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NWSL will expand to Louisville in 2021

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Louisville would make 11 teams total by 2021.

The National Women’s Soccer League will add an expansion team in Louisville, Kentucky in 2021, the league announced today. In a press release sent by the league, the team will be operated by Louisville City Football Club ownership group Soccer Holdings, LLC under the management of LCFC president Brad Estes.

John Neace, Charmain of Soccer Holdings, LLC said via the release, “As an owner, we jumped at the chance to join this exciting league. The athleticism in the NWSL is second to none while attendance is growing. This is a sound business decision as we complete the new soccer-only stadium and expand the entertainment district around it.”

Louisville has been host to USL team Louisville City FC since 2015. The club is building a soccer-specific stadium in the city which is certainly becoming one of the major criteria for NWSL expansion. The men’s and women’s first teams being the most important tenants at a stadium owned by the club is a money- and time-saver. $65 million, 14,000 seat Lynn Family stadium will be ready for 2020 but team co-owner Mike Mountjoy called being ready for 2020 “a stretch” in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Estes said during the team’s livestream announcement that the team would not be entering NWSL without the stadium, and that with five locker rooms already incorporated into the structure, they would not need to alter it significantly in order to accommodate having a women’s team as well.

Estes also said during the livestream that the team is planning to build a training center that will host the men and women, a move that NWSL president Amanda Duffy said was part of the consideration the league’s board of governors gave to a Louisville expansion. Duffy also cited the team’s stadium being ready for 2020 and their existing fan support.

Louisville City FC has had good average attendance over the past couple of years, getting 8,792 fans per game in 2017. Men’s attendance doesn’t necessarily translate to women’s attendance, but it’s a signal that the team knows how to build an audience in their market, and will hopefully be able to adopt some of those best practices while tailoring their approach to the strengths of their women’s team.

Estes said the team will work with local advertising agency Doe-Anderson on marketing the team, doing focus groups, soliciting feedback, and testing ideas. Pointing out, “I know what I don’t know,” Estes also said that one of their first priorities is hiring a general manager who knows the ins and outs of the women’s game. He and the club will have 18 months to field a competitive team, and according to Estes, the women will have a separate technical staff.

Louisville will announce team logo, crest, and colors (note: LCFC plays in purple and gold) later this year, followed by the expansion draft for the 2021 season in late 2020.

NWSL will likely have a 2020 expansion team, though, as they have plans to expand in Sacramento, adding to their west coast clubs. The franchise would go to Sacramento Republic, according to the Equalizer, whose men’s team has jumped from USL to MLS.

League expansion is generally a good sign, as it signals both the health of the league and its attractiveness to investors. Operating in more markets nationwide also makes the league more attractive for TV deals, and for 2020 at least having an even number of teams will make the schedule a little easier to balance. In 2021, it remains to be seen if the league will be at 11 teams or if they’ll bring on two in one season to balance it out at 12. If not, it’s not unreasonable to think another expansion team will join in 2022. After some painful team contractions papered over by new teams essentially acquiring old ones, the league is growing again instead of trying to maintain homeostasis, and that’s a very good sign for the future.