If I were a super villain looking to wreak havoc on a major metropolitan area, I would just spread rumors that someone in Cincinnati wanted to build a stadium. Nothing rallies the irrational, the reactionary, or the passionate like a good ol' Cincinnati stadium squabble. There are very few topics that a sports writer in this city can write about that will guarantee clicks quite like a stadium debate. Politicians can take bold positions on proposals that have yet to be proposed for solid optics. And the anti-tax crowd can go off parroting their three talking points before anyone has had a chance to slap together a PowerPoint presentation. It really is win-win-win for the loudest, most uneducated, voices in sports and politics. Boom. Roasted everyone.
A few simple facts before we jump in. The team probably already has things ready to go in Newport, and we know that because they have told us as much. The team would also prefer the team to be in Cincinnati, because they have told us that, too. And they are probably shopping the deal they already have in Newport to Cincinnati and Hamilton County; that is a guess by me. Which makes me think that if nothing changes between now and November, and MLS asks FC Cincinnati if they can build a stadium if they get invited, the team will say “yup, on the banks of the mighty licking river”. But that conversation is not nearly as much fun to have, because everything is laid out and there is nothing to get mad about. So how about we get mad about stadiums eh?
Now, I have to be careful with this post because I am writing this Blog for the Pride, a supporters group for FC Cincinnati, with hundreds of members. If I take a bold stance on the stadium debate here (Camp Washington or bust!), I risk misrepresenting the organization and its many members who hold many different views. So this blog will not be about Kentucky being the worst state in the union (that would be Idaho; they know what they did), nor is it a treatise on why all public dollars should go to the billionaires with the coolest new toys (it should go to the millionaires, obviously). This is about calling about bad arguments surrounding what should be a healthy and rational civic debate.
In the immortal words of Daenerys Targaryen, “Shall we begin?”
Bad Argument #1: FC Cincinnati should stay in Nippert
Argued by: Hamilton County Commissioner and first result back when searching “what does the treasurer of a small baptist church in Clarksville, OH in 1987’s face look like?” Todd Portune
Short Answer: FC Cincinnati does not own Nippert Stadium
Longer Answer: MLS does not want a team to be renting their stadium, they need to own a stadium. For some teams like Seattle, Atlanta, or NYCFC, their ownership groups also own the non-soccer stadiums those teams play in. But in most cases, this means the ownership group will be building a new stadium, a “soccer-specific-stadium”. Building a soccer stadium allows the team to have a proper home, control their scheduling, allow for the best sight-lines, provide soccer amenities, and support the club’s offices. But most importantly, owning your own stadium maximizes the profitability of the stadium for the soccer team. And this is where Nippert fails for FC Cincinnati's purposes. FC Cincinnati cannot do the following at Nippert, and could do at their own stadium: sell the naming rights to the stadium. Collect full parking fees. Receive full revenue from concessions, tickets, boxes, club seats. Sell advertising signage around the stadium. Have their own presenting partners. Sell permanent “on-field” signage. Sign concession sponsorship and partnerships with long-term contracts. Raise additional revenue during the off-season by hold concerts, hosting friendlies, and host high school and college sports that would pay a fee to use the facility. That is a lot of money left on the table for the team. And while FCC might have an agreeable deal with UC in place now, that is not guaranteed to be the case forever.
And that does not take into account a few more things like UC signage, UC getting priority scheduling, having to move the coach’s office when UC football starts up, having to move practices when UC football wants to practice, not having enough toilets during games, not have great sight-lines in the supporters section, and having to pay rent. All of this points to the main problem for MLS: the teams need to control their stadiums completely. What happens when UC ends up in the Big 12 or ACC? You think a big time college program is going to like having their stadium completely stripped of all mention of the school when recruits are walking around campus? There is a reason why FC Cincinnati is on the road for most of the end of the year, UC football. What happens when we join MLS and our playoff run goes through November and into mid December? You think MLS wants their teams playing on football lines or dates being moved at the last second because ESPN flexed a UC football game? It will not work, it is not worth the risk for MLS. Especially when eleven other cities are offering up their own stadium solutions to join MLS. MLS has lost three teams in its history, all three did not own their stadiums. They will not make the same mistake again. Nor should they.
Bad Argument #2: FC Cincinnati should play in Paul Brown Stadium
Argued by: A Cincinnati Enquirer Editorial Board too cowardly to put a name on this proposal.
Short Answer: FC Cincinnati does not own Paul Brown Stadium.
Longer Answer: See what I wrote above replacing “UC” with “the Bengals” and it is like, 90% there.
Bad Argument #3: I cannot believe FC Cincinnati wants a new tax for their stadium
Argued by: Resident out-of-touch sports columnist who refuses to learn about soccer
Short Answer: They do not want a new tax
Longer Answer: Jeff Berding has said the team is not looking for a new tax to fund the $100 million dollars the team is looking for to fund the stadium. So he is either telling us the truth, or he is lying. If Jeff is lying, then FC Cincinnati has already missed the boat to put a tax levy on the ballot for this year to get a new tax for the stadium, which would need to be in place by November, because MLS is expanding in November. So either this whole thing is dead, or Berding is not lying. If he is not lying, then that must mean . . wait for it . . . they are not looking for a new tax. So then what are they looking for?
