CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati just met its goal of selling 20,000 season tickets for its inaugural Major League Soccer season. Only two other teams have topped 20,000 season tickets sold prior to the start of their first season, as Seattle Sounders and Atlanta United FC also achieved that feat and remain the top two teams in the league for attendance.
FCC opens at Seattle on Saturday and then travels to play at Atlanta on March 10.
"They are both NFL stadiums, so when you think about the capacity standpoint, our percentage of seats that will be bought by season ticket holders in our first year is a pretty enormous accomplishment," Club president and general manager Jeff Berding said during his “state of the team” address at the Marriott Northeast in Mason on Tuesday. “That figure will rank us fourth in MLS in ticket sales for 2019 behind those two and Toronto.”
Nippert Stadium holds about 33,000 for soccer, while Atlanta and Seattle can go upward of 65,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and CenturyLink Field, respectively.
Seattle played its first season in 2009 and sold all 22,000 season ticket packages that were made available prior to the inaugural game, which drew 32,523 fans for a 3-0 win over New York Red Bulls. The Sounders made the playoffs that season and by year two they had sold 32,000 season tickets. They won the Supporters Shield (regular-season title) in 2014 and the MLS Cup Championship in 2016.
Atlanta had secured more than 29,000 pledges for season tickets more than a year before the Five Stripes took the pitch. They drew 55,297 to their first game, played at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, and finished their inaugural season with 36,000 season tickets sold. United ended up third in the Eastern Conference regular-season standings, and they won the 2018 MLS Cup Championship in their second season.
Berding said FCC has already sold more tickets for the home opener March 17 against Portland than last year's crowd of 25,667 fans.
“Our Portland home opener is obviously going to be a historic match. We are getting terrific movement on ticket sales," he said. “We have already surpassed what our record was for the home opener last year, which was 25,667, and we expect continued swift sales as the date approaches. We are hoping for over 30,000 at the inaugural game.”
Cincinnati’s average attendance of 25,717 last year as a United Soccer League club would have ranked fourth in MLS.
Atlanta led with 53,002 fans per game, followed by Seattle with 40,641 and Toronto with 26,628.
“I would put (the Nippert home crowd) right up there with any other place in the league,” FCC founding player Corben Bone said, after spending the first three seasons with the club in USL. “They do a fantastic job. The Bailey is rocking, they are never quiet and they make it difficult on the other team and make it a hostile environment in our favor. I would rank it right up there, … and I think they will once again surprise and flourish in this environment, and I can’t wait to see everyone at Nippert with 30-40,000 strong.”
When asked if FCC did anything different this offseason to promote and sell season tickets, Berding indicated the club didn’t have to think too far outside the box to generate interest.
He credited Vice President of Sales and Ticketing Jeff Smith and his staff of about a dozen sales representatives and account executives for the job they’ve done managing the large demand.
"I think we have the smallest ticket sales staff of any team in Major League Soccer, so that's a testament that tickets sell themselves," Berding said. “Our best sales people are our fans who are satisfied customers, who may not be big soccer fans but they love what the club represents for our city and they have a great time -- it's two hours and there is an energy and excitement to coming to an FC Cincinnati match, that you don't have to be a big soccer fan to enjoy. I think many people have experienced that, and we want to be the embodiment of a rising city and we feel we are helping rise and we think we reflect the city's rise as well, and a lot of people buy season tickets to be a part of that.”