Lionel Messi's recent move to MLS side Inter Miami has provided a major boost for a national soccer league that's aiming to raise its profile and attract some of the biggest stars from across the world (while also producing its share of homegrown talent). Numerous teams have joined Major League Soccer over the past decade as part of an extensive expansion project. One of those new additions is FC Cincinatti.
At the time of writing, FC Cincinatti are flying high in the Eastern Conference (one half of MLS' regionalised structure), with a first-ever league title firmly on the cards this season. An important factor behind their recent improvement has been their settling into a brand-new state-of-the-art home: the TQL Stadium.
The TQL Stadium is one of Major League Soccer's most impressive purpose-built stadiums, and that's in a highly competitive field — 11 soccer-specific stadiums have been constructed in North America in the last eight years alone. In this article, we'll be providing you with an in-depth guide to the site, detailing its key facilities, capacity, and location, and exploring the story behind its development. We'll also examine what the project means for the future of FC Cincinatti.
Location: Cincinatti, Ohio
Construction cost: $250m
The TQL Stadium's existence is a testament to the path that Major League Soccer is on. With a capacity of 25,513 (fans regularly fill the entire ground, with last season's average attendance standing at 25,441), it's one of the nation's larger soccer stadiums. However, unlike other similar-sized grounds such as Chicago Fire's Soldier Field, the site hasn't been a fixture of American professional soccer for very long at all.
The Stadium, named after freight brokerage and logistics firm Total Quality Logistics (previously, it was called the West End Stadium after the Cincinatti neighbourhood it's situated within), was opened officially in 2021, just two years ago. This grand opening followed several years of construction, after MLS announced that Cincinatti would be one of the teams joining the league as part of the 2019 expansion.
In terms of facilities, the TQL Stadium is extremely well-equipped. Costing $250 million to construct, the 25,000-capacity stadium offers plenty of space for the average supporter, and it also has 53 traditional suites, plus 4,500 premium seats throughout four premium club spaces. There are five team locker rooms, numerous offices, a coach's lounge, extensive equipment storage and the Mercy Health Center of Excellence, which provides teams with all their medical and match day fitness needs.
FC Cincinatti was founded in 2015 to represent the city of Cincinatti, in south western Ohio. After quickly becoming a successful United Soccer League (USL) franchise, the club's ownership group — led by Carl H. Lindner III with Berding serving as Co-CEO — was awarded an MLS franchise in May 2018, and the team began playing in the Eastern Conference the following March.
In their early years, FC Cincinatti's home stadium was the Nippert Stadium, a 40,000-capacity university stadium used primarily for American Football. In order to play their matches here, FC Cincinatti had to pay for a $2m pitch expansion project that made the turf safe for soccer. This was just one indication that sharing this structure with the Cincinatti Bearcats football team was not ideal — as a result, the search for the new home of FC Cincinatti began in 2017.
A site in the city's West End neighbourhood was located, and soon after the club ramped up their interest in this location by revealing plans to perform a land swap with Cincinatti Public Schools to acquire Stargel Stadium on the campus of Taft High School. Despite some opposition from locals, the football club had the land swap approved; they paid the school board $25 million, built a new $10 million stadium for the high school, and set to work on building the new home of FC Cincinnati on the West End site.
October 2018 saw the first stadium design concept images released to the public, with the structure's dimensions and max height (37m) revealed, alongside capacity figures and aesthetic details. However, the designs for the new stadium were altered substantially in 2019 when the architectural firm Populous took over the building project. Extensive plans for the stadium's exterior lighting and ETFE facade were scaled down, and the interior proposals were changed, too. Eventually, a final design was unveiled in 2019, and fans were offered a unique opportunity to involve themselves in the process: the seating area's navy blue and orange seating areas were chosen from four options as part of a public poll in May 2020.
In 2016, with Cincinatti still playing at the Nippert Stadium, the club broke the USL record for single-season fan attendance, with 25,717 supporters on average filing into their temporary home every fortnight. Those figures have meant that it's hardly been a surprise to see tens of thousands of fans packing into the TQL Stadium ever since the ground opened officially with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 1, 2021. The recent expansion project has been costly: the expansion fee that saw Cincinatti join MLS in 2019 was $150 million, and the club also spent $250 million on the building of the new stadium — but now, the well-supported North American club are reaping the rewards.
The TQL Stadium takes up 12.4 acres, with the soccer field dimensions measuring up to 115 x 75 yards. But it's the structures around that pitch that make FC Cincinnati's stadium such an important local landmark.
In particular, The Bailey, the goal-end section occupied by the club's loudest supporters at each match, is a key facet of the TQL Stadium's atmosphere at home games. This is a single-tiered safe standing area that looms over the north end of the ground at a 34-degree angle, and can house over 3,000 fans. Named after the "bailey" areas found in medieval castles, where troops would gather before going out to battle, this stand is situated above the tunnel where players emerge from before kick off, fuelling the matchday atmosphere with chants, drums, flares, smoke, and more.
The technical design of the Bailey enhances the atmosphere of the place, but that's not the only important design feature at the FC Cincinnati home ground. Every seat in the stadium is covered by a 360-degree canopy roof that provides shelter while also letting in sufficient sun for the natural grass field to grow properly. Designed by Populous, MEIS Architects, and Elevar Design Group, it hones in on the specific requirements and targets of a purpose-built soccer arena in a way that very few North American stadiums do.
TQL Stadium's impressive credentials means it is eligible to host both US Men's and Women's National Team fixtures, as well as any other CONCACAF or FIFA event. The USMNT's FIFA World Cup Qualification match vs. Mexico is one of the most high-profile matches to have taken place at the ground to date, and as the popularity of soccer in the US continues to soar, expect many more big games to be played on the grass turf of the home of FC Cincinnati.
The TQL Stadium has also received notable international recognition. At an awards event held last September in Madrid, Spain, the World Football Summit named the ground Best Venue of 2022. One of ten awards given at the annual ceremony to recognise achievements in various sections of the football industry, the triumph was a glowing endorsement of the Cincinatti project. According to stadia publication MONDO STADIA, "The design of TQL Stadium intentionally harnesses the energy of a dedicated fan base to bring a world-class soccer experience to Cincinnati."
Watching soccer in the United States is a very different experience to standing on England's more traditional, old-school terraces. Comfort and hospitality is a key concern, and as a result, the food and drink options at FC Cincinnati's MLS home stadium are seriously impressive: there are outlets for Cincinnati food institutions such as La Rosa's pizza and Skyline Chili, plus tons of bars and areas to watch live sport. There is also an official FC Cincinnati team store and numerous satellite stores that pop up all around the ground.
We should also mention the TQL's stadium's live music offering: the stadium is built to be able to host concerts as well as sport, with the first live show at the Cincinatti arena featuring legendary rock band The Who.
According to Cincinnati's Chief Brand Officer Gary De Jesus, "The purpose of FC Cincinnati really was focusing in on driving advocacy for the sport, igniting passion in Cincinnati for soccer, and all we needed was a spark." With the TQL Stadium, they appear to have found that spark, with a pretty special home that indicates the progress being made across Major League Soccer.
Want to find out about another state-of-the-art football facility designed to take its team to the next level? Check out our brand-new guide to Hotspur Way, the training ground of Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. Having moved in just a few years ago, the North London club will be hoping that the facility can help generate the success they've been after for so long.