Don’t Get Excited Yet About Pro Football League’s Interest In Louisville

A group of investors is looking to reinvent the once-fledgling United States Football League, and they have their eyes on Louisville as a home team city.

The league would likely launch with eight teams and is billed as a potential developmental program for the National Football League, like the minor leagues are for baseball.

Earlier this week, Louisville Business First reported the league’s president is pulling for a team to be established in Louisville.

Jim Bailey, the league’s president, said in an interview with WFPL that he thinks Louisville is ripe for a pro football team. He said the city is already a strong football town, pointing to the success and support of high school teams and the University of Louisville.

And the city’s lack of major league sports also makes it more appealing, because the Louisville franchise wouldn’t have as much competition for fans, Bailey said.

But, despite the interest, there’s no need to start making tailgating plans for opening day any time soon.

For starters, league officials have yet to reach out to city leaders about bringing a team to town, said Karl Schmitt, president of the Louisville Sports Commission.

USFL president Bailey acknowledges this. He said league officials are waiting until they secure funding before approaching cities or making promises about franchises. He couldn’t provide any timeline as to how long it could take to secure the approximately $500 million needed to support the league.

Additionally, the city lacks a facility a pro football team could play in, Schmitt said.

“We don’t have one of those in-between-type stadiums,” he said. “We go from high school stadiums to Papa John’s (Cardinal Stadium).”

Bailey said he’s not worried about that right now.

“We don’t want to preclude a good market for us because there might not be ideal stadiums for us,” he said.

League officials are also not averse to erecting a temporary modular stadium — “at least temporarily,” he said.

These kinds of stadiums are “very popular in Europe right now,” Bailey added.

The league’s season would be in the spring, unlike the NFL, which plays in the fall and winter. Bailey said he’s confident there’s a national demand for football in the spring months, but that a spring season may pose a challenge in Louisville.

“Can people in Louisville embrace a football product in the spring where there’s not built-in affinity for it?” he said.

Affinity could be built, he added, by filling team rosters with players who attended local high schools or colleges. “But even that is a stretch,” he said.

The USFL is considering Louisville as the city examines the feasibility of a standalone soccer stadium for minor league franchise Louisville City FC. It’s unclear how much local investment would be needed for the prospective USFL team. The franchises will be owned by the league, Bailey said.

As for a corporate market to help back the league, a 2013 report from Greater Louisville Inc. found the city lacked the business depth to host a National Basketball Association team. But that’s a major league sport. It’s unclear how that applies to developmental league football, and Bailey said he believes there is an ample supply of potential corporate supports in Louisville.

Metro Council President David Tandy said the idea of a United States Football League team coming to Louisville is intriguing.

“There is a potential for a league like this to possibly succeed in a city like Louisville,” said Tandy, who played football in college. Tandy said also he believes spring football could be successful in Louisville.

Still, there’s a long road ahead before kickoff in Louisville — if there ever is one, said Schmitt, of the Louisville Sports Commission.

“Making it work in Louisville would be another incredible challenge,” Schmitt said.

Jacob Ryan

Jacob Ryan is the Urban Affairs reporter for WFPL.