Cincinnati There must be something about being a billionaire that to really know you’ve made it in the big time you must have to own some kind of major league sports team so you can hang with your brothers, yes, mainly brothers, and say you’re a big leaguer too. And, if you own a big-league team whether football, basketball, or baseball, and want to really “Jerry Jones” it, you have to build a huge, strapping stadium. And to really get the respect of your buddy billionaires, you have to be able to sit around the clubhouse with a scotch and brag about how you soaked the suckers and got the taxpayers to carry the weight so you could collect all of the paydays. Who knew that now applied to major league soccer in the United States as well?
Not many people, but they are finding that out now in Cincinnati thanks to the Futbol Club of Cincinnati, known as FCC locally, and its ownership group led by American Financial Group Inc. co-CEO Carl Lindner III and including Cintas Corp. CEO Scott Farmer, are the big bucks behind the ball. The Major League of Soccer it turns out is considering expanding their league. Yes, some of us forget that there is a major league of soccer, but that’s another story for another day. To get a franchise you have to build or have a stadium that can hold 25 to 30,000 fans. You also get to pay the league $150 million if you win the franchise and that seems to give the already rich a way to get even richer because it seems they get a share in the royalty of every soccer game televised in the States, including the English Premier League, the real major league of world soccer.
So now that we have the background clearer, the big news is the old story of how cities, meaning the taxpayers, get taken for a ride in building a stadium. The controversy in Cincinnati, as I heard over and over in one meeting after another while talking to people about the ACORN Home Savers Campaign, is where to put the stadium and the cost of the shakedown. The owners tout the fact in big letters that they would finance the $200 to $250 million to build the stadium but downplay the fact that they are trying to get tax-increment-financing which would knock off millions and millions year after year. They had one deal in the Cincinnati suburb of Oakley where the city and county promised them $52 million in infrastructure. They have another possible site in Kentucky, but I didn’t catch the giveaway there. Then there is the west side location that they seem to want now that it would require tearing down a public high school stadium, relocating it, and building there. FCC is playing divide-and-conquer on a community benefits agreement. The school district wants taxes, and FCC is trying to nickel and dime them, as far as anyone knows.
That’s part of the problem. No one really knows the real deal. They have tried to roll the public authorities. There is no transparency, and they are trying to fast track everything by the end of March, claiming that the MLS is going to decide whether Cincinnati or some other city wins an expansion team.
Unless something changes, this is not a game Cincinnati is going to win, unless they get on the field and protect the real goal of the city and citizens more aggressively.