Louisville City Football Club will begin play in 2015, chief investor Wayne Estopinal announced to a cheering crowd of several hundred soccer fans Wednesday afternoon at Slugger Field.
“Louisville Slugger Field will become home pitch for Louisville City FC,” Estopinal said, calling Louisville a great sports town. (FYI: Pitch is another word for field in soccer parlance.)
“Now we need to prove we’re a great professional soccer town,” he said.
Louisville City, a franchise transferring from Orlando, Fla., will play in the fast-growing United Soccer League, which serves as a feeder system for Major League Soccer. Orlando City, in just its fourth season, has already won several league championships. Coach James O’Connor will move to Louisville in the next few weeks and will coach here.
“I assure you we will be successful” on the field, O’Connor said.
For several years, Estopinal has been vigilant in trying to bring a professional soccer team to Louisville; his persistence and passion have paid off. About 25 investors raised $2.2 million, while Mayor Greg Fischer announced at the presser that the city of Louisville has chipped in $581,000, an announcement that drew a huge applause.
“That’s your money,” he said, drawing laughter. But he was quick to note there is a pay-back clause should the team move, adding that city money will go toward permanent improvements to the stadium and field, one of those being a locker room facility for the team.
“We all knew we would get this done,” Fischer said, calling the pro-soccer team’s arrival “the worst kept secret in the history of Louisville sports.”
Every speaker at the conference, including team and league officials, an investor and the coach himself, heaped thanks on a group called the Louisville Coopers, a 2,000-strong bevy of local soccer fans that has pledged its support. Loudly.
Fischer jokingly called the Coopers an “annoying, passionate group of people who will not go away.”
That may be evidenced by the 278 season ticket deposits that have already been made via the Louisville City FC website. Or the long lines prior to the press conference to purchase Louisville Coopers shirts and scarves.
USL president Tim Holt said soccer supporters are “part of the club,” and called them “the soundtrack to the game.”
The Coopers, he said, “have all the hallmarks of the best supporter groups around the country.”
Holt told the throng he believes Louisville is an ideal market in a time when soccer is growing rapidly – he even likens the sport’s current popularity to that of football legend Pele’s era in the 1970s. He said the 14-time USL will grow to at least 20 by next year, with several other franchises coming on board in the coming months.
Likening Louisville to the already successful Oklahoma City, Holt said, “Louisville City FC is going to be a success.”
Orlando City FC founder and president Phil Rawlins echoed this, saying, “Soccer has come. It’s going to stay, not go away,” and calling the sport “the language of the world.”
After thanking Estopinal, the city, the Coopers, the investors and others who helped make the Louisville City FC franchise a reality, Rawlins told the crowd, “Now it’s your turn,” imploring fans to tell at least two people about the team and about soccer. He also noted that when the Orlando City team was announced in 2010, there were perhaps only one-third as many people in attendance.
In an agreement with the Louisville Bats, Slugger Field will serve dual purposes, meaning that most Louisville City FC games will be on weekdays during the first season – the Bats schedule is already mostly in place for 2015.
Meanwhile, a temporary logo that features a fleur de lis and the color purple to honor the parent Orlando City club will be redesigned via a contest through the team’s website this summer, with the winner being chosen in September.
Season ticket prices currently start at $240, but prices could fluctuate depending on how many games are ultimately scheduled and where the seats are located. Individual game tickets are estimated between $10 and $25.