Proposed Community Benefits Agreement Between Port and FC Cincinnati Provides Insight into Expansion Future

It’s been a long, strange road in the expansion travels of FC Cincinnati. The history of the club is well-known to any soccer fan who has been paying attention. The club broke on the scene in 2016, with record and enthusiastic crowds that have yet to dissipate. Almost immediately, talk of expansion to MLS started, and in 2017, the club threw their hat into the expansion ring.

Since then, it’s been one twist after another. The club has juggled (some might say played) three potential sites, finally settling on the West End last month. It was thought by some that this would cement the expansion announcement, but that hasn’t happened obviously.  Setting aside whether the SaveTheCrew issues specifically (or the Modell law generally) are having any impact on the delay (someone should ask Don Garber about that; he likes to do interviews), there has also been some thought that MLS wants every “t” crossed and “i” dotted on this deal and that hasn’t happened yet (though that didn’t stop MLS from awarding teams to Nashville and Miami; see below). To that end, the proposed Community Benefits Agreement (“Agreement”) has just been released, and there are some interesting tidbits in there.

Agreement is between the Port, Fussball Club Cincinnati LLC and a to-be-named  LLC:

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In line with MLS’ convoluted corporate makeup, this deal entails multiple parties related to the league. “Fussball” (no comment) has already set up shop in Delaware (who doesn’t), so upon being granted an expansion franchise, they’re set to be absorbed into the MLS collective (I was wavering between a “Borg” and a “Blob” reference. Went with Borg, as the Blob is freaking horrifying). “StadCo” hasn’t been formed yet, for obvious reasons.

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This is a similar set up to most MLS teams with Soccer Specific Stadiums; there are separate LLC’s that run the stadium (you can look at the Columbus Crew Lease as well for a reference point). I’ll certainly be looking forward to the lease terms, should they be publicly released.

Long-Term Relationship (with an off-ramp):

The length of this deal lines up with other agreements: 30 years, with a couple of big exceptions. One can also surmise that this will be the term of the actual lease between the municipality and the team regarding the use of the stadium.

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Now those are pretty big exceptions, though hardly surprising. Well, failing to fulfill this agreement if MLS doesn’t grant an expansion team certainly isn’t. I’ve no idea why FCC would go through all this and then decide NOT to build in the West End, but hey, it isn’t my money (some of it isn’t theirs either, ‘natch). As to a governmental entity materially increasing Developers obligations and decreasing Developers rights, that seems to me to be a “get out of Modell law free card.” But we’ll see how this plays out.

This expansion saga is now about six months past when MLS initially said they were going to have both teams 25 and 26 announced. Nashville and Miami were announced in the winter 2017-2018, and frankly, neither of them are significantly ahead of where FCC is right now. Beckham’s group has an appeal coming up next month on the Overtown site, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to build there anyway. To be fair, Nashville is moving on a relatively smooth track, notwithstanding the rumblings from certain politicians. But given where FCC is in this process, one has to wonder what the real hold-up is.

The rest of the agreement is your standard “CBA” stuff, including minimum-wage standards, minority/women hiring baselines and the like. If you want to, you can look at the agreement here.

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