Billionaire Meg Whitman is excited about her new role as managing owner of FC Cincinnati. The CEO of video platform Quibi, who purchased a 20% share in the team last month, met with media in Cincinnati Monday.
"When we decided to make an investment in professional sports, the first question is which sport. This was very easy because we think the trends around soccer are tremendous," she says. "We loved Cincinnati as a market."
Whitman says she believes soccer is the sport of the future in the United States and thinks it has room for growth as an area and an investment. She points to the large numbers of youth involved in soccer and the number of cities vying to be awarded MLS franchises.
"My sense is that soccer is about to hit what I would call 'the knee of the curve,' " she explains. "You can see the expansion teams that have been granted over the last four or five years ... Clearly this has become much more in the consciousness and the zeitgeist of people in the United States."
As for why she chose to invest in a team in Cincinnati, she says the city is where she got her start and it is growing.
"All the data would suggest that Cincinnati is a city on the move," Whitman says, adding it's important to be in business with people you like and respect. "This just feels like the right thing and the right ownership group for us."
Whitman says she made the decision to invest in FC Cincinnati after visiting the city and meeting with the leadership group. "We left saying 'this looks pretty good to us.'
"I'll do everything I can to be helpful."
Controlling owner Carl Lindner III says the addition of Whitman to the ownership group means the team "is well positioned to achieve some grand ambitions." That includes a financial infusion to reach those goals, he says.
Lindner says he's continuing to speak with a few other potential investors, but Whitman's stake about "wraps it up." Neither Lindner nor Whitman would confirm the reported stake purchase price of $100 million, which would bring the value of FC Cincinnati to $500 million.
Whitman says her background in content at Quibi and The Walt Disney Co. means she understands the importance of using social media to connect fans with the team and the players. "People need to feel like they know the players," she says.
Lindner says the partnership is not an indication he is thinking about stepping back, saying he sees his role as controlling owner as a long-term investment. Whitman adds she is content with a minority ownership and wasn't looking for a controlling ownership position when she made the purchase.
Whitman is a board member of Procter & Gamble and started her career at the company's Cincinnati headquarters. She's best known for leading Ebay from a million dollar enterprise to a billion dollar one, and is the former CEO of Hewlett Packard.
Whitman was part of Sacramento's bid to land an MLS expansion team. She pulled out of the plan in December 2017, just days after being announced as part of the planned ownership group. Whitman becomes the sixth woman to sit on MLS' board and will be FC Cincinnati's alternate representative along with Lindner,