CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati doesn’t get to keep all the gate receipts from its incredible run through the U.S. Open Cup, but club president Jeff Berding said hosting those games is “well worth it.”
The Orange and Blue has enjoyed home-field advantage throughout the tournament and hosts its fourth straight Cup game Wednesday against Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire SC in the Round of 16. The game, set to kick off at 8 p.m., will be broadcast live on ESPN.
“It’s well worth it,” Berding said. “It’s a good, positive upside for the club, as well as for our players and staff and for the community.”
It’s possible some teams could lose money hosting games based on the costs associated with host fees, extra staffing and security needed, as well as other game-day procedures. That doesn’t seem to be the case for FC Cincinnati.
FC Cincinnati spokesperson Fumi Kimura confirmed that hosting Open Cup games is on par with the game-day operating costs for a typical league game, but could not provide further details because the club does not disclose financial information. Game-day operating costs in the second-tier United Soccer League reportedly average about $20,000-25,000 but vary greatly from team-to-team.
For clubs drawing large crowds like FC Cincinnati, the ticket revenue should still turn profits even with higher-than-average operating costs and with the U.S. Soccer Federation also receiving a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales each game.
According to the U.S. Open Cup handbook, the home teams through the third round were required to pay 15 percent of total gross ticket revenue above $100,000. Hosts in the fourth round had to pay that, plus an additional $12,000, and that number jumps to $18,000 for the Round of 16.
The home team also pays the officials' fees, which according to the handbook range from $125 to $300 per official for the second and third round games, $200 to $600 for the fourth round and $382.45 to $1,092.73 for the fifth round, depending on the officials’ experience level.
Visiting teams are responsible for their own travel expenses.
“It’s a good thing to host these games,” Berding said. “When the federation did the drawing (for the Round of 16) and threw us into another home game, it created a lot of work with the staff but we are thrilled to host it.”
A profitable situation
Keeping with its nondisclosure policy, FC Cincinnati would not release information on how much exactly it has made off these extra home games, but even with just 6,519 fans in attendance for the third-round game against Louisville City, the club likely has made a profit each round. The U.S. Soccer Federation also refused to disclose the gross ticket revenue information, saying it would need to come from the host club.
Tickets to FC Cincinnati games average $19, which would put gross revenue around $124,000 for the third round. That would have left FC Cincinnati with just under $106,000 after paying the host fee, and the numbers grew significantly once MLS teams entered the picture.
It’s more difficult to determine a revenue estimate on the second-round game against AFC Cleveland, which was included in season ticket packages. Announced attendance was 12,790 but that included more than 11,000 season ticket holders.
The fourth-round match against Columbus Crew SC drew 30,160 fans, leading to an estimated gross ticket revenue of almost $575,000. Almost $100,000 would have gone back to U.S. Soccer, but that still amounts to $475,000 for the club before paying operating costs.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Fire, FC Cincinnati topped the 20,000 tickets sold mark on Sunday, and Berding said he expects around 25,000 fans, maybe even 30,000. The club sold 7,000 tickets in an hour or two the first day of sales.
The Fire supporters groups have organized at least one bus full of fans to come to the game, according to Section 8 posts on social media.
“The response from season ticket holders rivaled the Crew game in terms of how many existing season tickets holders bought their tickets so I feel confident we will be north of 20-25,000, and maybe it could reach 30,000 and beyond,” Berding said. “The Reds and Cubs have a great rivalry, and Cubs fans always come out to those games here in Cincinnati. We have that series coming up (this) weekend… Their fans are pretty passionate, so hopefully they travel pretty well and maybe make a week of it. It’s good for the community and local restaurants and hotels.”
Aside from the financials and potential economic impact for the local region, FC Cincinnati’s players also benefit from the home games.
They always enjoy playing in front of an electric home crowd anyway and fare much better off at home than away as seven of eight wins this season have come at Nippert Stadium.
“Anytime we can play at home is an advantage,” midfielder Corben Bone said. “For us to play an MLS side and draw 30,000 people is a huge one. It gives us incentive and motivation to win.”
FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said more than the energy the club receives at home, it’s been especially beneficial from a health perspective to play these four extra games at Nippert.
This could be the last home game in the Cup, should FC Cincinnati advance. The winner of Wednesday’s game will be on the road at Miami FC or Atlanta United FC in the quarterfinals.
“From a fixture congestion perspective, it's fantastic because all these extra games are not easy to manage,” Koch said of the home-field advantage. “We've had to rotate players through the lineup, and that's part of trying to manage our league schedule and a Cup schedule, too, but thankfully we haven't had to go fly anywhere or bus anywhere or anything like that. From a wear-and-tear perspective, it's definitely helped us a little bit having these extra games at home.”