The Louisville soccer club plans to play three more seasons, through 2019, at Slugger Field before it wants to move into its own stadium, the club’s president told IL.
Louisville City FC is enjoying success on and off the field in its second season, club President Amanda Duffy said.
But with the club’s future likely hinging on its ability to build its own stadium, LouCity also finds itself at a crossroads.
The team is on a four-game winning streak and has secured the second spot in the Eastern Division standings — even before the final regular season game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Slugger.
Second place means LouCity FC will get to host a playoff game, at 7 p.m. Oct. 2. A victory against the seventh seed would mean another home playoff game, possibly against River City rival FC Cincinnati. That matchup brought the Louisville club the biggest attendance of the year on June 25, at 10,003.
At the same time, she said the team’s leaders believe the team has the quality and depth to compete for the championship. A deeper roster has allowed the team to compensate for player injuries and increased the team’s flexibility, she said.
Regular season per-game attendance this year has increased 5.6 percent, to 7,141. That ranks third in the third-division United Soccer League. Based on advanced sales, the club expects to host more than 8,000 fans Saturday, on Fan Appreciation Day, which will boost this season’s total home attendance above 100,000.
The club is still welcoming some first-time fans, which is a good sign, Duffy said. The club also is still learning how to arrange its schedule around other events in the city to maximize fan support.
She declined to talk about specifics and would not say whether the club is profitable — though the former chairman, Wayne Estopinal, has said the club is projected to lose about $1.5 million this year.
All three revenue drivers — tickets, advertising, merchandise — “continue to move in a positive direction,” Duffy said.
But as the second season is nearing its end, the club also is intensifying its pursuit of building its own stadium. The project would lift the club’s revenue, primarily because of greater advertising opportunities, but it also may become a prerequisite to being allowed to remain in the league.
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.” The USL would not tell IL whether a team that does not have a soccer-specific stadium — or at least one under construction — by the end of the decade would lose its USL franchise.
Louisville City FC is getting some government support for its bid to grow its presence. The city of Louisville this year paid for a $75,000 study the feasibility of a soccer specific stadium. Consultants said a 10,000-seat soccer stadium in Louisville could cost $30 million to $50 million. Consultants studied sites including downtown, but the city has declined to provide details to prevent land speculation.
While generally supportive of the club, Mayor Greg Fischer said that “a significant portion” of the stadium funding would have to come from the private sector.
In announcing venture capitalist John Neace as its new chairman on Thursday, the club signaled that the stadium construction is at the top of its to-do list. The club said Neace “can focus a significant amount of time on what is and will be a laborious process in identifying the site, funding mechanisms and execution of this project.”
Duffy told IL Friday that while a lot of work remains, building a stadium — and soon — is vital to the club’s future.
“It’s going to be the focus going forward,” she said. “This is the highest priority.”
Estopinal told IL Friday that he was surprised about the owners asking him this summer to reduce his role, but he remains the club’s largest individual investor.
He said he was told that as the club pursues building its own stadium, it needed to work closely with the city, and some of the owners felt that he was an “irritant” to the city.
Estopinal said that surprised him, because the club has been a tremendous success so far and he was working toward getting a stadium built.
Estopinal said is scheduled to meet with Neace soon to talk about his future role with LouCity FC.
He said he thinks the world of the coaching staff, players, fans and front office staff and will support the team in any way he can.
“How can you not,” he said. “They’re a great team.”