FC Cincinnati vs Chicago Fire FC could be groundbreaking for MLS expansion
Right after the final whistle of FC Cincinnati's 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew, Nippert Stadium was absolutely electric. While it technically wasn't a playoff win, Cincinnati sports teams in the 21st century haven't done particularly well in win or go home games. According to my friend, however, since the U.S. Open Cup takes place during the regular season, the curse doesn't apply to this tournament. That night was certainly real, and even though fans packed the stadium for FC Cincinnati's most important victory in their short history, the work really starts now.
Yes, you heard me right. The win against the Columbus Crew was important, don't get me wrong, but in terms of expansion, it really didn't show the MLS anything new. Over 30,000 people showed up to watch the game against the Crew, but fans have been showing up to FCC games for the past 15 months, it's one of the main reasons that FC Cincinnati is being considered for MLS expansion in the first place. Obviously, it is important for fans to keep showing up to games, but the MLS already knew that Nippert Stadium is rocking whenever the Orange and Blue take the pitch.
In terms of the win itself, it was important in the context that it has allowed FC Cincinnati to advance to the next round of the tournament, giving us the chance to host the Chicago Fire on national televsion, but that's about it. The MLS could care less if a USL team that is vying for an expansion spot in its league is winning games on the field, it is more concerned about the team's plans for a soccer specific stadium, the organization's revenue, the financial status of the team's owners, so on and so forth.
The one reason that this match against the Chicago Fire is much more important in the race for an MLS expansion spot than the match against the Columbus Crew is because it's on national television. If you haven't heard by now, FCC's round of 16 match will air on ESPN 2, and can be streamed anywhere on the Watch ESPN app. The significance of this match airing on national TV cannot be overstated. In fact, it is the first time ever that one of ESPN's network of channels has shown a U.S. Open Cup match before the semi-finals, and if you ask me, this shows genuine interest in the product that FC Cincinnati is putting out on the field by ESPN.
As Michael Scott from The Office would say, "Well, well well, the turns table" (How the tables have turned). No longer is the push for a spot in the MLS in the hands of the supporters who attend every match at Nippert, rather, it is in the hands of the fans that will be watching from the comfort of their living room. That's right, fans watching the game from home now have a bigger impact in trying to get FC Cincinnati to the MLS than the fans actually attending the games.
Bailey Banter's own Matthew Beighle wrote an excellent piece talking about media markets that you can read here. To sum up the article's important points, a media market is a region where the population can receive the same television offerings. The bigger media market you have, the more people you have watching in your region. The more people you have watching in your region, the more money there is to be made. Believe it or not, TV rights contracts, which are determined by the size of your media market, are a huge source of revenue for professional sports teams today. For example, Turner Sports and CBS just recently agreed to a 14 year/ 10.8 billion dollar deal with the NCAA, just so they could be the TV stations that show the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, showing how valuable TV rights can be.
Unfortunately, out of the 10 teams competing for the four MLS expansion spots, Cincinnati ranks dead last in media market size at 36. This means Cincinnati has the least amount of people located inside of its media market, likely resulting in less money for the MLS in TV rights deals. It's the one major flaw in FC Cincinnati's MLS expansion bid, and directly, there is nothing that the club can do about it. On Wednesday night, the fans can do something about it though.
That's why I want you, yes you, to watch the FC Cincinnati game wherever you are! There is no doubt that the MLS will take a look at the ratings to see how many TV's are tuned into the game against the Chicago Fire. Even if our media market is small, we can make up for it by having lots of fans watch the game on TV. Simply put, the more eyes that are glued to their TV sets, tablets, or smartphones watching the game, the stronger our case for the MLS becomes.
The game against the Chicago Fire could be groundbreaking in terms of MLS expansion, because it could show that FCC supporters are far more than just the one's that show up to the stadium every match day. It has the potential to show how many supporters the club really has, not just here in Cincinnati, but across the country. Win or lose, if we come together and show our support by watching the game on Wednesday wherever we are, it's something that Don Garber is not going to be able to ignore, and could secure our spot in the MLS.