Butler Explains FC Cincinnati Challenge to Rotarians

by Pat Moynahan on December 6, 2017

FC-CincinnatiFLORENCE – Kevin Butler faces the task of building a base of rabid FC Cincinnati soccer fans who don’t recognize geographical boundaries.

He left ESPN for a job as chief branding officer for FC Cincinnati. His charge is marketing, public relations and outreach that creates a one-community brand. His challenge is the Ohio River.

“What blows my mind is this regionalism,” Butler said. A lot of people don’t see Greater Cincinnati as one community because the river defines states and divides loyalties.

Butler spoke to the Florence Rotary Club on Monday about FC Cincinnati’s bid for a Major League Soccer franchise and push for a soccer-only stadium that would seat 25,000. At the same time, FC Cincinnati was making a pitch to Cincinnati City Council for support for building the stadium in the Oakley neighborhood east of downtown.

The Cincinnati City Council voted to support up to $37 million in infrastructure support. Hamilton County signed off on $15 million for a parking garage and $10 million in hotel tax support later in the day. FC Cincinnati will fund the $200 million stadium.

FC Cincinnati also was considering the Ovation site in Newport and sites on the west side of Cincinnati close to downtown. Butler said FC Cincinnati enjoys strong fan support in Northern Kentucky and government leaders were “ready to go in Newport” if the Oakley push came up short.

He believes Greater Cincinnatians are ready to go for Major League soccer, too. FC Cincinnati set several attendance records during its first two years in the United Soccer League, a second-tier professional league.

“There is room in Cincinnati for one more major league soccer franchise,” Butler said. Soccer draws a different audience, a younger audience, than the Reds and Bengals. Soccer also is a global sport that “spans cultures, languages and politics” he noted.

Major League Soccer announced four finalists – Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento, Calif. – later in the week. MLS will decide this month which two will receive franchise awards for 2019.

To succeed in any city, a soccer club must build a relevant sports brand, according to Butler. That will require a united fan base that spans the Ohio River … that one-community brand.

“Until we can make that concept happen, it will be a struggle,” he said.