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Louisville City eager to join MLS expansion race

Photo by Louisville City
Photo by Louisville City

When looking through the stands of Louisville Slugger Field throughout Louisville City’s inaugural campaign, it was not uncommon to see the face of Mayor Greg Fischer among the various government officials scattered throughout the crowd. Now heading into year two as a franchise, Louisville City, with Fischer’s assistance, is making the push for a new stadium and a spot in Major League Soccer.

Louisville City was among the top clubs in attendance in the United Soccer League on both a season ticket and per-game basis in its inaugural season. On the field, the club reached the Eastern Conference finals, signaling a strong sporting debut to the club’s first season.

Yet, despite all of the club’s successes, there is a desire for more. Specifically, there is a desire for MLS and a sports atmosphere that would energize and ignite a city that is so desperate for representation on the professional level.

“They kind of got a lay of the land and how they see the market and where it’s going,” Fischer told SBI regarding contact with MLS. “Just sort of a general conversation about the state of the league and different cities that they’re looking at. We’re doing all kinds of due diligence in terms of USL growth and MLS growth. It’s what you would expect from us.”

“Everything has been very preliminary,” added Amanda Duffy, Louisville City’s president, “whether it’s with Major League Soccer executives or other MLS owners who have helped us create that path and what it’s going to take for us to get to the MLS level. We understand where that focus needs to be and the critical components to taking it to the next level.

“We still maintain a great relationship with Orlando City, even without the affiliation, and we have relationships with owners in USL and MLS owners that can help us with our plan, with our path and give us the best advice to get to where we want to be.”

In order to make that step, Louisville City knows the top priority is securing a stadium project.

Following a recent announcement that MLS is looking to expand to 28 teams in the very near future, a series of markets have emerged as potential expansion sites. A fellow USL club, Sacramento Republic, appears to be leading the charge, while markets like San Antonio and St. Louis have long been on the list of cities viewed as expansion candidates.

What Louisville will need to set itself apart will be a stadium, and a following to match. For a club that Duffy says has tapped into just five to 10 percent of the city’s 1.2 million person population, the latter will come with time, as fans and corporate sponsors continue to attach themselves to the club.

Miami’s expansion project has demonstrated just how difficult the stadium process can be. Disconnects between clubs, communities and lawmakers seem to be the norm, as impasses and hurdles can multiply when it comes to stadium construction in the country’s current climate.

According to Fischer, the club and local government have worked “extremely well together”, as both sides understand how vital the partnership will be when it comes to a stadium deal.

As things stand, Fischer and the city continue to study the scenarios at hand, with the mayor stating that he expects reports to flow in within the next few months. The key, Fischer says, is finding a situation that works for all, from the club to the politicians to the Louisville taxpayer that is just hoping to see the city grow and expand into a more vibrant and close-knit community.

“We want to keep that energy downtown,” Fischer said, “but that restricts the number of sites that you’re looking at, but that’s important. We know some preferred locations and then you get into the economics of a deal and you want to make sure whatever you build today can expand for MLS in the future if it’s not MLS-ready from Day One. You want to program that facility well to keep it busy when there’s not soccer activity taking place there. There are some moving pieces there and we’re looking at all of it.

“I’d like to have one team that the whole city can rally around,” Fisher added. “Right now, you have Kentucky fans, Louisville fans, Indiana fans but there’s not one team that everybody gets behind and says ‘they’re ours’. I would really love to see that happen and we’re certainly large enough as a metropolitan area with our TV market and with us just being a one professional sports town, having that capacity to support is there as well.

“We’re beyond saying soccer is the sport of the future, right? It’s the sport of today and it’s got a lot of wind on its back and people love it, so that’s the bottom line. If people didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be interested in it, but there’s a great acceptance here.”

With or without MLS, both the city and club are hoping to work towards the stadium project. Even if USL remains the club’s destination, the overarching belief is a stadium is key for the sport’s growth and sustainability in the city. Whether it’s a 10,000 seat venue for USL or an expansion-ready park with an eye toward an MLS move, the process of building a stadium will remain a focal point in the coming years.

While that process irons itself out, the club will keep playing at Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats minor league baseball team. Duffy says that the club is hoping to move into a new home “the sooner the better”, but would ideally spend only two or three more seasons confined to the baseball park.

In moving out, Duffy says opportunities for the club would skyrocket. A new stadium would offer fans a place to call home, while also demonstrating credibility in the form of increased community relations and corporate partnerships.

But to prove that point, both the Duffy and Fischer expressed the importance of year two. It’s not hard to captivate a community with something new, something fresh, but keeping their hold on those around them will be vital going forward.

Unlike future expansion markets like Miami, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Louisville doesn’t have the blessing of being a major media market with an international reputation. Stationed just under 50th in the nation when it comes to television markets, Louisville isn’t quite ranked among the most glamorous options for a professional club.

Because of that, the city fully understands its path, one that has been forged by markets like Orlando and Minnesota. To catch the eye of MLS, the club will need to bully its way in by showing that, as a grassroots movement, the game of soccer and the club have taken hold within a community that is yearning for a spot in the top tier.

