Louisville City: Does Louisville Have the Chops for MLS?

I listen to Louisville’s local ESPN radio affiliate nearly every day. I listen to John Ramsey and Drew Deener in the morning on my way to work and school, and to Jason Anderson, Andy Sweeney, and Bob Valvano (the brother of the late Jimmy V) on my late afternoon rides home. They’re an enjoyable group of guys to listen to. They talk sports in a reasonable and entertaining way, bereft of much of the cliched gimmickry that sports talk radio often loathfully leans on.

They talk college football and basketball mostly, and not terribly much else. This is Louisville, after all, the self-proclaimed “Best College Sports Town in America.” It’s not something they really need to defend, frankly. They know their audience.

You know what I’ve never heard them talk about? Soccer.

Save for ESPN’s national radio coverage of the World Cup and a small mention of the most recent FIFA investigation of Qatar’s World Cup bid, soccer isn’t something that often finds itself on the airways of ESPN 680.

Like I said, they know their audience.

Of course, I’m not saying soccer doesn’t have an audience here. Soccer’s profile in Louisville is much the same as its profile throughout the country as the sport of the under-30 age bracket, home to the American sports hipster. While soccer doesn’t get much mainstream notice, Louisville has its own robust chapter of the American Outlaws, as well as supporters groups for Manchester United and Arsenal, among others. To speak more concretely of Louisville’s soccer support, the University of Louisville boasts a strong soccer program (including a shiny new stadium) which has produced the likes of Nick DeLeon of DC United and Andrew Farrell of the New England Revolution. Louisville City itself has sold around 2,000 season tickets, and it’s only November. Come next March, they could have double that number. And maybe they will reach their stated goal of averaging 7,000 fans each home game. Hopefully they will.

But what will it take to grab the attention of MLS? Louisville City FC’s principal owner, Wayne Estopinal, has publicly stated his intention to get Louisville into the MLS expansion discussion as soon as 2020. Does Louisville have the soccer appetite to make it happen?

There are several built-in obstacles between Louisville and MLS, namely market size. Louisville is the 49th Nielsen television market, and lags far behind each MLS market (although it’s only eight spots behind expansion hopeful Las Vegas). Furthermore, when national interest in soccer was at its apex, Louisville’s World Cup television ratings were far less than impressive. Louisville was measured as the 54th highest of 56 markets for the USA’s opening match against Ghana and, although the numbers would increase for subsequent USA matches, was only tied for the 41st highest rated World Cup market for all matches, as of June 27.

However, there is some hope for Louisville’s MLS future. Despite its relative market size, Louisville does stand out in one niche in the sports media landscape. For 12 years running, Louisville has led the country in average television ratings for college basketball, and it’s not very close. Last season, Louisville averaged a 4.5 rating on ESPN’s college basketball telecasts, while the second highest market came in at 2.8.

Could Louisville eventually support soccer with the fervor it does college basketball? Soccer might well be Louisville’s most likely avenue towards fulfilling its major league dreams. The city has been chasing an NBA franchise since the Kentucky Colonels folded, along with the rest of the ABA; in 1976, and it has yet to succeed. Can soccer fill the void? MLS is certainly more expansion-friendly than its basketball playing counterpart league. If Louisville can transform itself into a soccer hotbed, it well could. Time will tell.

Maybe one morning soon my car radio might surprise me, with some soccer talk. Then I will know that the sport will have moved the needle here, if only a little.

What do you think? Can Louisville City follow in Orlando and Sacramento’s footsteps of instant USL success?

This week’s LCFC News and Notes:

  • As mentioned last week, Louisville City held its first real soccer event as a club, in the form of tryouts. The club has been mum on news of player acquisitions coming out of last weekend’s run out, but one would suspect that there will be news soon. WDRB’s Dalton Main summed up the events in his recap, complete with video of the coach, James O’Connor. You can find that here.
  • Do you like Sepp Blatter? No? Me neither. Does anyone? I doubt it. Louisville City’s President Djorn Buchholz has (un)officially thrown his hat in the ring for a future FIFA presidency. You can support the tongue-in-cheek campaign on its Facebook page, here.
  • Louisville has added to its front office team by hiring a communications person. The position will begin work on Dec. 1, and you can expect an announcement soon.
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One thought on “Louisville City: Does Louisville Have the Chops for MLS?”

  1. Louisville is comparable in DMA size to Memphis (NBA) and Jacksonville (NFL). And Buffalo, #52, has TWO teams. They can definitely support one major-league team. And if they can make waves the same way Sacramento is doing, they could quite possibly sneak in.

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