? Does the Reds rebuilding (or retooling, depending on your level of optimism) interest you about as much as an episode of Bob the Builder? Do the local college teams politely bowing out of the NCAA tournament before the second weekend just not give you the same rush as before? Well, have I got some good news for you.
A few weeks ago, FC Cincinnati held their home opener at Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. Just over 14,000 people turned out for the event, a 2-1 victory over the Charlotte Independence. A week later, the team returned to their home pitch for a rivalry matchup with Louisville City FC.
I have to be honest, if you had told me two years ago Cincinnati would take on Louisiville at Nippert in 2016 I would have been estatic. I loved the gridiron battles for the Keg of Nails and was beyond disappointed when the Cardinals left for the ACC, effectively putting the rivalry on hold. Suffice it to say learning the teams would once again do battle at Nippert would have thrilled me, until someone bursts my bubble by clarifying the teams would be playing futból, not football.
I have no problems with the sport that I’ll refer to as soccer from here on out. I’ve spent the better part of the last four years at a college that hasn’t sponsored American Football since 1970, the year the Reds lost to Baltimore 4-1 in the World Series. Without the typical sport of choice for most colleges, students at Bradley University instead rallied behind the school’s soccer team, which makes sense.
Between 1996 and 2013, Bradley won three Missouri Valley Conference tournament titles, four regular-season titles and made seven trips to the NCAA tournament. When you compare that to a basketball team that won a grand total of 14 games over the past two seasons, it’s easy to see why soccer is a main draw.
At any rate,, while at Bradley I watched more soccer in those four years than I had in the 18 years prior. It signaled a pretty dramatic shift in thinking for me, as I hadn’t previously thought about the sport all that much. By the time I left the college, we had held viewing parties for the World Cup last year.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical about the new club’s chances in the city. The area already has pro teams of all levels and colleges to support, and I wasn’t sure how the city would handle a new squad to support. Well, apparently there wasn’t anything to be worried about. The team shattered the league attendance record against Louisville, drawing well over 20,000 people to a match which resulted in a 3-2 loss.
It’s probably not reasonable for anyone to expect the team to draw that kind of fan base consistently this early into its existence, but those kinds of attendance figures are encouraging for a lot of people on a lot of levels. First, it solidifies the team as a bonafide entertainment option in the area. The cheapest set of tickets places you right behind one of the goals and will cost $10, a tad more expensive than the lower-end of the Reds’ tickets but to be fair FC Cincinnati doesn’t have 81 home games to draw on.
Those numbers also bode well for the team’s ultimate goal: transitioning into the MLS. The highest level for soccer in the United States currently sits at 20 teams, but it won’t for long. Two more teams, one in Atlanta and another in Minnesota, will join the league next year with a second Los Angeles team to follow in 2018. Miami could also gain a team that year, though that hasn’t been finalized yet.
Even after those four teams join, the league isn’t done. Last December, the league announced it wanted to expand to 28 teams by 2020. FC Cincinnati had been announced in August of last year yet despite the organization’s youth president Jeff Berding said his ultimate goal is to get the squad into Major League Soccer.
It’s an attainable achievement. If the team’s attendance stays consistent and the on-field play is competitive, there isn’t really a good reason why the squad couldn’t make the jump to the big leagues. One could argue that the Columbus Crew already have established themselves in Ohio, but the southern part of the state doesn’t necessarily support the Crew as much as you would think. In 2013, Cincinnati tallied a .13 rating from Nielson regarding Crew games, less than half of the viewership in Columbus and even lower than that of Cleveland. In the years since, it’s actually gotten harder for fans to watch Crew games on television, as they signed an exclusive deal with Time Warner Cable that broadcasts the games on a network only Time Warner customers have access to.
Maybe it’s the glitz and glamour of a new team in the region, maybe it’s the fact that the teams currently in the region have done nothing but let fans down as of late, but whatever it is it’s nice to see the city turn out en masse to support the new team in town. If they can keep it up, maybe we’ll end up at the higher levels, but for now, it seems like a good idea to go out and experience the club for yourself. After all, every team had to start somewhere, and everyone likes to be able to say they were supporters before it was cool.