“We have a unique opportunity here, not just in Louisville, but in the state of Kentucky to be very well positioned to move to the major league level,” Duffy said. “Geographically, with Columbus, Chicago, Sporting KC and Atlanta coming in in the next few seasons, we’re in a very good geographic location to fit this region and create some good local regional rivalries and fill in geographically where MLS has identified an area of growth going forward.”

“When you look at what MLS wants to see,” Fischer added, “they want to see excited fans in the stadium and a city behind it with full throttle support and confidence that a great team can be built there. When you look at year one with us, they can see that they can answer yes to all of those questions.”


  1. “Hello, are you a city with a soccer team? Then consider joining MLS!” They’ll never reach 35,000+ attendance like my Sounders do.

  2. One thing this article leaves out is the problems Louisville City FC the problem they are having with sponsors. They are extremely limited in the amount of signs and sponsors they have due to conflicts with the AAA Louisville Bats. In and around the region, they are know for their great attendance, but I think there are some big problems moving a team forward without the large sponsorships and money needed.

  3. A bunch if bush league comments for #bushleaguemls
    It’s bush league for many reasons, including because NPSL Final had higher actual attendance than #bushleaguemls “play-offs”
    There is actually no end to the reasons #bushleaguemls is bush league

    • ya similar (+-100,000) in size to Kobenhagen, Glasgow, Stuttgart, Seville, Stockholm, Lyon or Marseille or locally Queretaro, Columbus, or SLC. Notice than none of these cities have NFL or MLB teams..

  4. It’s not pro/rel if it is in the same league
    Federation controls pro/rel, not #bushleaguemls (or any other league)
    Support your local soccer clubs!

    • I love it when people say bush league in reference to MLS. It just shows their out-dated views. Name me a bush league with stars in it that still play for their national teams(Italy: Giovinco, Pirlo). Grow up man and embrace the future of the sport. It’s American and it’s going to be HUGE!

      • “Mls is Bush-league, now listen to my rant about how unfair it is that my local semi-pro club will never get promoted into MLS”

      • I see this a lot as if all clubs who get relegated basically cease to exist. In reality many of them bounce right back up.

      • in a revenue sharing single entity system how would a relegation drop impact anything for the league wide bottom line?

        I mean the Rapids and Fire are the financial equivalent of a relegation drop every year and they keep them around..

    • @AndyO’Brien There are systems in place right now. (a) Have the clubs form a league spend $4 billion over a 20 year span and meet the D1 requirements that US Soocer has set out and you have a D1 league. (b) Or you can let MLS do all the heavy lifting and pay the $125m – $200m expansion fee.

      Simple Choice really.

  5. Louisville seems like a fringe candidate BUT the idea of being the only PROFESSIONAL sports team in the entire area has got to be alluring for MLS when accounting for the flow of dollars into their coffers. I wonder if they could in some way take hold of that PTFC vibe with the lack of other professional teams competing for attention. .

    • personally I would love to see more Columbus’s, Portland’s, Orlando’s or KC’s in the league and Sacramento, Indianapolis, San Antonio and Louisville look like great candidates. Being the big team in a smaller town has its advantages over being the 5th or 6th team in a big town..

      Garber and the current leadership/owners don’t think this way. They want more Chicago’s and New England’s. I imagine that ad dollars and corporate sales (the big bucks) are what sway there decisions this way.

      unfortunately for your passionate mid-markets like Louisville – pro/rel is the only way you will ever get a first division team.

      • Everybody keeps wondering about expansion teams and who should get picked? The MLS is looking to reach all the largest media markets in the US and Canada. Why? It’s quite simple. In order to raise and have large enough TV ratings for large TV rights packages, The MLS needs coverage in the markets with the most viewers. The largest of the SMSA;s (Metro statistical areas) New York and LA have two teams and will probably have even more. Every big metro area, like Atlanta or Miami need to be covered. If you have too many small market teams, the league will not lose money, but the viewership will be smaller, the rights fees will be smaller and the roster’s salaries caps will not grow as much. To see this in action; just look at the last MLS cup between two small market teams, the crowd was good, the game was good, but it was hardly mentioned in news aggregators like Google and the viewership was down over 30 percent over the previous year which featured a big market team, the LA Galaxy. When the NHL expanded, they mostly avoided mid range or small market cities in the Northeast where hockey was king and instead focused on large markets in the sun belt. The decision was heavily criticized by hockey fans, but the League grew and so did it’s salary levels. While the MLS has far to go before it reached a max of 30+ teams, it needs to grow smart and go to cities which may not have the rabid followers of small town teams often do, but it will have a vastly larger TV market which is good for the whole league

      • @caps ya, i get it. I just think that there is room for both in US Soccer. This country is unique in that we could really have 40 or more legitimate 1st division contenders under a revenue sharing/salary cap system given a pro/rel system that allows teams like this to rise to the top on their own accord. That’s how you engage a country of 300m+

    • they haven’t been hiding their intentions, their ads looking for employees last month openly said that they were intending to move to MLS.

      Stadium would be an issue, perhaps if they took the old Cardinals stadium and converted it.

      Also, for a fictional look at MLS in Louisville pick up the ebook “Free Kicks” from Amazon.


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