Louisville City FC Being Courted By Another Town, Franchise Chairman Says

Updated 4:37 p.m.: Mayor, Soccer Team ‘In Unison’ on Goals

Louisville City FC Chairman Wayne Estopinal said the meeting Monday with Mayor Greg Fischer went “incredibly well.”

“He’s very much in unison with us on where our goals are here in Louisville, nowhere else,” he said. Estopinal and a spokesman for the mayor declined to say if the city has offered to financially support the development of a standalone soccer stadium.

Earlier: Leaders of Louisville’s minor league soccer franchise meet Monday with Mayor Greg Fischer to discuss the team’s future in the city.

But there’s at least a chance there won’t be one.

Louisville City FC Chairman Wayne Estopinal said in an interview Monday that another city is courting the franchise, which is in the final stretch of its inaugural season in Louisville.

“I don’t think that’s in the best interest of anybody right now,” Estopinal said of relocation.

But he said he isn’t dismissing the option.

The franchise leaders’ meeting Monday with Fischer comes amid tension with the Louisville Bats.

Both teams play in Louisville Slugger Field, but Estopinal has repeatedly said Louisville City FC will eventually need its own stadium. Estopinal said he expects that to be a part of the discussion Monday with the mayor.

Attendance for Louisville City matches at Slugger Field has topped expectations, but Estopinal said the franchise doesn’t generate enough revenue to ensure a sustainable future in the city. Estopinal said relocation of the United Soccer League franchise may make more financial sense than the current situation in Louisville.

Estopinal declined to say what city is showing interest in Louisville City FC, citing a non-disclosure agreement between that city and Major League Soccer, which is involved in the process.

He said the team’s agreement with the Louisville Bats to play home games at Slugger Field is the root of his concerns.

“The costs of holding games at Slugger Field are exceptionally high,” Estopinal said.

He said he’s found four feasible sites in Louisville with the needed 20 acres for a soccer-specific stadium. He said several funding options are possible, but he declined to discuss them in detail, including whether they’d require financial support from the city.

Gary Ulmer, president and chief executive of the Louisville Bats, said the soccer team needs to do what’s in its own best interest.

“Whether that’s stay here, whether that’s find a new facility to play in — hopefully they would not move,” Ulmer said. “I believe they are committed to make things work in Louisville, primary through a standalone soccer facility.”

Revenue for the soccer team comes from just two direct sources: parking and ticket sales. About 37 percent of concession sales — or about $500,000 in annual revenue — go to the Bats under the agreement, Estopinal said.

“It’s not a model that’s sustainable in this industry,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Louisville City’s ownership team invested an additional $750,000 in the soccer team, bringing the total investment to $4 million this year, Estopinal said.

He said he isn’t actively looking to relocate, but doing so would be fairly easy. The team would be required to pay off the remainder of its lease with the Bats organization — a total of nearly $250,000, Estopinal said.

“It’s a whole lot less than what playing at Slugger cost us this year,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesman for Fischer said: “The mayor is very supportive of the soccer team – not only as mayor, but also as a fan who has attended most every home game. We are confident that any issues with the Slugger Field lease can be worked through.”

The statement did not address a question from WFPL News about whether Fischer would support a standalone stadium for Louisville City FC. The team relocated here from Orlando, which had been awarded a Major League Soccer franchise.

For years, sports franchises have cited the potential of relocating while seeking municipal support for better facilities. Marketplace recently reported that the benefits of such public investment depend on the details of the agreement:

When a government pours money into a sports venue, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s a subsidy or an investment, Mark Rosentraub, sport management professor at the University of Michigan, says. …

Rosentraub says if the arena anchors a bigger redevelopment plan, that’s when it tends to make a city money. But arenas alone don’t equal jobs and new businesses, especially in a quiet city like Milwaukee, according to Andrew Zimbalist, economics professor at Smith College.

(Featured image caption: Wayne Estopinal in 2014 announcing the team’s move to Louisville. Credit: Alix Mattingly)

Jacob Ryan

Jacob Ryan is the Urban Affairs reporter for WFPL.

@jacobhryan

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