A 10,000-seat soccer stadium in Louisville could cost between $30 million and $50 million, according to a city-funded study released Thursday evening.
Louisville City FC, which plays at Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats, wants a new home to generate more revenues and to enable it to eventually move from the third division United Soccer League into the first division. The city has expressed interest in supporting the project.
Mayor Greg Fischer said in a press release that a vibrant sports sector is important, but “a significant portion” of the funding would have to come from the private sector.
The release did not disclose how much the city would be willing to pay, though the study, from Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, showed that the public share of the cost of five similar projects averaged 50 percent — though some stadiums were paid completely with public funds, while others were supported totally by private dollars.
The city in January agreed to pay $75,000 to study the feasibility of constructing a new stadium in four potential areas, including downtown Louisville.
The city today declined to disclose any of the sites that are being considered because “that information likely would lead to land speculation that could ultimately cost the city (and the taxpayers) more money.”
Team officials have told IL that the lack of a soccer-specific stadium could compromise the club’s long-term viability. 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.
Last year, in its first season, the club attracted about 6,700 spectators per home game, second-best in the league, according to the team. Through the first 10 home games this year, the team has drawn an average of 7,300 spectators to Slugger Field, up about 9,000 for the year, or 14.4 percent compared to the inaugural season.
The team’s athletic success, too, has carried over from the first year, in which it reached the Eastern Conference Finals. More than two-thirds of the way through this season, LouCity FC ranks second place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind New York Red Bulls II, and two points ahead of River City Cup rival FC Cincinnati, which has drawn in excess of 20,000 fans to its home games.
The stadium also is critical to the team owners’ goal of eventually having Louisville City FC play Major League Soccer. But even if the club remains in a lower division, it eventually will need its own stadium. The USL has said it wants all of its clubs to be owners or primary tenants of soccer-specific stadiums by 2020.
Fischer said that while Slugger has been a good first home, the city “must remain competitive, and sharing fields is not sustainable.”
“Louisville City Football Club is off to a great start, and we must embrace the growing demand for soccer in our city and strategically prepare for long-term growth,” Fischer said.
“Having a vibrant arts, sports, entertainment and recreational activities is a core strategy for any competitive city,” the mayor added.
Club President Amanda Duffy said in the release that the club looks forward to working with government and civic leaders “to take the next steps as recommended by this study.”
The study suggested that a new stadium would create nearly 2,200 new jobs with average wages of about $44,000 and generate new tax revenues of nearly $2.7 million from construction and 20 years of operations.
However, a University of Louisville economics professor has told IL that the economic benefit of sports venues — or rather, a lack thereof — is clear: “Several independent studies have found no statistically significant positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development,” said Jose Fernandez, associate professor of economics at the University of Louisville.
The study also indicates that the cost to move from the USL to MLS, including expansion fees and stadium costs, could exceed $200 million.
The city said the final decision to build a stadium “will require much more dialogue and public discussion.”