The House that Fans Built: What FCC Can Learn about Stadium Building from World Soccer

The mantra that both the club and fans of Cincinnati have chanted throughout our rise to top flight soccer is “atmosphere.” As fans, we’ve beamed every time we hear about another attendance record broken by the Bailey.  Not to mention It was one of the core reasons Don Garber gave Cincinnati the nod to move up to the MLS. Needless to say, its been the city’s bread and butter since the first ball was kicked three years ago. However, the move into the new stadium and league brings several questions. While many of these questions have slowly been answered (R.I.P. Glowing Orange Roof) and others have been fought through locale media, one has remained unanswered. One that is paramount for FCC’s survival as a brand. How will the fans be represented and treated in the stadium? As the run up to the inaugural season moves faster, there is a fear among fans, including myself, that they could be left behind. With this apprehension in mind, what could the head honchos at FCC do to preserve the happiness of the fans? Take inspiration from world soccer in building the stadium.

Bring us in close
The through line of all great soccer stadium starts with something simple. Where to put the stands. Stadiums like Anfield, Celtic Park, and Estadio Azteca have their stands close to the pitch. This has been a crucial aspect of these grounds’ legendary atmosphere. In one regard, it provides more fans a close-up viewing experience that is absent, or only available to a few. A set up that is far away from the pitch hinders fan experience. For example, West Ham United fans were jaded after their club moved to the less fan-friendly London Stadium. The grounds did not have an organized fan section leading to a muted and confusing fan experience in the 16-17 season. If the orange and blue want to avoid this mishap, FCC should reject traditional American stadium design. The architectural team should aim to maximize the volume and energy of The Bailey by bring the fan section in close to the pitch.

Keep it Local

Stadiums and the area’s they are situated on should be a direct reflection of the teams. Locale restaurants and pubs have become a staple of the run up to match day across the Atlantic. The positioning of the new stadium is perfect in this regard, with it being so close to the blossoming bar scene in Over the Rhine. I think FCC has taken a step in the right direction by partnering with locale pubs. With the increased capacity and the proximity to OTR, the march to the match will be terrific. Hopefully the organizers at the club can help facilitate the fans in their march. Weather than means assigning security or opening up the gates to more fans. Another thing that the FCC office should keep in mind is the landscape. The construction of a new parking garage is a necessary step but may busy up the beautiful scenes of Music Hall and other Cincy monuments. Again, West Ham’s Upton Park comes to mind, with legendary grills dotting the path to the stadium. Or the insanely electric “welcoming party” at Sporting Gijon. And who could forget the legendary Strawberry outside of St James Park in Newcastle. All of which are fan events coordinated by fans but facilitated by the positioning of the grounds.

Seating and Safety
I’ve touched on where the stands should be if FCC want to maximize the Bailey as a 12th man. But let’s looks at something even simpler how the stands work. Security and safety restrictions can be a cumbersome entity for soccer fans. The Bailey saw this in the cup tie against Detroit City FC where any sort of pyro was outlawed. And on top of that, the club doesn’t want to replace any seats damaged by celebrating fans. Though all of these regulations can be a bit of a slog for the fans. Some domestic clubs have taken steps to improve fan experience and stadium safety. Orlando City SC took a cue from the Bundesliga, arguably the most fan friendly league, by implementing standing only sections. Several Bundesliga sides have outfitted their fan sections with fold-able seats that saves money, keeps the fans safe, and is unobtrusive to the viewing experience. The German league has also worked with its supporters’ groups to organize fan liaisons. Essentially security officials taken from the SGs that are an open channel between the club and its fans.