CINCINNATI – Mayor John Cranley says he doesn’t have any inside info but he thinks FC Cincinnati is sure to win a Major League Soccer franchise.
The only question is: now or later?
The mayor says he’s “75 percent confident" FC Cincinnati will be one of the two teams chosen this year - and if not, "100 percent the next time around,” Cranley said on WLW Radio Tuesday.
Cranley, who successfully lobbied city council to commit public funds to FC Cincinnati’s stadium project in Oakley, reminded listeners that he helped make the pitch to the MLS expansion committee in New York on Dec. 6.
“I was part of the presentation to Major League Soccer and I think they did an amazing job and I think it was very well received,” Cranley said.
Cranley is optimistic despite Tuesday’s announcement from Nashville that the MLS commissioner will be there Wednesday to make a major announcement with the mayor, governor and soccer officials at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
That means Nashville has been chosen for one of the two MLS franchises up for grabs for 2020. And that leaves FC Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit competing for the other.
“Despite that, I am optimistic that we will receive a team, but I can’t say it for sure,” Cranley said. “But I do know that I was in the room and they were incredibly impressed.
“I understand people are a little bit nervous about Nashville, but I think that in the end, I think we are going to get it.”
MLS says it plans another round of expansion - perhaps in 2018 - and expects to add two more teams - maybe for 2024.
And if FC Cincinnati gets shut out in this round?
“If we don’t get it this year, we will reapply next year," Cranley said. "The commitments we made for Oakley have a two-year window on them, so we can go around for round 2."
City council committed to pay for $37 million in infrastructure around the Oakley stadium. Hamilton County pledged to pay the cost of a 1,000-space parking garage - estimated at $15 million.
FC Cincinnati said it would pay the entire cost of building the $200 million, 21,000-seat stadium as well as the $150 million franchise fee.
“I don’t have any inside information, but I will tell you I feel very good … I think we are going to get it this time,” Cranley said.
Cranley responded to the most heard criticism of the city's bid for an MLS team.
“The only thing people say about our application that’s critical is our media market is not as big as some of the others,” Cranley said. “But the fact is that we are outperforming New York, which has the biggest media market in the country.
He cited FC Cincinnati's record-setting attendance of 21,199 last season in the second-division United Soccer League. That's almost double Sacramento and more than 15 MLS teams.
“The research shows that the largest concentration of soccer fans in the country are in the Midwest and particularly in Ohio,” Cranley said.
Cranley said he has not heard from MLS about an announcement here this week, and there were no reports from Sacramento or Detroit on Tuesday either.
Cranley said his schedule is open the rest of the week, if MLS wants to call.