EXCLUSIVE: cincinnati saints on the move

At some point or another, we’ve all been told the old adage of “don’t run away from your problems”. Throughout life, we’re taught that if we take on our problems head on, the outcome will be better and less painful.

For the most part, that rings true. But sometimes, running is the preferred option and the best way to actually face a problem head on. In the case of the National Premier Soccer League’s Cincinnati Saints, it appears that is exactly the case.

Over the last six years of the club’s existence, the Saints have met and overcome a litany of hurdles. Making the jump from a Sunday League team into the semi-professional ranks was the first of those. Then came outmaneuvering a series of in-town competitors. And for the last year, it’s been the slow battle to win over an often indifferent market in the Cincinnati public and media spaces. Small victories have defined the club during that stretch, due in large part to the perseverance of CEO and owner David Satterwhite.

But with the arrival of the USL in town, courtesy of the nascent FC Cincinnati and their billionaire backing, the Saints may have finally reached a hurdle too high to clear.

Despite their six year head start and a steadily growing presence in the Cincinnati soccer community, the Saints resources are realistically no match for the financial might of their new neighbors. Nor can the Saints — playing in a fourth division that’s best known for allowing students athletes a competitive space to play without soiling their collegiate eligibility — match the star power that FCC’s deep pockets can bring to town. They can’t be expected to net a home as “luxurious” as the redeveloped Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati. And the connections to high ranking city officials and people of power in the community boasted by the new USL club are unlikely to develop now that another name with more clout has stormed in to their minds.

Faced with those realities, it was clear the Satterwhite and the Saints had some decisions to make.

Option one is to continue on fighting the good fight, and try to persist with carving out a slice of the Cincinnati market to call their own. While that might be a possibility, it’s probably more likely that the size of the new kid in town would cast a long shadow that would make it very hard to get noticed. The Saints might be able to live on that way for a few more years, but it would ultimately result in a long, drawn out death.

Option two is far more blunt — and dire. The Saints could call it quits. Throw in the towel. Close the curtain. Cease to be. This option, in spite of all of the energy and heart and knowledge gained, could still be on the table.

But there is still a third option available to the club: looking for a new home.

That option, despite seeming pretty reasonable in general, could have negative ramifications. Would the Saints be able to carry over all of the progress they’ve made in Cincinnati to a new home? Would the fans they have earned follow them, too? And of course, there remains the small matter of actually choosing a new home to begin with.

Finding a new home in a new market would allow the Saints space to breathe. New surroundings would bring new people to reach out to and new parties to partner with, free from the constraints of the long shadow being cast along the banks of the Ohio River.

Moving is a drastic move, but the Saints are also facing pretty drastic circumstances. But make no bones about it: whatever decision is made, the fate of the club hangs in the balance.

And according to recent conversations with Satterwhite, a move is likely the only way for the club to tilt the scales in their favor.

So where exactly are the Saints aiming to go? Just a short trip up I-75 to Dayton.

Though nothing has been set in stone, the Saints are eyeing a move ahead of the 2016 NPSL season to Dayton’s 11,000-seat, multi-purpose Welcome Stadium. Not exactly the most ideal venue for soccer — a running track separates the fans from the field and the steep stands could seem cavernous if attendance isn’t big — the move to Welcome would likely only be a temporary one. A more suitable home stadium, like the one soon to be constructed by Chaminade-Julienne High School, would provide a more intimate atmosphere and put the Saints closer to the social quarters of the Oregon District, the University of Dayton and the area growing around the Dayton Dragon’s minor league baseball park.

So how likely is this to happen? Discussions between the Saints and the Dayton mayor Nan Whaley’s office have already been held, if that’s any indication. That said, no decisions have been made yet on whether the club will keep their current identity as the Saints in the Gem City, or whether a new crest and look would be adopted.

Some may be asking themselves “Really, Dayton?”. Dayton isn’t a city experiencing the same type of cultural and population revival that Cincinnati is — though it’s not lagging as far behind as some might think.

Too, there’s the issue of the team already in that market: the USL PDL’s Dayton Dutch Lions. Though the Dutch Lions have been around as long as the Saints — including a stint in the third division — they’ve struggled to draw crowds much larger than 500 and haven’t exactly built lasting bonds with the community, media or local leadership.

In fact, the Saints encroaching on the Dayton Dutch Lion’s territory would actually be a bit of a role reversal. The Dutch Lions planted a secondary team in the Saints’ backyard in 2014, but their Cincinnati variant also played to minimal crowds and even less attention. So, encroachment in the opposite direction may indeed ruffle some feathers. But given that the Lions’ ownership are also minority investors in FC Cincinnati, it’s not out of line to question their commitment to the semi-professional level.

That said, there is not currently a timeline for an official announcement from the club. However, discussions with numerous constituents in the Dayton area are ongoing, and the time to act with the 2016 season looming is a quickly shrinking window.

And while it will be sad to see the Saints concede in their short-lived battle with the new tenants in Cincinnati, a move north for the Saints seems increasingly likely — and perhaps the only way for the team to avoid a permanent relegation to the history books.

1 Comment

  1. Being a DCFC NGS guy, this tough news. You folks have always been good host. Even when the fire dept. showed up last time. How about Columbus? Strong soccer connection with Ohio State. Good Luck.


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