Robust merchandise sales have been big byproduct of FC Cincinnati's popularity

Team tops USL in sales

CINCINNATI -- The morning after FC Cincinnati beat Chicago Fire SC in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, Amir Shemony came into work to find a startling number of online orders waiting for his merchandise team to process.

The FC Cincinnati director of merchandise had seen the club do some impressive things in terms of sales in the year he has been on staff, but walking in June 29 to find 300 orders was just another sign the brand is continuing to grow.

“The club was so hot last year, there was a concern there might be a lull (in sales), but we haven’t seen it,” said Shemony, who previously worked for Ralph Lauren for 17 years.

About 80 percent of those orders were shipped outside of the Cincinnati area; however, the popularity of the second-year United Soccer League club is evident just walking around town.

Fans in orange and blue attire can be spotted throughout the region even on non-game days, and this week, there was a rush for white FC Cincinnati gear in advance of Sunday’s “White Out” game against the Richmond Kickers at Nippert Stadium.

“It’s funny because my cousin ridiculed me because ‘it’s just soccer and Cincinnati is a Bengals and Reds town,’ but now he’s even looking for FCC gear,” said Amelia resident Jim Gegner, a season ticket holder who is a member of the Die Innenstadt supporters group. “It’s crazy. You can’t go anywhere without seeing something FC Cincinnati, whether it’s merchandise or a giveaway.”

According to club President and General Manager Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati saw $1.6 million in merchandise sales in its first year, almost tripling the goal of $600,000.

That ranked first among USL clubs and FC Cincinnati remains on pace to surpass that in Year 2.

“It's big far beyond the revenue numbers because it's about building a brand, an inviting brand, a credible brand that people are proud to be associated with,” Berding said. “It's just a testament to the soccer movement here in our community that so many people are looking to buy FC Cincinnati merchandise items to wear around town. It speaks to the enormous appeal of the FC Cincinnati brand.”

FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding says merchandise sales have far exceeded expectations. (WCPO file)

Sales were so strong this time last year, FC Cincinnati hired Shemony to help keep up with the demand and make sure the products remain appealing to fans.

Stepping into his current role, Shemony was immediately impressed by what he saw happening on FC Cincinnati’s merchandise side, where he now leads a four-person team.

“It’s fantastic,” Shemony said about last year’s sales figures. “It’s more than half what MLS teams do a year. We’re No. 1 in the USL, and the demand for product is unbelievable.”

Shemony said the groundwork was laid well by those already in place before him, but there were a few things he has worked to improve in terms of the point of sale and merchandise assortment.

Improvements came in the way of a revamped online system to make the website more functional, upgraded point of sale software to help cut down on the amount of time people stand in line at merchandise stands within Nippert Stadium and the opening of a new downtown shop.

“The store is four times the size of our old one, it has changing rooms, and you don't have to stand outside waiting to get in,” Berding said. “It adds credibility to the growth of us as a franchise that we're gone from the vending area on the first floor of our offices to now moving across the street with a legitimate professional retail store, which I'm told by people who travel that there is nothing like it in the USL and it would certainly rival some of the MLS members.”

Gegner has frequented the new store and online shop and said the biggest thing he has noticed with both is the expanded options for merchandise.

He owns more than 30 items of FC Cincinnati apparel and accessories, including some purchased at the previous vending area below the club’s offices and others from licensed dealers such as Koch Sports and CincyShirts.

“It was a little difficult to shop at the old storefront, but the new store has really opened up some options and they also expanded the online shop,” Gegner said. “They didn’t have shorts last year, so I got some of those; they’ve got more scarves this year and of course different polos and a different line with track jackets and things like that. It’s much better.”

This year, FC Cincinnati brought in Nike Authentics -- a lot of the Dri Fit training-type gear similar to what the team wears -- and added its own FCC brand items that are more of the “new fashion and designs,” according to Shemony.

FC Cincinnati also sells basic fan wear and scarves are a popular item with 10 different options available.

Jerseys have been an especially hot item, especially with the customization option added this year, but FC Cincinnati picked a uniform (known as a kit in soccer) that Nike was discontinuing last year. In order to get another year out of its kits, the club ordered about 6,000 more for Year 2 in September 2016 without knowing what the demand would be and already has sold out of the primary home jerseys.

FC Cincinnati’s blue home jerseys have been very popular with fans. (WCPO file)

Nike will be unveiling new digital kits that inlay graphics this month, Shemony said, so FC Cincinnati will soon begin planning its jerseys for next year.

“We just have to keep growing the business and stay relevant,” Shemony said when asked about goals for the future. “After the season, it’s about staying relevant during the holiday season, so we’ll have special products for the holidays, including an ornament this year, and accessories are always fun.

The club orders merchandise for the spring and for the fall to keep things fresh.

Shemony said Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest days for sales, especially after 5 p.m. as people are scattering around Downtown after work. The store is open until 6 p.m. most days and until 5 p.m. on Saturdays, a change from shorter hours last year.

FC Cincinnati also has about a dozen “great licensing partners,” Shemony said, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Rally House, CincyShirts and Koch Sporting Goods. The club gets royalties on everything sold and all items are approved by the team as part of the licensing agreement.

“Anyone that buys our stuff is a walking billboard for us so we want to be relevant and have fun,” Shemony said.

Gegner said he isn’t done buying FC Cincinnati gear, and it seems many fans just can’t get enough of the Blue and Orange.

“They are catering to the sports fan with this whole thing because everything is right at your fingertips,” Gegner said. “They are very self-aware of their marketing, like if they are doing a promotional event, like this ‘White Out’ coming up, they know they have to have something in the store for people to latch onto. It’s awesome to see they are expanding as the popularity of the sport is expanding. It’s fun for me as a fan to see and be a part of.”

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