According to information received from multiple trusted sources, Wrong Side of the Pond believes that the Dayton Dutch Lions will be moving their USL PRO franchise to Cincinnati for the 2015 season.
Rumors place the club leaving their newly minted home at Dayton Outpatient Center Stadium at West Carrollton High School — just opened midway through the 2014 season — and migrating to the Xavier University Soccer Complex. Currently, that facility also plays host to the Dutch Lions affiliate fourth division side playing in the USL Premier Development League.
Multiple attempts to confirm the move with the Dutch Lions went unanswered, as was a request for further information put into Xavier Athletics. Additionally, USL PRO declined to comment on any franchise moves, per league policy.
However, should an impending move 50 miles south actually come to fruition, it would come at the end of a turbulent stretch for a Dutch Lions organization that has alternated between few highs and far more frequent lows.
Established in 2009 as a fourth division USL Premier Development League side before self-promoting to the third division USL PRO — formerly the USL Second Division — in 2011, the Dutch Lions have long struggled to find a firm footing in Dayton and have found success on the pitch equally elusive.
Poor attendance has plagued the team throughout their existence and is likely the primary driver behind a relocation. The Dutch Lions averaged a league-low attendance of 531 at home matches this season, and often times the actual attendance was far less. The club’s struggle to find a permanent home likely contributed to those poor numbers, and a transient history of bouncing around local high school stadiums has made it difficult to establish a persistent fan base.
On-field outcomes have also been rare for Dayton, with a third place finish in USL PDL in their first year of existence being the club’s best ever league finish. But things haven’t gone as well since making the climb up to the third division: they’ve managed only one winning season (2013) and this year finished dead last out of fourteen clubs.
Reportedly, the only income keeping the club afloat comes by way of their youth academy, as club fees collected from each academy member are being at least partially used to help prop up the struggling professional side. Apparently, the Dutch Lions are also operating on what has been deemed “the smallest budget in the league” by a sizable margin. With little match day revenue to add to the coffers, a move South to a potentially more lucrative market would indeed appear appealing.
A move, however, shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
Speculation of a move to Cincinnati seems to surface nearly every off season around the Dutch Lions camp. And when the organization announced their second PDL amateur side was to be established in Cincinnati just over a year ago, co-owner Mike Mossell — a Xavier Graduate and former player for the defunct Cincinnati Riverhawks — dropped a very telling quote in the official release:
“When Erik [Tammer] and I wanted to start a professional soccer club in the USA back in 2009, Cincinnati was our first choice.”
That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for how the Dutch Lions feel about being in Dayton. Mossel’s ties to the Queen City only strengthen the argument that Cincinnati is where they would rather be setting up shop.
There’s also the matter of the organizations fourth division team, the already existing Cincinnati Dutch Lions, that might lend further credence to a potential move for their flagship franchise. Speculation has been that the placing of a Dutch Lions PDL side in Cincinnati was little more than a litmus test to see how a team might fare playing at Xavier. The lower-division side was able to average 251 supporters per match, hardly a mouthwatering statistic. But, given that there was virtually no media exposure and zero marketing efforts to promote the team, that might be enough to consider it a decent trial run.
While Cincinnati’s larger market and the owners’ original desires to place it there in the first place might be the primary drivers behind a decision to relocate the club, there are still a number of other factors that make it quite the perplexing proposition.
First and foremost is the already mentioned recent move to West Carrollton’s Dayton Outpatient Center Stadium — or “The DOC” as it’s come to be known by the club’s few dedicated supporters. The search for a permanent home for the Dutch Lions in Dayton had been long and arduous, with proposals for a soccer specific stadium failing to gain support from purported communities. The club eventually settled upon yet another temporary home in West Carrollton, where a brand new turf pitch without football lines was laid down in April thanks in large part to hefty investment from DOC’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta upon the completion of a 30-year agreement between the three parties. Should the Dutch Lions leave Dayton, it’s unclear whether that would in some way violate the terms of the partnership and if there would be any ramifications for such a decision.
Additionally, there’s the issue of the club’s youth academy, also based at West Carrollton High School. Though it’s not unheard of for a professional side’s academy to based in a different city, that normally isn’t the case for academies of lower division sides in the US. A move to Cincinnati for the USL PRO team would also leave a far further drive for academy members — normally an easier group to convince to attend — to actually make it to games. As well, it wouldn’t be a stretch either to hypothesize that the appeal of playing for an academy of a team not based in the same city might drop too.
A move to Cincinnati could also cast doubts on the futures of the Cincinnati PDL team and the women’s W-League team that also calls Dayton home.
Ultimately, it still remains to be seen if those or any other hurdles would be enough to block a move South.
Mossell has, of course, dealt with these types of rumors before too. He told Reckless Challenge‘s Chad Hollingsworth in an interview at the time of the Cincinnati PDL side’s announcement that “there are no plans” to move the USL PRO team to Cincinnati as well. But with WSOTP‘s sources now claiming the rumblings are coming from “within the club” as opposed to from outside sources, the ownership’s tune might now have changed.
Will Dayton lose it’s team? While nothing official from the club or league could be obtained, the Dutch Lions’ tumultuous time in the Gem City looks to have finally come to an end.