The 2023 Major League Soccer season kicks off on Feb. 25. Both of Ohio’s clubs, Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati, have matches on opening day.
With Ohio sports betting up and running, many fans and bettors will have an additional interest in these Ohio soccer teams.
Ohioans interested in betting on MLS games will also need to know more about these bitter rivals, especially considering that the league’s new TV deal with Apple could complicate local broadcasts.
Here’s what Ohio MLS fans and bettors need to know.
Columbus Crew, FC Cincinnati prospects for the 2023 MLS season
Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati are big-time rivals even though they’ve shared only a brief history. FC Cincinnati was founded in 2016 and joined MLS in 2019. Columbus was an inaugural MSL member back in 1996 and has won the MLS Cup twice. FC is still vying for their first title.
Annual rivalry games between the clubs are called the “Hell Is Real Derby,” a reference to a foreboding religious sign seen along I-71, the highway that connects the two cities.
Another foreboding sign for the clubs are their chances to win the MLS Cup according to Ohio sportsbooks’ odds.
At DraftKings Sportsbook Ohio, Cincinnati and Columbus have the 12th- and 13th-best odds, respectively, to win it all this year.
- FC Cincinnati: +2000
- Columbus Crew: +2200
Still, FC Cincinnati is riding the momentum of their first MSL playoff appearance, having defeated the New York Red Bulls in the first round in 2022 before falling to Philadelphia Union in the conference semifinals.
The Crew only narrowly missed the playoffs last season, finishing in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
MLS betting in Ohio will be complicated by new Apple TV deal
Watching and betting on Ohio MLS games just got a little more complicated. Due to MLS’s new TV deal with Apple, bettors in Ohio will need to take an extra step in order to actually watch the vast majority Columbus Crew/FC Cincinnati games they decide to bet on.
Most Columbus Crew/FC Cincinnati games will be tucked behind Apple’s $14.99 per month paywall.
Only two Crew and FC Cincinnati games will air on national TV. Three more are available on Apple TV for free, without a subscription. (All MLS games on Feb. 25 are free on Apple TV.)
A total of 34 MLS games will air nationally on Fox: 15 on Fox and the rest on FS1.
Free or nationally televised Ohio MLS matches:
- 2/25 Cincinnati vs. Houston, free on Apple TV
- 2/25 Columbus vs. Philadelphia, free on Apple TV
- 3/11 Cincinnati vs. Seattle, free on Apple TV
- 5/21 Columbus vs. Nashville, Fox Sports 1
- 8/20 Columbus vs. Cincinnati, Fox Sports 1
The Apple deal might curtail potential betting on MLS matches in Ohio. Whereas matches televised on cable would reach the mainstream betting public, subscribers to Apple’s MLS Season Pass will likely be more interested in rooting for their team than betting on them.
A required subscription will also likely discourage some sports bars from airing the games, which would further reduce the reach to sports bettors. In addition, Apple said it won’t accept ads from sports betting companies.
Soccer betting is only a sliver of the Ohio sports betting pie
Ohio is set to become a huge sports betting state, but soccer betting is not atop the list.
According to recent PlayOhio projections, Ohio is set to rank among the top five U.S. states in sports betting handle in 2023 and could push for top-three status behind New York and New Jersey as soon as 2024.
Still, soccer betting will be a distant fifth, at best, behind football, basketball, baseball and hockey betting. In some states, like Colorado and Illinois, soccer even trailed tennis betting in 2022 — and that is with the inclusion of 2022 World Cup betting.
Even though sports betting in Ohio is new, it is one of only five states to host two MLS franchises, joining New York (NY Red Bulls/New York City FC), California (LAFC/LA Galaxy), Florida (Inter Miami/Orlando City) and Texas (FC Dallas/Houston Dynamo FC).
Only one of these other states — New York — offers legal sports betting, meaning Ohio could end up being one of the bigger MLS betting states, assuming the Apple TV deal doesn’t dissuade too much of the market.
FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew part of Ohio sports betting market
Both FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew have partnered with sportsbooks on retail and online sportsbooks in Ohio.
FC Cincinnati is partnered with Superbook Sportsbook, though its brick-and-mortar location is in a temporary space inside a brewery and restaurant called Taft’s Ale House in downtown Cincinnati. The team is building a brand-new sportsbook near TQL Stadium.