Meg Whitman - FC Cincinnati press conference
Courtesy of FC Cincinnati

Whitman on joining FC Cincinnati ownership group: "The future is very bright here"

CINCINNATI – It was the unveiling of a new era for FC Cincinnati on Monday, as business executive Meg Whitman and husband Dr. Griff Harsh were introduced as the new managing owners.

They team up with controlling owner Carl Lindner III, behind a reported $100 million investment in FC Cincy's future.

In her introductory press conference, Whitman glowed about how FC Cincinnati was just what her family was looking for, in an investment sense.

"We think the future is very bright here with the right sport, right town, and right ownership group," Whitman said. "Clearly people in Cincinnati love soccer, and that's what you look for in a market."

Whitman is no stranger to the Queen City. She began her career in Cincinnati as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, and currently sits on the company board. The progress the city has made in those forty years aligns perfectly with the game's growth in the country. She hailed soccer as "the sport of the future of the United States."

Whitman offered up a pragmatic approach to the game's trajectory in achieving that title: "Major League Soccer has been in existence for two decades. These new sports take time to take hold. This is not 'add water and a tree grows.' This is a long-term investment, and early MLS owners and organization have fostered that."

She added, "My sense is soccer is about to hit the knee of the curve. A lot of young businesses hit that curve, and you can see that with the MLS in the expansion teams that have been granted over the last four-[to]-five years."

While Lindner will continue to take the top role in the organization, it will be a team effort to improve upon a rocky inaugural season on the field in MLS for FC Cincinnati, in which they finished in last place on 24 points in 34 games.

Off the field, however, considerable progress was made, with an energized fanbase excited about the move to MLS, opening a state-of-the-art Mercy Health Training Center this year, and working towards building a new soccer-specific stadium in the city's West End.

Whitman was also quick to point out the cultural shift that soccer has created. 

"Clearly this has become much more in the consciousness and zeitgeist of people in the US. The thing to look at is 'where are the young children spending time playing sports?' And all you have to look at is the 5-12 year old range right now, there's a much bigger percentage of people playing soccer. So, when they grow up, that's the sport they want to buy and to be a part of," she explained.

Whitman is perhaps best-known for her tenure running eBay and Hewlett-Packard, and she believes the intersection of technology, social media, sports and old-fashioned storytelling makes MLS and FC Cincinnati a compelling industry to get involved in and something she's interested in working on in greater depth.

"I think increasingly for these professional sports teams, content—the stories you tell about the players, team, and fans – is what people look for on social networking. You have to build a narrative, you need people to feel like they know the players and coaches. That sort of intimacy on social networking is really important," she said.  


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