FC Cincinnati Ownership Could Bring Women’s Pro Soccer to Cincinnati

FCC seems well-positioned against its rival cities to be awarded the NWSL’s 16th franchise.
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FC Cincinnati’s ownership is reportedly considering pairing its Major League Soccer outfit with a National Women’s Soccer League franchise. After the report surfaced, FCC released the following statement, which affirmed ownership’s interest in an expansion bid but failed to confirm a bid submission.

“Jeff Berding, President and Co-CEO, FC Cincinnati, and the FCC controlling ownership group and management team, with support from a cohort of women executives, are exploring an NWSL bid to bring the first professional women’s sports team to Cincinnati. As accomplished leaders in business and sport, with a demonstrated commitment to inclusivity and community impact, and a belief that our sports teams must lead, inspire and unite, this dynamic group is well positioned for success.”

First, let’s break down why this news is happening now. Then I’ll explain four key factors working in FC Cincinnati’s favor.

The rationale

That FC Cincinnati is pursuing a NWSL franchise shouldn’t come as a big surprise. The team would join a rapidly expanding league (more on that in a second) months before the sporting world’s attention will be fixated on North America when it begins hosting the next men’s World Cup in June 2026. Most matches will take place in the U.S., cueing up a proliferation of national and international interest in all things American soccer.

The NWSL is rapidly growing in terms of interest and franchises, too. A June 27 NWSL release stated that midway through the 2024 season both national broadcast viewership (95 percent) and attendance (42 percent) have skyrocketed from this time last year. And after little to no franchise growth from its founding in 2013 through 2020, the NWSL added two new franchises prior to the 2022 and 2024 seasons. The league’s maturation is not unlike MLS, which had 12 teams after its first 10 years, 20 teams after its 20th campaign and is on track for 30 teams for its 30th season in 2025.

The cost

FC Cincinnati recruiting a NWSL expansion bid reflects the financial development of women’s professional soccer in the U.S. Boston reportedly paid around $50 million to join the league ahead of the 2026 season, so it stands to reason FCC would pay an amount in that neighborhood. For reference, FC Cincinnati ownership doled out $150 million to enter MLS prior to the 2019 season. FCC’s potential bid featuring unidentified women investors is significant, too, especially considering the Orange and Blue’s ownership group already sports billionaire Meg Whitman as the franchise’s alternate governor.

Furthermore, NWSL investment has exploded in recent years. It wasn’t long ago that new franchises were sold for the equivalent cost of a Malibu mansion, but now NWSL ownership groups are forking over $50 million for new franchises. Other franchises are making major infrastructure investments—Kansas City dropped $120 million for the first stadium built expressly to house an NWSL team.

Factors working in FC Cincinnati’s favor
TQL Stadium and the Mercy Health Training Center. The world-class team-owned facilities are excellent starting points for a new NWSL team. As a FIFA-compliant pitch, TQL Stadium already has sufficient locker room space to house two full-time tenants.

Player recruitment is much easier with top-notch amenities, too. FCC would not have been able to convince established international talents like Matt Miazga and Miles Robinson to come to the Queen City without its pristine facilities. Further evidence lies with the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams—both have already played multiple matches at three-year-old TQL, with the men electing to play their most important home contest of the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle, a rivalry match vs. Mexico, here. FIFA has selected Cincinnati as a potential team base location in 2026, too.

Cleveland and Minneapolis/St. Paul, confirmed rivals for Cincinnati’s potential NWSL bid, do not have such team-owned infrastructure in place. Cleveland would need to construct a new stadium for its franchise, while MLS squad Minnesota United plays in soccer-specific Allianz Field but its ownership is not part of the proposed NWSL ownership group.

Love him or not, Jeff Berding gets things done. Berding berthed FC Cincinnati from his kitchen table, sold majority owner Carl H. Lindner III on his vision and was instrumental in the franchise’s successful MLS expansion bid. Berding brought the highest level of men’s pro soccer to Cincinnati less than three years after FCC’s inaugural season, a stunning accomplishment for the 64th largest U.S. city.

Berding was also a driving force in the sales tax campaigns that funded Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium in the late 1990s, two widely panned stadium deals that will saddle Hamilton County residents with the stadiums’ improvements and upgrades for years to come.

More recently, Berding was the public face of FCC’s stadium search, an operation fraught with political maneuvering and questionable intent that stripped the franchise of its upstart innocence. In the end, FC Cincinnati plopped its gorgeous facility in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood that’s been consistently overlooked by the city’s decision-makers since I-75 construction destroyed the West End’s soul in the 1950s and ’60s.

In sum, if you’ve got Berding on your side, your project will get done.

Sports franchises are great ways for the wealthy to amass more wealth. In 2018, Forbes valued FC Cincinnati at $285 million. A month before the start of the 2024 season, the franchise was worth more than twice that number: almost $650 million. NBA and NFL teams have sold for billions of dollars in recent years. Lower-interest franchises have the rich and famous opening their wallets, too, with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators fetching $950 million and the WNBA’s Seattle Storm valued at more than $150 million after a minority ownership stake sales in early 2023.

Investing in a professional sports franchise is a near-foolproof way for the wealthy to watch their money grow at a rapid rate. FC Cincinnati’s ownership is chiefly comprised of individuals with heartfelt connections to the Cincinnati area, but make no mistake: They’re in the soccer business for the money, too.

Location, location, location. The NWSL has no current presence in Ohio and just two other teams in our part of the Midwest (Chicago and Louisville). Racing Louisville FC would provide Cincinnati with a natural geographical rival, though they’ve struggled since joining the NWSL in 2021, failing to qualify for the postseason and ranking in the bottom half of the league in attendance in 2023.

A Cincinnati NWSL side would have unfettered access to thousands of soccer enthusiasts across the Cincinnati region, Ohio, and the Midwest. You could start the clock on a Rose Lavelle transfer, too.

FC Cincinnati rightly takes great pride in bringing Major League Soccer (emphasis on “major league”) to the Queen City. Don’t underestimate the “bring the first professional women’s sports team team to Cincinnati” part of FCC’s official statement.

What’s next

The Sports Business Journal reported that the NWSL plans to award the bid for its 16th franchise sometime in the fourth quarter of 2024.

FC Cincinnati’s road dominance continues

Over the weekend, the local lads did what they do: win by a goal on the road. FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory in Dallas was its seventh one-score road triumph of 2024, moving it to a league-best 8-1-1 away from home this season. The Orange and Blue won without Obinna Nwobodo (red card suspension), their stalwart defensive midfielder, or reigning MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

FCC can add to its impressive road record tonight at free-falling D.C. United, which hasn’t won since May 11, a span of nine matches. FC Cincinnati returns home Saturday against MLS-best Inter Miami, which will still be without the services of Lionel Messi, who is on international duty with Argentina. With the U.S. knocked out of the Copa America tournament, All-Star center back Miles Robinson should be ready for starter’s minutes after returning to the club midweek, a welcome addition to the club’s depleted center back position.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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