CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati season ticket holder Jim Gegner still sees a lot of fans wearing the club’s old United Soccer League gear, so it was a little surprising to hear that merchandise sales are among the best in Major League Soccer.
Then again, that’s just another indication of the fanbase’s unwavering support, he said.
According to FCC Vice President of Marketing & Consumer Products Amir Shemony, Cincinnati ranked second in the league for online merchandise sales during the first quarter, based on data the club received from MLS on Thursday, and overall, sales are going well. Only Atlanta United, which drew 70,382 fans to its home opener against FCC on March 10, ranked higher. The club was not able to share specific data.
Sales should see another bump up this week as fans prepare for the “Orange Out” against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.
“This city has been so soccer crazy a lot of people have made extensive purchases of old gear, everything in MLS is a little more expensive, so I’ve been seeing more of the old stuff, but everything with the new crest is selling like hotcakes,” said Gegner, a 31-year-old Amelia resident who is a member of Die Innenstadt and Pride Norden supporters groups. “I think it’s a genuine representation of the fanbase interest. The interest in this club and soccer in general has gone up significantly, and the transition to MLS has brought even more eyes to the club.”
Shemony said it’s not surprising that sales are going well so far. The club did well with sales in USL and that just seems to have carried over to MLS as fans want items with the new logo.
The new jerseys are a hot seller, according to Shemony, and scarves and t-shirts always do well. FCC even offers match-specific scarves that serve as collectors items geared toward fans who are single-match ticket buyers and want something to remember from that game.
“We are very encouraged by the results online, and overall, we’re having a great year so far,” Shemony said. “We’ve only had two (home) games, but sales at both games were encouraging. I’ll say sales at the first game were fantastic. We sold a lot of ponchos at the (rain-soaked) second game. As product assortment gets better, as there’s additional buy-in from distributors around the region, we expect numbers to continue to rise. There’s a nice healthy appetite for the product we are putting out.”
Gegner has always been a big spender when it comes to FCC gear, and new options keep him buying more. Last year, he bought seven or eight kits so he would have them as a reminder of the team’s beginnings before distribution of the USL-days merchandise ended.
Now, Gegner already has two new kits and a bunch of other items, which he estimates amounts to about $500 or $600 worth of gear he’s added since the move to MLS.
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“There’s something different at every retailer now,” Gegner said. “Before, it was predominantly through the club or the club’s website. Now it’s on MLSSoccer.com (MLSStore.com) and there are so many different vendors all selling different things, so there are simple variations.”
Not all buying experiences have been positive, though.
Some fans have been complaining on social media and Reddit about delays in shipments from MLSStore.com or items coming with mistakes. Season ticketholder Ben Brubaker experienced both issues when he bought a jersey back in February.
The front was missing the Mercy Health logo and FCC crest, and when he bought, he didn’t realize it was going to take until mid-March to receive it. The jerseys he bought for his daughters were fine. However, the original shipping date for his purchases was set for March 15 – which would have been in time for the home opener March 17 – but they came more than a week late.
“The experience getting it corrected was good, but there was just a lot of frustration before that just because of how long it took,” Brubaker said. “I buy online because I live in Milford and don’t want to go downtown to the team store, but if I would have known it was going to take so long and have issues, I would have just gone downtown. I don’t know if I’m buying from MLS Store going forward.”
Gegner said his experience getting a customized jersey at the downtown store was pretty simple, and it generally only takes 72 hours to get it done. He ended up canceling an online order for a jersey because of the time it was going to take to receive it, but then went and bought two new ones at the team shop.
He finds other gear at Soccer Village, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target and the Adidas outlet store in Monroe, where he bought the team’s highly demanded pre-game warmup suit that he hasn’t seen anywhere else. He also shops at FansEdge.com and Fanatics.com. Kroger is another place to find gear.
“Yes, there have been a couple issues, but we’ve found customer service generally is very responsive,” Shemony said when asked about any complaints he’s heard. “I’ve had to escalate a few things to make sure people were taken care of, but they’ve been very responsive to me. Out of thousands of items sold, it’s a small percentage that have issues.”
A few issues won’t keep fans from buying, Gegner said.
Cost is more likely a deterrent for those still preferring to just wear the old gear. Kits that used to cost $65-80 dollars before the move to MLS now are around $90 blank. Customized jerseys are at least $125.
That’s where color-themed matches help drive sales. People who don’t have orange items will be looking to buy this week, and FC Cincinnati has an “Orange-Out” discount, offering a 10 percent discount on the purchase of a T-shirt and hat. Season ticketholders get a small discount every first Thursday of the month at the downtown store, so Shemony said people took advantage of that to get new gear as well.
Gegner said CincyShirts is another good place to get “Orange Out” items.
“The diehards are always going to purchase the next big thing, but a lot of people are just fans spending money on matches and season tickets and as long as they are wearing orange and blue, that’s all they need,” Gegner said. “I like to break out the old stuff from time to time just for a vintage feel. We still have to remember where we came from to remember how far we’ve come.”
Cincinnati will continue to improve its merchandise lineup, Shemony said, and there are some unique offerings coming up, including a parley jersey made out of recycled material. Fans soon will be able to buy through the MLS Store online and team shop downtown four pre-match warmup tops with unique markings and stories to portray the themes of Americana, Kick Childhood Cancer, Equality and Salute to Service.
This year is serving as a test for what works and what sells best, so Shemony said 2020 should be even better for merchandise sales and offerings. FCC only earned its invitation into MLS at the end of May, so the club had limited time to get its new crest and kits designed and roll out gear, whereas other expansion clubs had years to do so.
“We only had 270-some days to get the operation up and running MLS style,” Shemony said. “There are different vendors, different approval processes – it’s a completely different operation than USL. Given the limited time this year, 2020 is going to be incredible as we have time to review. Going forward will be fantastic.
“I’m not surprised that we’ve done so well, though. I’ve found Cincinnati is pride- and civic-minded, and why wouldn’t you want to get the new crest and somewhat new shades of color in the market? We knew this. I think MLS sort of new it. But I think we took a lot of people by surprise by the sheer volume of buying they’ve seen.”