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FC Cincinnati and Its Former Consulting Firm File Dueling Breach of Contract Suits

Futbol Club Cincinnati’s soon-to-be completed soccer stadium has not hosted a game yet, but the battle over the stadium’s naming rights has spilled into the courts as the soccer club and its former consulting firm filed competing lawsuits on Monday.

(CN) — Futbol Club Cincinnati’s soon-to-be completed soccer stadium has not hosted a game yet, but the battle over the stadium’s naming rights has spilled into the courts as the soccer club and its former consulting firm filed competing lawsuits on Monday.

FC Cincinnati sued Premier Partnerships in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, claiming the California firm failed to find a sponsor and wanted the team to violate Major League Soccer rules.

Premier Partnerships countered by suing the soccer club in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, claiming FC Cincinnati schemed to reject all of the consulting firm’s proposals so it could claim breach of contract and seek a more lucrative deal on its own.

Attorneys at Miller Goler Faeges Lapine, which represents Premier Partnerships, could not immediately be reached for comment after hours on Monday. 

In its lawsuit, FC Cincinnati claims Premier Partnerships touted itself as having significant experience and expertise in securing MLS sponsorships. The club contracted with Premier in May 2017, a year before officially receiving a bid into the MLS, to secure “national cornerstone sponsorships.”

“In direct breach of the Consulting Agreement, however, Premier improperly offered the prospective stadium sponsor various deal terms and items that either violated MLS rules or were wholly financially unworkable for FC Cincinnati,” the suit states.

FC Cincinnati claims that even after raising concerns about the problematic deal terms, Premier pushed it to move forward with the deal and pressured the club to provide the prospective sponsor with additional visibility exposure on the stadium’s retaining wall, which would have required a revision to the stadium’s blueprints and seating schematics that would have costed the team millions of dollars. Premier also allegedly pressured the club to offer the prospective sponsor a jersey sleeve sponsorship, which would have directly conflicted with an existing sponsorship deal, according to the complaint. 

“Premier continued to pressure FC Cincinnati because Premier had no other prospective stadium sponsors in the pipeline, and forcing FC Cincinnati to move forward with the potential stadium naming rights deal — regardless of whether the terms violated MLS rules or were financially unreasonable for FC Cincinnati — was the only way Premier would collect its sizeable commission for the potential deal,” the lawsuit states.

FC Cincinnati claims Premier’s breach has cost it tens of millions in sponsorship revenue and its stadium, which will be completed next year, still does not have a naming sponsor.

The soccer club seeks an undetermined amount of damages and an order declaring the consulting agreement terminated.

In its federal lawsuit, Premier claims FC Cincinnati acted in bad faith, “and as a result, Premier has been prevented from realizing the benefit of its bargain with FCC by being stymied in its efforts to secure significant additional sponsorship revenues for FCC and the corresponding commissions that Premier would receive.”

Premier claims the club’s conduct caused more than $40 million in damages to the consulting firm, which says it has a 17-year track record of maximizing revenue for facilities, events, sports and entertainment properties, and municipal programs across the country and that it put all of its resources towards finding FC Cincinnati suitable sponsors.

“Over the course of three years, Premier leveraged its first-class reputation in the sponsorships business and its unparalleled rolodex on FCC’s behalf, putting in thousands of hours of work to obtain over $86 million dollars in sponsorships for FCC,” the lawsuit states.

Premier claims the club “embarked on a blatant campaign to severely limit Premier’s ability to effectively canvass the market and engage potential sponsors, thus shutting down Premier’s opportunity to earn commissions despite the substantial amount of effort Premier had put forth in fulfilling its obligations under the contract. FCC’s bad acts culminated in its decision to unilaterally terminate the contract without cause or justification, though the contract does not so allow.”

Premier says in the suit that it secured tens of millions in revenue for FC Cincinnati and that the club made timely retainer and commission payments to the firm for the first year of the agreement.

Premier also claims that it used its contacts in MLS to help FC Cincinnati finally secure its bid into the league in 2018, even though the agreement did not require such actions.

Premier says the club first started acting in bad faith months after its admission into MLS. In an effort to remain a good partner, the firm agreed to amend the contract.

In advance of the 2019 MLS season, Premier claims it fulfilled its obligations by delivering $8.1 million in revenues.

“Despite the fantastic 2019 results delivered by Premier, FCC again began undermining the contract,” the lawsuit states. “After having in excess of 700 companies approved to pursue under the original Agreement, by early 2019, Premier’s approved list of companies had been reduced to only 99 companies … Over the course of the subsequent 12-month period, Premier submitted approximately 160 additional companies for approval, of which FCC approved a mere 23 companies in March 2019, about a 14% approval rate.”

By May 1 of this year, Premier claims, the FCC had not approved any additional companies for over a year. 

“Not only did FCC not approve any of the companies, it did not even provide a meaningful response to Premier’s approval requests, frequently ignoring repeated inquiries,” the complaint states.

FC Cincinnati’s new stadium is a $250 million, privately funded facility in the city’s West End. The design features 513 glowing fins, which can incorporate advertising.

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