October 3, 2016

The Startup Mentality of FC Cincinnati

Yesterday, I joined a throng of people navigating the University of Cincinnati campus en route to attending my first FC Cincinnati match. It was a picturesque afternoon: the sun was shining, the autumn wind swept quietly through the air… and FC Cincinnati broke the USL attendance record for the 4th time in their inaugural season. For entrepreneurs and VCs who build company after company, success is never an accident. And it occurred to me, none of this was an accident either. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with FCC President & GM Jeff Berding, and can tell you firsthand that FC Cincinnati is, at a DNA level, different than your typical sports franchise.

Entrepreneurial Attitude

First, FCC has an entrepreneurial attitude. Most of their leadership is getting involved with soccer for the first time. They’ve treated that as an opportunity for growth. Starting a new franchise without much previous experience in the industry proves they are comfortable with uncertainty. img_2148The Club operates with nimble management and open communication. It integrates the wisdom from the diverse experiences of its ownership, front office and stakeholders: everyone has a strategic reason for being there.  

Relentlessly Customer-Focused

Next, FC Cincinnati operates with a high degree of customer empathy. What does the Club do after crushing attendance records? They partner with the UC Sports Administration to conduct a survey on how to improve the fan experience. FCC’s thinking navigates between strategic vision items like style of play and nitty gritty customer experience items like how long it takes to buy merchandise at the stadium. They’ve created access for fans who can’t make it to a match by using social media and live streaming video content (including matches). For the playoffs, FC Cincinnati partnered with Lisnr to further enhance the fan experience through seat upgrades, SnapChat style photo frames and other exclusive promotions. The ultimate example of the Club’s relentless commitment to the fans is its lack of a nickname. In order to connect to and honor the civic pride and sense of community we Cincinnatians share, the Club is simply called “FC Cincinnati.”

Recruit & Retain Talent

A great vision combined with a commitment to the fans wouldn’t mean much without the recruiting the right team to execute it. Sports, unlike other businesses, has two bottom lines: winning and making money. FC Cincinnati’s “Founding Team,” including Carl Linder III and Jeff Berding, were able to recruit strategic investors: partners who were able to not only able to invest their capital, but also their expertise, to get the Club launched and economically viable. The Founders were also able to bring international playing and coaching experience by recruiting John Harkes to be the head coach. Economically, the team is off to a good start. It is a credit to the ownership’s long term vision that the first year’s profits will be reinvested into the team. Of course, FCC has been successful on the field too.

FC Cincinnati’s focus on its structure, planning and how they go about things, is why they’re going to be successful for a long time. It’s been reported that this November, Commissioner Don Garber plans to visit Cincinnati to discuss the potential for our team to fill one of the four expansion slots available in the MLS. With the right vision and attitude, customer focus and team architecture in place, winning a MLS Championship is an inevitable result. ~Tim