Louisville’s pro soccer club welcomed a record 10,062 spectators during Saturday’s match at Slugger Field, besting its prior regular season record by about 1,600.
“Saturday night was really a special night,” Club President Amanda Duffy said at a Monday afternoon press conference.
Coaches and players described Saturday’s crowd as “awesome” and “phenomenal.”
Club officials hope the new milestone will propel the team toward a sell-out (about 13,100) soon (possibly July 4) and bolsters its chances of securing (at least some) public financing toward a new stadium. A soccer-specific stadium would boost revenues and keep alive the team’s dream to eventually play in the first division, Major League Soccer.
With Saturday’s record crowd, Louisville City FC this year has drawn an average 7,324 spectators per home game, up about 1,400, or 24 percent, from last year’s inaugural season.
The average compares favorably to 27 out of 29 teams in the third-division United Soccer League. Only Sacramento and Cincinnati have a higher per-game average.
Even compared to the second division, the North American Soccer League, Louisville’s attendance holds up: Only two of the 11 NASL teams (Minnesota and Indianapolis) have drawn more fans to home games than Louisville.
That means among 40 second- and third-division clubs, Louisville ranks fifth in average attendance, and only two of the teams, Sacramento and Cincinnati, are ahead by more than 1,500 fans per game — though Cincinnati is so far ahead that it bests even MLS clubs, including Chicago and Washington, D.C. MLS teams, on average, this season have attracted between 14,000 (Dallas FC) and 40,000 (Seattle Sounders).
Duffy said that any talk concerning the MLS is premature at this point and that the club is focused on developing its fan base and using the current athletic and fan momentum to continue its successful run this season.
But the stadium talk will linger, in no small part because the United Soccer League said last year that a “critical part of our strategic growth plan is to have all USL clubs as owners or primary tenants of soccer-specific stadiums by 2020.”
LouCity officials, too, have said that a stadium plays a big role in the club’s long-term success.
The club gets about two-thirds of its revenues from ticket sales, but because it does not own a stadium, it is losing out on dollars generated through advertising and concessions.
Duffy has said the club also is incurring “conversion costs” in the baseball stadium, for putting down turf and raising/lowering the baseball mound.
Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $75,000 to study the feasibility of constructing a new 8,000- to 10,000-seat stadium — expandable to 20,000 — in four potential areas, including downtown.
A city official told Insider Louisville via email on Monday that city leaders “are still in the midst of the study and expect details soon.”
Club and city officials have been mum on the cost of such facilities, but similar projects have cost tens of millions of dollars.
Duffy said today that fan support and the resulting higher ticket revenues are critical to the team’s success, particularly because of the club’s limited revenue streams.
“Those are important pieces to the stadium conversation,” Duffy told Insider Louisville after the press conference.
Louisville City FC is focusing on the current season to solidify both fan support and athletics success, she said, which are prerequisites of any discussions about the club’s long-term prospects.
“We know what we need to do,” Duffy said.
Saturday’s game ended in a scoreless draw, which extended LouCity FC’s regular season unbeaten streak to 14. The club remains in first place, but New York Red Bulls II, in second place, won over the weekend, and narrowed the the gap to four points. The standings also are a little skewed, as NYRB II and Cincinnati each have played two games less than Louisville. With two victories, NYRB II would move into first place, and Cincinnati would be a mere one point behind Louisville.
LouCity FC’s home attendance figures may be hampered somewhat during the second half of the season because the team faces its most ardent rivals (NYRB II and Cincinnati) only on the road. However, the club still has four home games against teams in the top half of the Eastern Division: Charleston (July 9), Orlando (July 30), Rochester (Aug. 13) and Charlotte (Sept. 24.) You can get tickets for all home games here.
One more scheduling aspect that will help LouCity: NYRB II and Cincinnati still have to play each other. Twice.