Community

A multi-month, taxpayer-funded study has determined that the future of professional soccer in Louisville depends on the construction of a soccer-specific stadium.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called for the review last year, after the inaugural season of the city’s minor league pro team, Louisville City FC. It has confirmed what the team and some city officials said earlier this year.

In a news release on Thursday, team president Amanda Duffy said, “We are thrilled this study confirms the support, steps and feasibility for a soccer-specific stadium in Louisville.”

The study cost about $75,000 and was conducted by the firm Convention, Sports and Leisure. It calls for a 10,000-seat soccer stadium to be built in Louisville by 2020. The study does not cite specific locations for potential stadium construction, though city officials said in January the firm would examine four such locations.

A stadium would likely cost between $30 million and $50 million, according to the study.

“Historically, the development of soccer-specific stadiums has generally involved varying degrees of public-private partnerships,” the study says.

Public support could come from tax increment financing, public grants or federal tax credits.

The study outlines a series of hypothetical funding plans, which include up to $18 million of the construction cost coming from the city’s general fund. The analysts stressed that the more private investments the stadium gets, the higher its chance for long-term sustainability.

“The more private funding sources that can be used by the team to offset operating expenses, the higher the likelihood of sustainable success over the life of the stadium,” the study states.

The study cites a number of factors supporting the call for a stadium. Most notably, perhaps, is that the United Soccer League, along with the top-tier Major League Soccer, has a goal of getting each franchise team in their own stadium by 2020.

“In order to achieve financial stability,” the study states.

Wayne Estopinal, Louisville City FC chairman, has repeatedly said the team’s current stadium agreement, in which it plays home games at Slugger Field, is too costly to be sustainable. The study backs that up. It also says more than half of the league’s teams currently play in their own stadiums.

Analysts found the current conditions here cause the soccer team to incur a “sizeable operating loss” and limit the team’s ability to schedule home matches, which “results in higher than normal game-day costs due to the conversion of the field between baseball and soccer.”

“While Louisville Slugger Field has been a good first home for professional soccer, we must remain competitive, and sharing fields is not sustainable,” said Fischer in a news release on Thursday.

The team netted a $700,000 loss during its inaugural 2015 season, according to the study.

That loss came despite the team’s ability to draw the league’s second-highest game attendance average, the study found. The report goes on to say that a stadium is critical if Louisville wants to one day become a member of Major League Soccer.

“Many community leaders believe [Major League Soccer] is Louisville’s most realistic opportunity at landing a major professional sports franchise,” the study states.

The league is expected to add four teams in 2020, and nearly a dozen other cities have expressed interest in joining the following round of expansions, including Indianapolis and Charlotte, the study notes.

In a news release Thursday, city officials said the final decision to build a soccer-specific stadium would include more dialogue and public discussion with partners, including the Metro Council, LCFC and the public.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.