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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
FC Cincinnati got off to a thunderous inaugural season establishing single game and single season attendance records. FCC is not the city's first professional soccer club, but after only one season, it might be its most successful soccer club.
The announcement of FCC coincided with recent renovations to Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. The UC department of athletics started the $86-million Nippert Stadium Renovation & Expansion Project in the winter of 2013. The renovations included increasing the seating capacity to close to 40,000, a five-story press box structure featuring suites and club seats, and renovations of bathrooms and concession stands on both the east and west stands. NewTurf fielding surface was also added in 2016.
The capacity for soccer games is set for 25,000 with various banners covering upper deck seats. However, the club has seen crowds of 20,497 for a game against rivals Louisville City, 23,375 against Pittsburgh, and a sold out crowd of 35,061 for a friendly against Crystal Palace from England. A United Soccer League season single record of 164,109 was set during FCC’s 10th home game.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are plenty of concession areas providing food and beverage choices throughout the stadium. Several stands offer beer, sausages, pizzas, cotton candy, and other delights during the match.
Local brewery MadTree has one of the longest lines for its lone stand at the Craft and International Beer Garden. The line begins at the start of the game and does not end until alcohol is cut off towards the end of the second half. Carlsberg is also offered in tall cans and the price for a pint or a can is $8.
There are more beers served including Budweiser, Bud Light, Heineken, Corona, and local Christian Moerlein Blood Orange IPA. The domestic beers cost $7.50, while imports are $8. Wine can be purchased for a very reasonable $5 a glass.
Food prices are either $4 or $5 and include Italian sausages, 85-ounce popcorn buckets, pizza slices by Donato's, hot dogs, nachos (loaded nachos are $3 more), and pretzels. Mettwurst, one of Cincinnati's signature food items, is a garlic spiced smoked sausage produced by Glier's Goetta from across the river in Covington, Kentucky. Iconic Cincinnati dishes coneys and three-way chili are surprisingly absent inside the stadium.
Nippert Stadium is set inside the campus of Cincinnati University in the Clifton section of town. The streets twist and turn and fans walk the hilly campus towards the main gates. It is common to see droves of fans cheering and waving flags, while kids play on Sheakley Lawn in the UDF Kid Zone before the game.
The playing surface is visible from the outside of the stadium due to the fact that the facility is sunken into the surrounding area and close to campus buildings. Once inside, fans walk down the steep aisles and head to their respective sections. One section in particular is called The Bailey and this is where you would find Die Innenstadt (Inner City) supporters group. They are vocal like many other groups in other cities and spend the entire match standing, cheering, singing, and vocalizing their support to FCC.
The majority of the main concourse is wide open and allows visitors a chance to watch the game from almost anywhere in the stadium. If you are on line ordering food, TV screens are positioned to show the match live. The concourse also enables great views of campus buildings.
A few great places are within blocks or minutes of the stadium. A few minutes away on foot is Vine Street which, within the last decade, has transformed into a happening area for breakfast spots, ghost tours, and entertainment. While a few miles further is the Clifton Gaslight District which is a residential area of post-Victorian homes and eclectic little shops, bars, and restaurants.
Vine Street offers two great breakfast and brunch destinations: Hangover Easy and Ladder 19. Alabama Que has great prices on pulled pork, rib tips, and turkey tips. Island Frydays has what many call the best Caribbean food in Cincinnati and Tastes of Belgium is an official sponsor of FCC specializing in crepes, waffles, and frites.
The Gaslight District is a neighborhood I used to call home and it's worth a visit anytime of the day. Habanero offers both Mexican and American cuisine, Stillwell's Coffee House is a funky little joint to enjoy a cup or pint of brew, and Proud Rooster is another hip spot for breakfast or brunch. Two iconic city institutions Graeter's Ice Cream and Skyline Chili can also be found on the block.
Rhinegeist Brewery is located a mile from the stadium in the Over-the-Rein section of town. The area is up and coming; however, the old 1890 warehouse building is packed with customers and features a top floor with taps, cornhole games, tables, and happy customers. It is a definite stop before or after the game on the weekends.
The fans of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region have responded outstandingly towards FCC. Record crowds have been an institution since day one and many in attendance are caught up with the action on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes. The facility does not feel empty and many wear the team colors of orange and blue. It should be noted that most fans splurge for the higher price tickets to the games.
Traffic moves briskly through the stadium. With the majority of open sections, it is quite easy to find seats, bathrooms, or concession stands. There are some items such as MadTree beer that can only purchased from one particular area and walking up and down the aisles of the seats can be a good calorie burner. Handicap seating is located at the top of each aisle on the main concourse.
There are various parking lots and for a first time visitor it is best to follow the pattern of pedestrian traffic to the stadium. Ticket offices are located at one side of the stadium near the UDF Kid Zone. However, it can be a bit confusing on how to get back to your car from the stadium as certain buildings on campus may be closed from the main entrances. There are more than enough police and security assisting cars off campus and back onto the streets of Cincinnati after the game.
The least expensive ticket starts at $5 for general admission and tops off at $25. Depending on how much you would like to pay, you cannot complain about these prices at a professional soccer game. The low costs are probably due to the size stadium, but this means there are no excuses not to go to the soccer game. Parking in the lots is $10, a good investment due to the scarcity of parking spots and game day traffic on campus.
One star for the $5 tickets; the club could easily sell these same tickets for $10, but offer fans a section to enjoy soccer at a very low price.
The second for record crowds that include 35,000 for a game against Crystal Palace. That was more than what the Cincinnati Reds attracted on the same night at Great American Ballpark.
Finally, a star for the UDF Kids Zone which features games, food, drinks, and merchandise and is located next to the ticket offices of the stadium before each game. It is a great place to take the kids and have a little fun.
A lot has changed with soccer in Cincinnati. In 2003, I was working for the Cincinnati Riverhawks of the USL and we were lucky to feature 100 games at our stadium in Wilder, Kentucky, 15 miles south of downtown Cincinnati. That complex was built to house youth and adult recreation soccer leagues, not professional soccer . It was a quixotic idea that a pro soccer team would ever attract crowds of 20,000-35,000 for a game anywhere in town, but that was another time and another era.
Soccer has arrived and looks to only become bigger and better in the proceeding years in the Queen City.
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