EDITORIAL: Don't Make Fans Choose Between FCC and the Champions League
This weekend is yet another major milestone in our collective return to normalcy as FC Cincinnati fans. The brand-new TQL Stadium will welcome nearly 11,000 supporters to watch FCC return home, coming off a major road victory against Montreal. Jaap Stam and his team will be looking to build on the first come-from-behind win in club history, and emotions will almost certainly be high. This should be a marquee game for club and city alike.
Unfortunately, as is all too frequently the case, MLS seems determined to undermine its own success.
This Saturday’s match will be kicking off at 3:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time, in Cincinnati Ohio. Also kicking off at 3:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time, in Portugal, will be the UEFA Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester City. The Champions League Final is routinely considered to be the most important and prestigious soccer match on the yearly world calendar. It is, without hyperbole, the Super Bowl of the sport. Even comparing it to the Super Bowl seems insufficient, given that the Champions League Final is watched by over triple the number of viewers worldwide.
This year’s Champions League Final offers something for everyone. It will be an all-English matchup featuring two of the Premier League’s top teams. The EPL Champions, Manchester City, were relatively untested on their road to their 5th EPL crown. The underdog in this matchup, Chelsea, had a much rougher go of it this year, sacking manager (and club legend) Frank Lampard midway through the season and backing their way into a Top-4 finish after a season-ending loss to Aston Villa. Despite this being a matchup of super clubs, there is absolutely a David and Goliath aspect to this tie (Chelsea is currently going off at +300 to win — longshot odds usually reserved for an FCC match).
For everyone watching in the United States, this matchup is made more intriguing because, for the first time ever, there will be an American player on both teams. Manchester United features former Crew goalkeeping standout and USMNT regular Zach Steffen as their reserve keeper. As for Chelsea? Perhaps you have heard of Christian Pulisic. Pulisic, arguably the biggest soccer star that the United States has ever produced, has featured regularly in the Chelsea sides of late (he went all 90’ in this weekend’s pivotal matchup against Villa, where he had an assist on Chelsea’s only goal) and is a good bet to see significant action this weekend. No matter how the scoreline ends on Saturday, an American is going to receive a medal and be crowned one of the Champions of Europe. There is no other way to put it: this is a huge moment for American soccer.
However, thanks the schedule-makers at MLS, FC Cincinnati fans will need to choose what to watch this weekend. While the rest of the soccer world will be glued to their TVs watching the Final, fans in Cincinnati (and, to be fair, New York and Columbus) will be forced to choose between the biggest soccer event on the planet or attending their own home matches. It would be one thing if there was some national TV time slot or other factor forcing these three matches to kickoff during the Final, but that isn’t the case here. All of these matches are local broadcasts with no network scheduling implication. All three of these matches take place in soccer-specific stadiums where the team in question is the only tenant. None of the three feature a team traveling cross-country or have any odd travel quirks to consider. Simply put, there is no legitimate reason why these matches couldn’t kick off earlier or later to accommodate soccer fans who would want to watch the Champions League Final and attend heir home club match.
Fortunately for FCC and MLS, there is an easy solution to this problem: Push the kickoff of FCC v. Revolution back to 6:00 PM.
Pushing this weekend’s kickoff to 6:00 PM would allow soccer fans around the city the opportunity to watch the Champions League Final and then passionately support the Orange and Blue as a nightcap. This could even be a win-win for FC Cincinnati if they opened TQL Stadium at 3:00 PM and played the match on the impressive new video board behind the Bailey. We would wager that plenty of of eager fans would come early to the West End and watch some (or all) of the Final from their seats in the stadium. Open the concession stands and let the early food and drink purchases be extra money in FCC’s pocket. The ability to do things like this — control your own schedule and find new ways to monetize your building — is exactly why FCC wanted its own stadium in the first place. The downsides to such a move are minimal. Start time changes are routine around the sports world, and announcing such a change right now would give fans ample opportunity to adjust plans to attend (or, if they cannot, sell tickets to this limited-capacity match where demand on the secondary market should be robust). If, however, things are too far along for the match time to be changed (due to staffing or security issues), at the very least FCC should make the Champions League Final available at TQL stadium (in the concourses and on the TVs in the club areas) for anyone who wants to step out and check the score or watch at halftime.
Since its inception, club leadership at FC Cincinnati has always spoken of soccer as “The World’s Game.” They are correct. Soccer is a language that we share with billions of people around the planet. There has always been a passion for the game locally, and FC Cincinnati has helped our city unlock it. In the process, the eyes of the world have turned to the city of Cincinnati in admiration of what we have built. We are now a part of this worldwide game and worldwide community, and it is the responsibility of the club to continue growing that community. This weekend, FCC has another opportunity to do just that. We urge them to take it, and let Saturday be a celebration of soccer globally and locally at the exact same time.