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Hamilton County Commissioner 'Unconvinced' FC Cincinnati need a new stadium

MLS expansion candidates are dropping like flies in recent days, and Cincinnati’s bid is the latest to take a significant hit.

Speaking to Politics Extra, Hamilton County commissioner Todd Portune expressed his lack of interest in building a new soccer-specific stadium for FC Cincinnati, a major requirement of MLS expansion bids, reports Cincinnati.com. Portune believes that MLS should accept the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium as its permanent home, regardless of the fact that MLS has made soccer-specific stadiums a must-have in this round of expansion.

“I’m unconvinced that they need a new stadium,” Portune said. “We still have two perfectly good stadiums in Cincinnati that will meet their needs. Period.”

“MLS, you tell us why it doesn’t work,” Portune added. “You saw the same thing we did two Wednesdays ago. You’re telling me you don’t want that?”

The democratic county commissioner is the president of the board of commissioners and his party is in the majority, meaning he holds all the decision-making power in any public funding for an MLS stadium project in the county. The county commissioners plan to roll out 13 project ideas next Wednesday, among which an MLS stadium is included, but Portune’s statement weighs heavily on the possibility of a stadium within Cincinnati proper.

Remaining at Nippert would bring its own troubles to FC Cincy, as the team would have no ownership of naming rights, no ability to offer premium concessions and limited merchandise, and an inability to hold non-soccer events. All of these represent major sources of revenue for MLS teams, and a lack of them can severely cut into a team’s bottom line.

The news is not a death knell, however, as the team has scouted several sites for a potential stadium aside from the West End location in Hamilton County. The most likely fall-back is just across the river at the proposed Newport location in northern Kentucky. There is a precedence, as many MLS teams play outside of their city limits, and Newport isn’t an unreasonable location for Cincinnati-based fans to reach.

14 comments
    • BW in KC

      How many soccer teams do you own? You should try learning a little history and economics to learn what stadium ownership has done for this league. Pull your head out of 1990 and spare us your mouth diarrhea.

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      • The Imperative Voice

        The best attended and presumably wealthiest team (Seattle) groundshares a football stadium on turf. #3 NYC is in a baseball stadium. The most poorly attended team in the league plays in an oven-baked cookie-cutter SSS, as do the two teams right above them (Chicago and Colorado).

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      • The Imperative Voice

        Oh, come off it, it doesn’t hurt to be, say, owned by the Seahawks or Falcons, does it? You’re acting like the economics aren’t a package deal that involves the existence of other teams under the umbrella, rich ownership, etc. At which point soccer is just another circus coming to town some nights in a conglomerate.

        My Dynamo are a standalone team and they pay rent for their sweatbox of a SSS, which they had to pay a significant portion of because the government entities resisted funding. So we paid for it and then as part of the corporate structuring it ends up sold back to the governments that wouldn’t fund it, who hold title, and we pay rent. Lower rent than at UH I assume, but not exactly the license to print money you suggest.

        As a result of Houston’s cheap ownership and moderately profitable stadium, we didn’t even field a competitive team for three years, and this year achieved a leg up through a Xmas splurge.

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      • The Imperative Voice

        I also think it’s misleading to say that a 20% minority owner of NYC “owns the team” when the likelihood is that is a figment of the stadium relationship itself likely liquidated if they ever move. It’s not that the owner owns the stadium, it’s that as part of the lease the landlord got equity, that will not make economic sense when they play elsewhere.

        Also, I think you neglect that in a lot of these situations without a pre-existing sugar daddy or NFL conglomerate, the team hands the title back to the local government and becomes a tenant in its own stadium. You have to distinguish “I own it” (Seattle, Red Bull, Atlanta) from “I got equity as part of the lease” from “the team built it and then for tax and liability reasons did a leaseback deal” from “I lease a stadium someone else already built.” You’re conflating some important distinctions that I’d argue make it easier or harder to profit.

        One could argue that the best deal of all is be a NFL team’s sidekick, as that likely means lots of payroll and no rent. But that does not fit the MLS sales pitch and a lot of people freak out about turf, with some reason. Building a stadium requires taking on debt and if you look at SSSs in this league, it may be a slightly more profitable business model but debatable if it makes for more competitive teams. Last two title winners had rich owners and played on turf in venues not made for soccer. QED. “Next.”

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      • The Imperative Voice

        At least one way NYCFC’s deal might be structured is they pay no little or no rent but if they move they cash out 20% of their equity to leave. So they play in a baseball stadium for free and that horrifies us but to move it costs $20-40 million independent of subsequent stadium cost.

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  • SilverRey

    Yeah, and the Cincinnati Bengals could have played on UC’s campus as well – why didn’t they?

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  • mmv

    Easy fix. Go across the river to Northern KY to Newport, highland Heights, or Florence. All are less than 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati. Newport would be the optimal spot as it sits on a bluff on the river overlooking downtown Cincinnati.

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  • Bryan

    That stadium is basically in the ghetto. We don’t want MLS stars getting shot on their road trips.

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    • bottlcaps

      It’s never hurt the Stub Hub Center, which is straight out of Compton (or about 1k away) or the new LAFC which was in an area that had a very high crime rate only 10 years ago.

      The fact is, the MLS is requiring ownership groups have a financial interest, own, possess a long term lease, or be the primary tenant of the stadium because the MLS team would then control the revenue stream, a very important facet as the MLS depends on stadium gate, not TV rights to provide it’s primary and essential revenue. The current owners of Seattle, New England and Atlanta who play or will play in an NFL stadium, are also owners of those stadium.

      If Todd Portune wants the University of Cincinnati to sell the stadium, or give Cincinnati FC the primary lease, it then can meet the MLS stadium requirements and not require an new one. Either that or someone needs to inform him why this is needed or he should retract his statement

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  • TheFrenchOne

    “MLS has made soccer-specific stadiums a must-have in this round of expansion.

    Why did it decide that this round required SSS? This doesn’t make any business sense. Why not do a city-by-city analysis to determine “ok, we won’t require a SSS in this city because x, y, z”?

    I’m not from Cincy so I have no understanding of the lay of the land, I’m just trying to understand why MLS just made this a blanket requirement for the next 4 expansions.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Super Nintendo Chalmers

    From the picture Nippert looks like an intimidating place for an opponent. The stands are very close and presumably it can be pretty loud. Some SSS probably won’t provide as strong a home field advantage. IMO the ideal balance would be to allow FCC to share some of the Nippert proceeds and possibly a stake in the ownership. the reality is that when you run a stadium, you want to maximize the dates booked in order to better service the debt. I understand that the Bengals stadium has been a fiasco for Hamilton County and that the county is losing money on the lease. One can see why the county doesn’t want to get in the business of funding another stadium with an adequate one available. Nippert is old but I think recently refurbished by UC. The Bengals played there before Riverfront opened in 1970. I think MLS would be foolish to ignore a grass roots franchise like this just because they play in a football stadium.

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  • two cents/lowercase letters guy

    well as i think bw in kc was alluding, when this league began, life in mls was very different. every team paid rent, i think. not only do you lose concessions, in stadium promotions and naming rights deals (and maybe more), but you Don’t control the property. must be a scheduling nightmare to try to schedule games on all the days and times that the primary host doesn’t want. and the stadium staff maybe Don’t like soccer how does THAT affect fan experience on game day? i think it was a needed change for a lot of reasons.

    Like

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