Is Cincinnati getting a NWSL franchise? What we know about expansion bid

Cincinnati is likely in another race for a professional soccer team. Some familiar names within the city's existing soccer scene appear to be lining up a bid for a top-flight women's team.

FC Cincinnati appears to be leading the exploration of a bid to join the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), which team officials confirmed to The Enquirer Tuesday in a statement.

The statement followed reporting from earlier Tuesday by Sports Business Journal, which stated the Cincinnati organization successfully met a Friday deadline to submit an expansion bid to the league.

“Jeff Berding, President and Co-CEO, FC Cincinnati, and the FCC controlling ownership group and management team, with support from a cohort of women executives, are exploring an NWSL bid to bring the first professional women’s sports team to Cincinnati," the team statement read. "As accomplished leaders in business and sport, with a demonstrated commitment to inclusivity and community impact, and a belief that our sports teams must lead, inspire and unite, this dynamic group is well-positioned for success.”

Jun 8, 2024; Harrison, New Jersey, USA; NJ/NY Gotham FC midfielder Rose Lavelle (16) dribbles the ball against Angel City FC during the first half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 8, 2024; Harrison, New Jersey, USA; NJ/NY Gotham FC midfielder Rose Lavelle (16) dribbles the ball against Angel City FC during the first half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The path to becoming NWSL's 16th franchise would reportedly see the Cincinnati bid compete against groups in Cleveland and Minnesota, according to Sports Business Journal. Groups in Atlanta, Nashville, Denver and Jacksonville were also listed as possible contenders.

Cincinnati figures to offer a strong bid

For the better part of a decade, Cincinnati's been a proven soccer market via FC Cincinnati, which launched as a third-division team in 2016 and found immediate success on the field, in terms of merchandise sales, media attention, and the general response from local fans.

FC Cincinnati was successful in its bid to join Major League Soccer, which was a years-long process spearheaded by some of the same leaders involved in the push for an NWSL team, including Berding and other members of the controlling owner group.

FCC was awarded its MLS expansion bid in 2018, joined the league with the shortest amount of lead-up time of any club in league history, and by the 2023 season it had won its first major honor – the Supporters' Shield.

More: Takeaways: USWNT downs South Africa, 3-0, in Julie Ertz farewell match at TQL Stadium

Soccer-specific infrastructure for NWSL

Since the successful MLS expansion bid, FC Cincinnati has only improved its offerings for a would-be women's team.

TQL Stadium, the 25,000-seat venue located in the city's West End neighborhood, opened in 2021 and remains one of the great soccer-specific stadiums in America. The stadium has already hosted multiple U.S. Soccer events, including friendlies for the nation's senior national teams and a pivotal FIFA World Cup qualifying match in the CONCACAF region between the USMNT and Mexico.

The club also boasts the Mercy Health Training Complex in suburban Milford, an expansion facility with room for further growth.

With those two pieces of infrastructure, it's believed FC Cincinnati would have a leading bid in the NWSL expansion race.

Cincinnati already has a strong foothold in the women's game, having produced several active NWSL players and senior national team contributors. That list of names is headlined by Rose Lavelle, a product of Mount Notre Dame and later Wisconsin en route to becoming a FIFA World Cup champion in 2025 as a member of the USWNT.

Women's soccer fans in the Cincinnati region are savvy, too.

Cincinnati helped provide a fitting farewell for USWNT legend Julie Ertz's final match as a player on the national team last summer. And before Lavelle donned her first World Cup-winners medal, more than 30,000 fans packed University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium in September 2017 to see Lavelle, then a 22-year-old NWSL rookie.

The USWNT, which is 3-0-0 in Cincinnati since 2017, averaged 25,000-plus spectators for the three friendlies. All the games were staged in non-World Cup years, or following the World Cup in the case of the match against South Africa.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: NWSL expansion: Cincinnati chances for franchise