Louisville City is interested in a MLS bid. Here's what that would look like.

31 July 2019 - Jeremy Chisenhall (Insider Louisville)

By this time next year, Louisville City FC will have a new home, as the two-time United Soccer League Champions will move out of Louisville Slugger Field and into an 11,300-seat stadium in Butchertown.

There are a number of motives for the construction of the Butchertown stadium, one being that the USL will require each of its clubs to have a self-owned soccer-specific stadium by 2020. That requirement provides necessity for the stadium, but one other impetus could be at play — a move to Major League Soccer.

The Mayor’s office confirmed with Insider Tuesday that the city has been speaking with MLS in coordination with Louisville City FC to try to attract MLS to Louisville.

“We’ve been in contact with Major League Soccer, in coordination with the Louisville City Football Club,” said Jean Porter, director of communications for the Mayor’s Office. “The mayor is a huge fan of LCFC and is supportive of the idea of bringing MLS to Louisville.

“From the team’s success to the exciting plan to open a new stadium in 2020, we continue embracing the growing demand for soccer in our city, as part of an overall effort to build on our already vibrant arts, sports and entertainment scene.”

The Courier Journal reported in December that the city had been speaking with MLS to see what Louisville needed to do to put itself in a place to be an expansion candidate.

The team told Insider that its current focus was on its immediate future in USL for the time being.

“Our primary focus as a club is to complete our soccer-specific stadium in Butchertown,” team President Brad Estes said in a statement. “We want to focus on building our stadium and filling it up with our fans. We will evaluate a possible move to MLS in the future if it makes sense, but our focus as a club is on our immediate future.”

Louisville does not have a professional sports team that competes at the top tier in its respective sport in America.


The structure of American soccer leagues are far different than that of soccer leagues around the world. Leagues in Europe are often structured into multiple divisions, and teams that finish at the bottom of their division are demoted to the division below them, while teams that finish at the top of their division are promoted to the next division above them. Promotion and demotion is entirely based on quality of play.

In America, there is no promotion or demotion system. MLS teams are entirely determined by league officials, and that often results in money being the driving factor when the league considers expansion teams. This includes the depth of pockets for the owners, and the success of the club as a business.

“Having a team that does well indicates that the team is well-run, which is a good sign, and obviously it helps with attendance,” Ilyas said. “I think the business side of it is more important, unfortunately.”

And there’s a high price to pay as a club if you’re accepted into the league. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in April that the expansion fees for the next two members of MLS would be $200 million.

“You want to have a billion dollars, if you can, between who owns your team,” Ilyas said. “It’s really kind of an exclusive party in that way.”

Louisville City’s initially released ownership team featured 47 members, and included owners and CEOs from businesses all over the area, as well as University of Louisville Athletic Director Vince Tyra, according to a the Courier Journal.

Much of the money is already being poured into the team for the stadium build. The Butchertown stadium will have a total price tag of $65 million, and $50 million of that has been financed.

A move to MLS would require renovations to be made to the Butchertown stadium to meet MLS standards. CSL’s study projected that an MLS-specific stadium would cost $125 million — a $60 million increase over the cost of the Butchertown stadium. Add that onto the expansion fee of $200 million — which is likely to increase, Ilyas said — and LouCity is looking at a $260 million-plus bill to get into the league.

As the costs of this move rise, the payoff isn’t guaranteed. LouCity would be in a league with much stronger competition, and would see a drop in its win/loss success. However, the team would provide more value to its fans by having better opponents. This could have an immediate payoff, according to economist Mike Clark, the associate director of the Center for Business and Academic Research at the University of Kentucky.

“The idea is as you move up into this higher level of competition, there are more fans that are interested and may be willing to pay a higher price to get into those games, and so there is value there,” Clark said.

Nonetheless, this would still be a gamble, observers said. Leaving a league that LouCity has had so much success in could lead to some tumultuous times in terms of performance. FC Cincinnati had the best record in the USL last year, but its first season in MLS has resulted in the worst performance in the league through 23 matches.

“They’re making an investment with the idea that they’re going to have these long-term rewards, but there is some uncertainty there,” Clark said.

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