CINCINNATI — Two days after announcing a streaming partnership with FloSports, FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding issued a lengthy reply to supporter concerns about the deal.
Debuted on Monday, the multiyear partnership granted Austin-based FloSports exclusive regional streaming rights for all non-nationally televised FCC matches. That region stretches north to Dayton, South to Kentucky’s Louisville and Lexington and also includes much of Southeast Indiana. With no other over-the-air television broadcast partners in the region beyond Star 64 WSTR, FloSports will also be the lone viewing option outside the Star 64 broadcast footprint.
However, the announcement was very poorly received by the club’s fans.
Social media quickly filled with complaints about the deal. A full year subscription to FloSports would mean a 150 percent rate hike from ESPN+, the streaming partner used by the club during their 2018 season in USL. And though the ESPN+ platform is also MLS’ out-of-market streaming partner, a FloSports deal means FC Cincinnati matches will now be blacked out locally on the familiar service.
FloSports’ device compatibility was also a frequent concern. While their streams can play on iOS, Roku, and AppleTV, the platform does not work with Android devices and Amazon FireTV.
The announcement’s timing alo could not have been worse for the club. The Monday unveiling came on the heels of major streaming interruptions during Flo’s first-ever MLS broadcast Sunday for D.C. United. Scores of supporter bars and fans across Washington experienced outages. Upward of six service interruptions were reported before the problem was rectified. And just hours before FCC’s own deal was announced, D.C. issued a sternly-worded statement declaring the FloSport’s first broadcast was unacceptable.
FC Cincinnati would soon have to address a FloSports drama of their own.
That response came in an 8-minute, 38-second video posted to the club’s social media accounts Wednesday.
Berding faced FCC supporters’ deafening complaints head-on. “We’ve heard you loud and clear,” he said in a casual video address.
The club, he explained, had been working with FloSports and supporter group leadership to address their many concerns. And one solution had already been agreed upon. Complimentary access to FloSports’ stream would be provided to supporter bars across Cincinnati. Though that privilege will only be granted to the club’s 16 official pub partners. “We’re attempting to finalize an agreement that can it more beneficial and welcoming to our fans… especially those outside the immediate [designated market broadcast area],” Berding explained.
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) March 14, 2019
But the president of the Orange and Blue didn’t stop there, offering further clarity on the agreement. For example, Berding shared that no other streaming services expressed interest in acquiring the club’s regional streaming rights. Had no deal been struck with FloSports, there would have been no way for supporters to view the match outside Star 64’s broadcast footprint. Other over-the-air solutions in outlying cities of the region were apparently cost-prohibitive. Several other MLS clubs offered no streaming options at all.
In short, the club felt their hands were tied.
“These agreements are complicated,” Berding said. “And one thing we know for sure: not everyone is going to end up happy with the outcome of our broadcast agreements.”
While that is true, some supporters frustrations remain. Cord-cutters with services such as Hulu and YouTube TV remain blacked out from viewing the matches on Star 64. Envy for in-state rivals Columbus Crew SC’s broadcast agreement exists, too. Fox Sports Ohio carries their matches statewide and includes over-the-top streaming in their region. And there’s frustration among some circles that the club didn’t consult with them first.
“I’m sorry for the confusion and frustration that our new FloSports streaming agreement has caused to our fanbase in the region,” Berding said. “To sum up, we absolutely hear you. We’re working with FlorSports, we’re working with Major League Soccer to find a way to make our deal a bit easier to digest for our fans,” Berding said. “We’ve ensured our bar partners that you’re going to be taken care of by FloSports, and now we’re working on individual supporters and individual fans. So thank you for bearing with us as we work through this issue. We hope to provide an update soon on what we can do to better present the FloSports broadcast to all our fans. In the meantime, thank you for everything you’ve done to help build the club.”
The club’s response has, for the time being, calmed things in the Queen City. At least until FloSports’ first FC Cincinnati broadcast next weekend.