USL nearly doubled in size from 2014 to 2015, and those who follow the league know that expansion is expected to continue in the coming years. One of the new markets that will be included in USL next year will be Cincinnati. Multiple sources in and around the league have stated that a Cincinnati franchise has been awarded and will begin play in 2016.
According to several sources, the new club’s ownership will be a consortium of business groups, led by Jeff Berding, Director of Sales and Public Affairs for the Cincinnati Bengals. Attempts to contact Berding for confirmation have been met with no response.
His association with American football should not lead to the conclusion that Berding is unfamiliar with American footy. The former member of the Cincinnati City Council does appear to have some soccer in his resume. In addition to coaching youth soccer, until recently Berding was listed as a member of the board for Cincinnati Dutch Lions FC of the USL PDL.
Berding’s association with the Dutch Lions, however, does not necessarily imply that the Dutch Lions will be involved with the new USL franchise in Cincinnati. Scratching the Pitch has been explicitly told that the Dutch Lions brand will not be applied to the new team, and it is uncertain whether or not Berding maintains a relationship with the Dutch Lions organization.
At this point it is unclear where the new team will set up shop. One source has indicated the process of refurbishing an unnamed stadium in Cincinnati is already underway. Another source suggested several stadium options remain on the table.
When it comes to selecting a stadium, the ownership group will have to take into account the USL application for D2 status with USSF. The new club will also have to consider USL’s stated desire to have every club be the owner or primary tenant of a soccer specific stadium by 2020.
Regardless of what site is chosen as the home for new professional soccer team in Cincinnati, the franchise will be entering a crowded market. In addition to the aforementioned Cincinnati Dutch Lions, the Queen City is also home to the NPSL’s Cincinnati Saints. The Saints have always been known for their involvement in the community and have recently stepped up marketing efforts.
Undoubtedly, the cadre of businessmen who have invested in the new USL franchise are aware of the situation in the Cincinnati market. The league must also be cognizant of the competition that already exists. Both groups have decided to forge ahead in 2016, speculating that enough market share can be garnered to make USL viable in Cincinnati.
USL was contacted to confirm this report, but the league has a long-standing policy not to comment on potential franchises.