Louisville City FC: Build for USL, expand for MLS

Louisville City FC

Louisville City FCLouisville City FC has been a big success in 2015 USL play, but team chairman Wayne Estopinal says it’s time for the city to look at a new stadium that could potentially be expanded for MLS play down the road.

Louisville City FC is averaging 6,431 fans through its first 11 home games at Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Triple-A Louisville Bats. It’s not the best financial arrangement for Louisville City FC, according to Estopinal: the team pays $5,000 a game in rent, covers most game-day costs and shares concessions revenue with the Bats. In addition, the Bats control most of the in-stadium ad inventory, limiting revenues for Louisville City FC. That’s not a sustainable economic model, so Estopinal is seeking city assistance for a new 9,000-seat stadium that could potentially be expanded to 20,000 should an MLS team become available. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, who helped put together the deal that attracted the USL team from Orlando, says it’s time to talk new stadium that could potentially host MLS, per the Louisville Courier-Journal:

The USL has requested its franchises each construct their own stadiums by 2020. Also, Estopinal said, the league will within two years likely require youth academies to attract and develop top talents.

“It takes time to start planning and thinking about a stadium,” Fischer said. “That’s a large endeavor, and we’ve got to find a place to do it. So it’s not too soon to start the planning and making sure we’re getting all the pieces in place.”

Estopinal, a local architect by trade, said he has as many as five potential sites in mind to start with a 9,000-seat facility, on-site offices and training grounds. Keeping MLS in mind, he’d like the possibility to expand capacity to around 20,000.

One more complicating factor: Estopinal says his team is being courted by another city, a wooing backed by Major League Soccer. The team could buy out its Louisville Slugger Field lease for $250,000 and relocate, but that may be an idle threat. Here’s why: we’re guessing the minute Louisville City leaves the market, the owners of the Bats announce they’re proposing to own their own USL team. New York-based Manhattan Capital Sports Acquisition LLC has already announced they’re working to own an USL team run by their Reno Aces management, so soccer is definitely on their radar. Still, that’s not stopping Estopinal from raising the possibility that his USL team could move, per WFPL:

Louisville City FC Chairman Wayne Estopinal said in an interview Monday that another city is courting the franchise, which is in the final stretch of its inaugural season in Louisville.

“I don’t think that’s in the best interest of anybody right now,” Estopinal said of relocation….

Estopinal declined to say what city is showing interest in Louisville City FC, citing a non-disclosure agreement between that city and Major League Soccer, which is involved in the process.

Image courtesy Louisville City FC.

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