What does a Crew departure mean for Cincinnati?
By now, you've probably heard the story about how the Columbus Crew plan on relocating to Austin, Texas by the start of the 2019 MLS Season unless Crew Owner Anthony Precourt can obtain a new downtown stadium. Whether you agree or disagree with the idea of moving the Crew to Austin, there is no doubt that these implications would be felt across Major League Soccer. Besides the two cities directly taking place in this saga, it is clear that Cincinnati would feel the impact of a relocation of the Crew the most. Not only would it affect FC Cincinnati's chance of making it to the MLS, it could also have potential ramifications on a national stage in U.S. Soccer.
Would a team no longer exist in Columbus help FC Cincinnati's chances of making it to the MLS?
Yes and no, but mostly yes. One negative consequence of the Columbus Crew relocating to Austin, Texas is that it immediately ends the "Hell is Real" Derby. One selling point for the admittance of FC Cincinnati into of the MLS is that they would have an immediate rival in the Crew, as shown by the U.S. Open Cup this summer. Take the Crew away, and it is hard to point out a clear geographical rival for FC Cincinnati in the MLS.
While no longer having a clear rival located in Columbus puts a slight damper on FCC's bid, it by no means puts it in jeopardy. The MLS and its ownership, as proven by this whole Columbus Crew fiasco, is in it mostly for the money. In fact, not having a team in Columbus probably strengthens FCC's bid more than it hurts it.
While it would be horrible in my opinion to no longer have a team in Columbus, the fact of the matter is that an MLS exit from Columbus would leave a huge gap right in the middle of the United States with no MLS teams. As shown in the picture below, a formidable part of the US would be without a soccer team, something that the MLS will not let happen for long. You know who is almost directly in the center of that gap? That's right, Cincinnati.
Cincinnati would be the clear destination to put an MLS team
Also, one of FC Cincinnati's biggest weaknesses, market size, would be potentially reduced indirectly. Since FCC would no longer have to directly compete with the Columbus crew for fans between Cincinnati and Columbus (i.e. the entire Dayton media market). While not having to compete for these fans will not directly increase Cincinnati's market size, it should improve attendance and TV viewership numbers. This leads to more money for the MLS as a whole, and in the eyes of the almighty expansion committee, makes our franchise more valuable.
But none of this matters though without a soccer-specific stadium, right?
You are one-hundred percent correct. If FC Cincinnati does not have a soccer-specific stadium in which it controls the revenues (something that does not take place currently at Nippert Stadium and could not take place at Paul Brown Stadium), none of this matters. FC Cincinnati will be left in the dust, and the way things are currently looking, Sacramento and Nashville would get the two bids this December.
To be completely honest, as long as FC Cincinnati has a soccer-specific stadium, I feel like they would be the bid to beat in the east. It doesn't matter if the stadium would be in Oakley, West End, or Newport, as long as it is soccer specific and the club controls the revenue streams. The MLS could honestly care less if it is in Kentucky or Ohio as long as it meets its specifications.
If Cincinnati does get a bid to the MLS, a new stadium, and the Crew does relocate to Austin, what else could happen?
Six words, United States National Team competitive matches. While having the United States Women's National Team friendly at Nippert was a major step in proving how far we have come as a soccer city, it was just a friendly. Imagine if the City of Cincinnati could host CONCACAF matches or World Cup qualifying events on a regular basis. If the Crew did end up relocating to Austin, it would be the first step in making this dream become a reality.
The rest of the process would almost occur in a domino-like manner in theory. A Columbus Crew relocation would increase the odds that FC Cincinnati would make the MLS, as long as they come up with the Blueprints for a soccer-specific stadium. If FCC does receive an MLS expansion bid, they would then build their new state-of-the-art stadium (wherever it is located).
Having a brand new soccer-specific stadium to play in while a wore-down Mapfre Stadium could be tempting enough for the USMNT and USWNT to relocate two hours south and play the games that used to be reserved for Columbus in Cincinnati. Combine a brand new soccer-specific stadium that has a bigger capacity than Mapfre, with a passionate fanbase that has proven it will show up to less significant national team games, and you create a chance that Cincinnati could host big-time National Team matches.
Even if you completely despise Anthony Precourt and his intentions of moving the Crew to Austin, Texas, you cannot ignore the impact that it could have on Cincinnati in the future. While the relocation would end the "Hell is Real" Derby, it still appears to increase FC Cincinnati's chances of receiving an expansion bid on paper, as well as hosting meaningful USMNT/USWNT matches.