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The Twitter page for FC Cincinnati had 215 followers and zero tweets at August 5, 2015.
CINCINNATI - Former Cincinnati Councilman Jeff Berding is leaving a 19-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals to create his own futbol team.
That’s right, futbol; or what the United States calls soccer.
State records show Berding is the organizer of Futbol Club Cincinnati LLC. It has its own Twitter account, @fccincinnati. And it has sparked lots of speculation in local soccer circles about:
WCPO Sports Anchor Ken Broo broke the story about a month ago that the USL will add a Cincinnati franchise that will play at the University of Cincinnati while it builds its own stadium. Broo didn’t name the team or Berding as its organizer at the time.
“The local name I was given for group ownership is Jeff Berding,” said Broo. An attorney for the Bengals confirmed that Berding is leaving the team to start the new soccer franchise, although his Linked In bio still lists Berding as director of sales and public relations for the Bengals.
Berding declined to comment for this story, referring calls to the public relations firm, Game Day Communications. It says a formal announcement could come next week. The USL also declined to comment. The Bengals did not return WCPO's call.
But that hasn't kept local soccer enthusiasts from debating the repercussions of a new professional futbol team in Cincinnati.
Is there room for another professional soccer team in what some see as an already saturated market? Become a WCPO Insider to find out what the experts think and what it would take to make a team profitable.
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“I think the market is kind of tight as it is,” said Jeremy Lance, public relations director for the Cincinnati Saints, a National Premier Soccer League team that was established in 2009. Lance said the Saints draw about 250 fans per game in what he describes as a fourth-tier minor league, three levels down from Major League Soccer, a 19-year-old U.S. league that counts the Columbus Crew among its franchises.
Lance described the USL as a third-tier league, where teams draw more than 4,000 per game. He questions whether any minor league team can do that consistently in Cincinnati.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to figure out for a while: How deep is this market?” Lance said. “The reality is, we’re after the same entertainment dollar. So, it’s going to be in direct competition with what we’re trying to do.”
Local sports marketing guru Doug Schumacher said Berding will need a multi-million dollar bankroll to make minor-league soccer successful here.
“They’ll need enough so they can lose money for several years,” said Schumacher, executive director of the Cincinnati-based National Association for Sports Commissioners. “They’ll also need an acceptable place to play, a place that can hold at least 5,000 people.”
Schumacher is a nationally recognized expert on sports and tourism. He once consulted on a feasibility study for the Austin Aztex, a United Soccer League franchise that signed an MSL affiliation agreement with the Columbus Crew last year.
“They don’t make money yet,” he said. “ But they’ve got some very deep Texas pockets behind them.”
Schumacher said the best business model for pro soccer is one that includes a robust program for youth soccer, including training camps and promotional appearances by players and coaches.
“They can develop support for the game of soccer,” Schumacher said.
FC Cincinnati Twitter page
As the former president of a nonprofit that operates as Kings Hammer Soccer Club, Berding has long been active in youth soccer. The nonprofit, Greater Cincinnati Soccer Club Inc., recently broke ground on a new home field in Batavia on the site of the Red Barn flea market at West Main and Haskell Lane.
The 60-acre site will host Kings Hammer’s annual Blue Chip College Showcase Tournament, drawing hundreds of teams and coaches to the region every year, said Mark Calitri, executive director of the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Kings Hammer has a lease that guarantees them 16 weekends to host their events,” said Calitri, who estimates the club will generate an economic impact of $28 million over five years from increased visitor spending. Kings Hammer had been using a field in Oxford for its events. Calitri facilitated the deal between the soccer club and the Ruebel family, which owns Red Barn.
It’s not clear whether Kings Hammer will have an affiliation with the new FC Cincinnati soccer team. Calitri said Berding recently stepped down as Kings Hammer president.