Cincinnati awarded MLS expansion club, will start play in 2019

On the strength of record-breaking soccer attendances and the completion of an innovative plan to build a new, state-of-the-art soccer stadium, Cincinnati has been awarded a Major League Soccer expansion team, Commissioner Don Garber announced on Tuesday. The club will begin MLS play in the 2019 season.

The expansion side, which will continue as FC Cincinnati when it joins MLS, plans to play at Nippert Stadium until 2021, when a new 21,000-seat soccer stadium in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood is expected to be completed. 

FC Cincinnati’s managing owner is Carl H. Lindner III, the co-CEO of Cincinnati-based American Financial Group, which owns Great American Insurance. Among Lindner’s partners are Scott Farmer, Chairman and CEO of Cintas Corp., and George Joseph, President of Joseph Toyota and Principal of other automobile dealerships in Greater Cincinnati, as well as members of the Lindner family and other regional business and civic leaders.

"Major League Soccer is proud to introduce Cincinnati as our 26th team," said Garber. "The rise of Cincinnati as a passionate soccer market in recent years, coinciding with the city’s growing economy and reputation as a top destination for young professionals makes it an ideal city for our growing league. We congratulate Carl Lindner and his partners, and also the soccer fans of Cincinnati, who have passionately supported FC Cincinnati in the USL."

Since its first season in the USL in 2016, FC Cincinnati has set attendance records including three crowds of more than 30,000 fans during the club’s run to the semifinals of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. During its first two USL seasons, the team has shattered league records for total attendance, average attendance and single-game attendance. The attendance of 32,250 for FC Cincinnati’s semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls is the second-largest in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup history. In 2018, the club has surpassed 17,000 season tickets sold, and has averaged almost 24,500 fans per game to date.

The club also recently finalized a partnership with Mercy Health, the largest hospital system in Ohio, to become the team’s jersey-front partner when it begins play next season in MLS.

During the coming months, Major League Soccer will announce which conference FC Cincinnati will play in beginning in 2019.

"Cincinnati’s selection by Major League Soccer for an expansion team is a triumph for the continued renaissance of this incredible city," Lindner said. "I have to start by thanking the supporters of FC Cincinnati, because from the beginning they were the foundation of the efforts of our bid to join MLS. We could not have done this without them. This has been a true team effort among the soccer fans, our partners and our civic and corporate leaders. This is a city with a historically deep relationship between the people and its teams, and we are going to take that to even greater heights in MLS. Thank you to Commissioner Garber and all of the league’s owners for their faith in Cincinnati. We’re excited to be part of Major League Soccer’s tremendous future."

"The news of Cincinnati joining Major League Soccer makes this a landmark day for our city," said Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. "I want to thank Commissioner Garber and everyone with MLS for believing in Cincinnati, and I’m delighted that the faith shown in our beautiful city by Carl Lindner and his partners has been rewarded. In MLS, FC Cincinnati and its new world-class soccer stadium in the West End will spur additional economic and cultural growth for our city."

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