CINCINNATI — Carl Lindner III was born into perhaps the most influential family in Cincinnati. The Lindner name is on buildings all over the city. The family’s generosity is legendary.
The late patriarch, Carl Lindner Jr., taught his kids to have a strong work ethic and a kind, charitable heart. What the Lindners don't give in abundance are interviews – especially on television.
But with just a few days until Carl Lindner III’s FC Cincinnati team takes the Nippert Stadium field Sunday for their first home game in Major League Soccer, he gave WCPO Anchor Tanya O’Rourke a generous amount of time to talk about the club, his famous father and more.
O’Rourke: "What would your dad think of this?"
Lindner: "Oh, he would be off the charts excited. My mother is excited. She called me here. She watched the Atlanta game. She's 92. Can't really get out to the games much, but she and her girlfriends will go to the country club and they will serve dinner in the bar area and put the game on the TV, and she's one of our biggest fans. So, I have the benefit of having my mother still here, and being so excited. Now, my dad would be off the charts proud and excited about the legacy that we're leaving for Cincinnati.”
If anyone understands “legacy,” it's Carl Lindner III. His father, Carl Jr., took the family dairy business, a one-store operation in Norwood, and turned it into United Dairy Farmers with his siblings. That launched an empire that made him one of the world's richest men and led to American Financial Group, which Carl III and brother Craig run as co-CEOs. Along the way, the Lindners gave back, donating countless dollars to charities and the arts in our community, including some that recently threw up red flags just as Carl III was set to build his team's stadium in the West End.
O’Rourke: "Do you ever feel like people take advantage of that, especially as it relates to the West End situation … that people are taking advantage of the fact that ... you've got a few dollars and you're a generous guy."
Lindner: “Sure. When you, any citizen of Cincinnati, after seeing what's transpired over the past few months or whatever, would have to think that we feel that way some, so it … Yeah, at times it was hurtful because I feel that my wife and I and my family have given so much to Cincinnati."
Lindner said a saying on a Dove Bar wrapper that a friend sent him the morning of our interview helped him change his focus.
“The saying was, 'Exhale the past, inhale the future,’ “ he said. “And I think that really captured my heart this morning. And I think that's our attitude right now. This is clearly an exciting week and we need to exhale the past and inhale the future because the future is exciting and bright."
Lindner is eager to share that excitement, not only with family and fans, but with FC Cincinnati players, too.
"We have a great city. My wife and I had a chance to talk to a few players who are new to the team and that are forming the core of our MLS team and they're excited to be here and they really like our city. I think it's going to be really exciting to see the look on their faces when they walk out into that stadium," Lindner said. "We're clearly going have over 30,000 - maybe a sellout crowd (32,250). We told them, ‘The Seattle crowd and the Atlanta crowd were pretty intimidating. You were very cool, calm and collected as a team, particularly in Atlanta. But just wait until the Portland Timbers have to come out and see the Cincinnati soccer crowd of 30,000 plus. You're going to love it.’ "
Lindner’s team has experienced success on and off the pitch in its previous three seasons in the United Soccer League. Sunday's kickoff is the culmination of years of dreaming and working to bring Cincinnati a third major league sports team.
O’Rourke: "I am curious about how you're going to be feeling when you see your team on that pitch and you see those 30-some thousand people. What will be in your heart and in your mind?"
Lindner: "Probably words won't be able to express how Martha (his wife) and I and our family will feel … Every one of these occasions over these last three years have been milestones with FC Cincinnati. So this is another milestone. I think it will be particularly exciting to have the MLS commissioner (Don Garber) in town to be with us and to be celebrating. So, I'm going to be taking the MLS commissioner out to dinner Saturday here along with some of our managing owners. And that will be a lot of fun. Yeah, words can't express how excited we're going to be on our opening day."
Lindner said he's happy FC Cincinnati has helped him make a personal connection with more hometowners than ever.
“Our fans are so great. Made lots of new friends and just one great thing, at least for me, is being able to connect with more Cincinnatians through the games, probably more so than any other time in my life," he said. "I think Martha and I and our whole family have really enjoyed that. Soccer has been such a great uniting factor within our community. Doesn't matter what political party you're in. Doesn't matter if you have a lot of money (or) not a lot of money. I think FC Cincinnati has been a great uniter in our community, and that aspect is very, very exciting."
As a first-year expansion team, FC Cincinnati has its work cut out for it in order to compete in the MLS. The Orange and Blue couldn’t match the firepower of the Seattle Sounders, losing their opener 4-1. But they came back to win a point with a 1-1 tie against last year’s MLS Cup Champion, Atlanta FC United. Both games were on the road.
Lindner and Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati president and general manager, have a clear vision for their club.
O’Rourke: "Where do you see the team in three to five years?"
Lindner: "I think Jeff's been out there saying we'd like to make the playoffs this year. That would be a great goal to have to make the MLS playoffs. We clearly want to have a competitive team. It would be great to win a Cup Championship. Yeah, that's what we'd like to see happen. Clearly a team like Atlanta, who (averages) 50,000 attendance, may have a little bit of advantage on the payroll side over time, but there are teams like Kansas City that have done very well. They're well managed and have done well financially as well as competitively. We want to keep moving on a real positive trajectory."
O’Rourke: "I know this is a business, but I also know that you have a lot of charitable visions. And I’m curious if in some way, shape or form, this third major league team is a gift, your gift, do you feel, to Cincinnati?”
Lindner: "Oh sure. I think, particularly my partners, Scott Farmer and George Joseph and my other partners, I think, one of the most exciting things about this is ... Yeah, we're good business folks. We're going to run this as a good business ... But we're excited that we're bringing a legacy to this community that is so exciting and so transformative to a part of the city we are going to be in, to add to the momentum that is already here. When you look at the Banks and when you look at Over The Rhine and what's happening there, this is just going be the continuation of a very exciting Cincinnati story.”
There is much more to Lindner’s interview with O’Rourke. Lindner is a man of great faith. Did you know he is one of the founders of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy? He talked about his dad, his wife, and building FC Cincinnati with Berding. Watch for Part 2. We’ll have another report soon on WCPO.com.