CINCINNATI -- After a busy July, FC Cincinnati is enjoying a lighter game schedule this month -- but staying plenty busy off the pitch.
The third-place United Soccer League Eastern Conference club returns to action Saturday at Richmond after a nine-day layoff, then gets a 10-day break before its lone home game of the month, a weekday match against the Rochester Rhinos on Aug. 24.
FCC is using the time away from play to do more to give back to the community that supports it so well. The team, hoping to keep fans engaged, has scheduled appearances at 10 community events.
"We’re stepping up community appearances, supporting youth soccer in the vicinity and creating visibility and other things of that nature," FCC president and general manager Jeff Berding said. "There is no question our players have some down time in the game schedule, so we’re taking advantage of those opportunities and continuing to build our brand and be visible, be out in the community and support the community and continue to win fans -- that’s the name of the game."
FC Cincinnati has said from the start that players and staff would be actively involved in the community. This isn’t the club’s first foray into that promise, but this month undoubtedly is its biggest investment.
FCC used this past off weekend to participate in three different events, including two youth soccer tournaments and an autograph signing at Kings Island to help promote the park’s "Kick Cancer" fundraiser. The team also was scheduled to appear at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday afternoon and at another youth soccer event in Harrison in the evening.
Other appearances coming up include Thursday’s Bacchanalian Society event and the Aug. 21 Prime 47 “Kicks for Charity” benefit for Envision Children, Special Olympics of Hamilton County and Make-A-Wish of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
"Five (home) games in July made it hard to do a lot in the community, but the August schedule gives us some down time and games being on the road presents opportunities to be a little more visible and active," Berding said.
FCC also doesn’t want to be "out of sight, out of mind," Berding said, while fans wait more than three weeks between the club’s last home game July 30 and the next one Aug. 24.
The club is hoping many of the events the players and staff attend help draw in new fans who haven’t yet experienced the electric environment at Nippert Stadium, which FCC hopes to continue to deliver in the final three regular-season home games.
FC Cincinnati currently sits in position to host a first-round playoff game, as the top eight in both the Eastern and Western conferences make the playoffs and top four in each conference earn the right to host. The Orange and Blue are three points behind second-place New York Red Bulls II, four points behind leader Louisville City FC and three points ahead of fourth-place Richmond -- which makes Saturday’s road game another important one.
Berding doesn’t see any reason to believe attendance will drop off after the break between home games, especially with the University of Cincinnati back in session Aug. 22.
"We’re averaging 17,000 fans for league games, and I would anticipate it would be similar for the final three games," he said. "We’re having UC Night to celebrate our partnership Wednesday (Aug. 24) versus Rochester, so we expect a good university turnout, then we have our Labor Day event (Sept. 5 vs. St. Louis) and the final Saturday game (Sept. 17 vs. Orlando City B). We’re making a playoff push, and fans have been so tremendous the first year and we’re certainly hopeful that continues."
The Legion, a supporters’ group that brings together students of all colleges, hopes to be a bigger part in contributing to large crowds during that final push. College students have been able to purchase tickets for $5 to sit in "The Legion" section behind the south endline at Nippert Stadium, and crowds in that area have been strong at times and sparse at others -- though notably better now than early in the season.
Andrew Uetrecht, president and co-founder of The Legion, said the group has gained traction since launching on social media and will be stepping up its efforts to draw interest among college students in the area as schools resume session for the fall. Among those efforts, members will be passing out flyers on campuses and they are trying to work out a deal to sell tickets at their pregame tailgate spot at USquare.
The Legion, which has completed its first order of 100 membership scarves, also is trying to organize some charity events, such as a soccer tournament for all the FCC supporter groups.
"Even with other things going on (as school starts), I think a ton of people will stick with this team," said Uetrecht, a 20-year-old from Colerain who will attend UC this fall. "There are plenty of true soccer fans that will come. I think it will pick up when school picks up because there will be a larger fan base to pull from -- more students to recruit. It’s definitely a different atmosphere than a UC football game, and I think people who haven’t experienced it will want to see what the buzz is about."