Before FC Cincinnati had even kicked a ball, Jeff Berding and Jeff Smith went to bars on Saturday mornings to watch European soccer and ask viewers what they’d like to see if there was a local team.
As Smith said it, they made it clear to fans that FCC wanted fans and supporters “to be a part of this build process.”
We all know what happened next.
The Orange and Blue hoped for 10,000 fans per match in 2016. Their first game had 14,658. That season they averaged over 17,296 before attendance numbers climbed to 21,199 and 25,717 in years two and three as a USL club.
Even now, as the team is midway through its inaugural MLS season, Cincinnati’s average attendance of 27,954 is the third highest in the league – only behind teams playing in NFL stadiums.
But for all of the organic growth, none of it would’ve developed without The Bailey, the club’s supporters’ section at Nippert Stadium.
On Tuesday morning, the club unveiled the final renderings of the future West End Stadium, which opens in March 2021. Among the beautiful renderings of what will become America’s latest soccer cathedral, one aspect stood out instantly: the updated version of The Bailey.
The current version at Nippert Stadium holds 1,700 fans. The new stadium’s edition holds 3,100 and will serve as a massive wall of noise and color in the north end of the West End Stadium.
“The organic nature of FC Cincinnati – literally from day one – has been we understand that The Bailey would be the siren,” Berding said. “People would come to FC Cincinnati matches and say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never been to a sporting event with the drums, the smoke, the chants’; just the constant energy that emanates from all of those passionate supporters.”
With that in mind, FCC created its new The Bailey, version 2.0, with help from the very supporters who built the club into its current identity. As recently as Monday night with a Supporters Council meeting, fans and the team met to discuss ways to make the Orange and Blue’s future home truly feel like home.
Having a larger supporter section will certainly help that. But there are other aspects, too.
The current section is raised above the locker rooms. As a result, fans sitting in the back of the section miss moments close to the near end line. In the new stadium, that’ll be gone.
In fact, the West End Stadium’s supporters’ section starts at field level and towers behind the goal at a 34-degree angle – which is as steep as legally allowed. Throughout that entire section, there will be safe-standing, meaning fans can stand and watch matches rather than stand on metal bleachers.
The safe standings will have railings for safety, but also spots to place food and drinks … with cupholders.
Supporters groups will even have their own sections within The Bailey to grow their groups. For drummers, they’ll have a designated places during games to stand and then drum storage after the final whistle.
If fans want a tifo, built-in overhead wire and pully and lever systems will allow the illustration to rise and hang over the section.
These are just some of the new additions. More will become available closer to March 2021 and the first match in the stadium.
A big takeaway from Tuesday is this: yes, there are other professional sports teams in Cincinnati, but none will have the same in-game atmosphere as FC Cincinnati. These additions reiterate that – and reflect the ideas supporters wanted to incorporate into their new venue.
“Since day one, we literally view them as owners of the club because we built this club together,” Berding said. “They were our most effective salespeople.”
The new additions should enhance the environment at future matches. That happens now at Nippert Stadium, but the growth is limited, Smith said.
Since the 2016 season, season tickets in the The Bailey have a waiting list. By nearly doubling the section in 2021, it allows for more people, more growth and more potential.
“When we talked to leadership and supporters’ groups, it’s all about growing the family and adding to what is already an incredible gameday atmosphere,” Smith said. “Moving from 1,700 to 3,100 seats in The Bailey gives us that opportunity while still preserving the people that have been there from day one.
“It’s going to be awesome.”