There are a few things the team could be looking for:
A TIF. TIF is an interesting development tool, and something Berding has mentioned before as a tool for financing the stadium. You take a loan out from the government, and repay that loan by improving land and increasing the tax revenue from that land. This is how the majority of the Newport site will get its funding.
Hotel Tax. This is a trendy way to build a stadium these days, by taxing outside visitors. Do not be surprised when you start to hear more and more people speculate about a hotel tax.
The existing 1996 stadium tax. This tax is on the books, is used for both the Reds and the Bengals, and will not end anytime soon. That tax needs to stay in place to continue to improve Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium. But just paying for upkeep and improvements is going to leave a lot left over, especially when those stadiums are paid off. So why not cut out a little bit for FC Cincinnati? It is money that cannot be spent on schools or hospitals, it has to be spent on large capital improvements. Or we could always use that money to renovate US Bank Arena and all pretend like we want an NHL or NBA team. Because that is almost the only other legal use for this tax money.
Bad Argument #4: We should just stay in USL
Argued by: The internet
Short Answer: Rochester
Longer Answer: “Following an amazing run in the Open Cup, this upstart team from a has-been industrial city was setting attendance records and making the soccer world take notice. The phrase ‘when, not if’ was used around the front office when talking about their invitation to MLS, which was just around the corner, and the ownership group was just beaming about their smart investment in a reviving city was about to pay off”. This is a pretty good start to an article you probably would have found in a Rochester newspaper in the early 2000’s, feel familiar? That MLS invitation never came, the league decided to go with the wealthier Chivas USA in a larger city, Los Angeles. If you are new to the sport, you have never heard of this team, because they folded in 2014. And for Rochester? Well they are a shell of their former selves. Squeaking by in a soccer specific stadium they built in the city, they now draw less than 3000 people a game. They were a team on the rise, in a city on the rise, and destined for great things in MLS. And then they were left in USL. And now they struggle to stay afloat. As much as I would hate to see this, this is a pretty good blueprint for an FCC that is still in USL in 2020. And as a fan of this club, I do not want to see that happen. Which is why staying in USL should be avoided at all costs.
Bad Argument #5: Taxes should not be used for the stadium, unless it is in Kentucky
Argued by: Jeff Capell’s twitter timeline
Short Answer: Ideology stops at the river, apparently
Longer Answer: I am on board with the argument that government money should not be handed over to billionaires. That makes sense. It makes sense if you believe that the city, county, state, federal government, should not be investing in businesses to improve communities, to promote civic pride, or to build things that could not be built with solely public or solely private dollars. That is an ideology that makes perfect sense.
It is a perfect ideology of course, until you start turning it off and on again on a whim.
There is a very large portion of people out there who are absolutely mortified of the idea of Hamilton County of the City of Cincinnati using a penny of public funds towards an FC Cincinnati stadium who just do not care if public money is used in Newport or Kentucky. They will not come out and say that, that would be too hypocritical, but you can see it in where they spend their energy. Have you seen COAST request public documents from Kentucky officials about public money being used for the FC Cincinnati stadium? Me either. Have you heard Paul Daugherty complain about public funds in Newport? Nope. These great ideologues would be more than happy to attend games in publicly financed stadiums, in Kentucky. Because why let your ideas get in the way of something really cool that you do not have to pay for right? Also, how much do you hate Kentucky if this is something you are willing to fight tooth and nail against in Ohio, but just let it jump over the river without a peep? It makes me think those on this side of the argument do not really believe in their argument, they just want to win some political points. Basically, good arguments applied haphazardly become bad arguments.
Bad Argument #6: Just build the stadium out in the Suburbs
Argued by: The worst
Short Answer: This is how you become Chicago Fire and FC Dallas
Longer Answer: A move to the suburbs has the benefit of being a little easier, the land is cheaper and there is more space to put a stadium. The problem is, it is usually accompanied by a lack of fan and city interest in the team. Chicago Fire famously moved out to Bridgeview, and their attendance has been awful. It has been so poorly received that the team's former president, Peter Wilt, is now trying to bring a new professional team to the inner city of Chicago! FC Dallas moved to Frisco too, and now FC Cincinnati averages 5,000 more people a game then they do, and they're building the US Soccer Hall of Fame there! Sure there are fans out there in the suburbs, but it really kills the momentum of a team to move there. And MLS wants teams in the downtown because of this.
Too Long ; Didn’t Read:
MLS requires a team to own a stadium, we do not own Nippert or Paul Brown, so we need to build one to get into MLS. There are a number of ways we can pay for it, none of which include a new tax, on both sides of the river, but not the suburbs. I do understand that the team is looking to get the best deal it can, and that is going to require a certain amount of secrecy. But it would be fantastic if they would open up a little bit and state what they are actually looking for from our local governments.