FC Cincinnati supporter groups keep busy in offseason, plan bigger, more coordinated effort in 2017

CINCINNATI -- When Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber spoke to a crowd of FC Cincinnati fans at a town hall meeting in November, he specifically challenged the club’s supporter groups to grow and get out in the community more.

Those in attendance -- or who later heard about his comments -- seemed to take his words to heart.

It was just the kind of motivation the supporters needed to help get them through the lull of the offseason, as they waited for FC Cincinnati to kick back into gear with preseason games beginning in mid-February.

“That was a great distraction from the offseason,” Die Innenstadt supporters group President Ryan Lammi said. “It was an incredible time for everyone involved. It kind of energized everyone to start thinking about the next year to see how we could improve from 2016 into 2017.”

FC Cincinnati fans raise their scarves during the singing of the National Anthem before the FC Cincinnati vs Orlando City B game at Nippert Stadium on Saturday Sept. 17, 2016. (Phil Didion | WCPO Contributor)

With FC Cincinnati set to play its first home preseason match Saturday against the University of Cincinnati, the supporter groups are ready to spring back into action.

They’ve been holding watch parties for the live-streamed away matches, but finally have a chance to do a little pre-season warming up of their own from the stands of Gettler Stadium, where the Bearcats play home soccer games.

Until a few weeks ago, though, there was little fans could do but plan and wait.

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Like some of the other groups, Die Innenstadt capped off the 2016 season with a membership party and also attended a Cincinnati Cyclones game together to “keep people engaged while there was no soccer going on,” according to Lammi.

More recently, Die Innenstadt members have been collaborating with other groups to plan out how to better organize chants and tifo-making, i.e creating large banners for a coordinated display in the stands, which often was done last-minute during the inaugural season.

“We only had a few weeks before preseason last year (after forming in January), so we were on a short timeline,” Lammi said. “We’ve had a lot more time to prepare. We were doing trial by fire last year and we learned a lot and are implementing those lessons for this year.”

Queen City Firm, which started up during the season last year and has about 105 members, also has benefited from the offseason time to prepare.

Ben Knapp, vice president of the group, said Queen City Firm has been working to arrange more promotions for members, such as food and drink specials on game days, and creating merchandise beyond the scarves that were offered last year.

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The group also is focusing more on raising money for charity, something that was done more hurriedly in Year 1 while supporting Sports Games for Kids to provide less privileged kids an opportunity to attend games for free. During Queen City Firm’s regular-season opener party March 25 to watch FC Cincinnati play at Charleston, they will have small entry-fee games and split-the-pot to raise money, and Knapp said a kids training camp also is in the works.

“Instead of just having money that goes to charity, we’re being more purposeful in trying to raise money,” Knapp said. “We’re making it more known when we do something for that.”

Johnathan Schoepf, a freshman at Xavier University who serves as membership coordinator for The Legion student supporters group, said all the FC Cincinnati supporters groups are focusing more on fundraising for charities as a response to Garber’s suggestion.

Garber specifically told fans he follows supporter groups on social media to see what they are doing in the community, and with FC Cincinnati making a pitch for an MLS bid, the club’s fans want to do their part to make it happen, according to Schoepf.

“This group can go and take our sport and take this club and leave a legacy behind even before you're in MLS, and that's what is going to set our sport aside against two major-league teams that have been here a really long time,” Garber said in his town hall meeting in Cincinnati. “Build your supporters group and go out and do some things in your community so the rest of the soccer public pays attention to that.”

The Legion has talked about starting a scholarship to award to a member each year, as well as doing various service projects, and Schoepf said a combined project with other supporters groups, such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, has been discussed.

Die Innenstadt also has been planning how to get more involved in the community and become more active in charity work.

That effort for them begins with a friendly St. Patrick’s Day competition with The Pride -- one of the first supporters groups to form -- before FC Cincinnati’s preseason game against Xavier that evening. Each of the two supporters groups will be choosing a different variant to add to Listermann’s Shamrock Shake, and whichever groups’ keg sells fastest gets a portion of proceeds from each pint served to donate to charity.

Die Innenstadt, which had about 500 members last year, also plans to do a “mug club” to benefit various charities during the season.

“We’re trying to expand our reach into the community more than just soccer fans,” Lammi said.

FC Cincinnati also is doing its part to improve an already strong relationship with fans.

This offseason, the club developed the Supporters Council, which meets bi-monthly throughout the year. The 20-person council was selected from a pool of applicants who are season ticket holders and at least 18 years old, and six spots were reserved for representatives of each supporters group.

According to an FC Cincinnati release to announce the application process, the goal of the council is to “help the club tackle and make decisions about important topics such as match-day experience, supporter relations and club initiatives.”

Aside from that, the supporter groups' board members try to meet once or twice a month to collaborate on ideas, which Knapp hopes will “help FC Cincinnati improve, or at least help them look better.”

“We try to collaborate on everything,” Knapp said. “We bounce ideas off each other and promote things together. We’ve tried to make it separate parts of a larger thing because in the end we’re all supporting the same club.”

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