Report: Louisville among best U.S. markets to host a pro sports team

Report: Louisville among best U.S. markets to host a pro sports team
The KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's a very short list that this basketball-crazy city wants to be on in a very big way.

Louisville, keeping fans busy with big-time college sports and horse racing for about 10 months out of the year, is ready to "host a major league franchise," according to a recent study just released.

A study of minor league sports cities ranks Louisville as number two in the nation with the major league potential to host an NBA team.

Commissioned by the mayor of Richmond to study that city's major league sport potential, the consulting firm Hunden Strategic Partners looked at market size, wealth, population growth and other factors.

When it came to hosting a major league franchise, Louisville ranked 2nd behind Austin, Texas. The top five are listed below:

1. Austin
2. Louisville 
3. Norfolk/Virginia Beach
4. Richmond 
5. Birmingham

Louisville also checked in at No. 4 on the list of cities most ready to host an NBA team. The Derby City has been trying to lure an NBA team for many years.

1. Seattle 
2. San Diego 
3. Vancouver 
4. Louisville 
5. Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Richmond

Hunden Strategic Partners President and CEO Rob Hunden compares Louisville to Oklahoma City and its support for the NBA.

"If NBA was the only game in town from a professional sports franchise, like Oklahoma City, they support the heck out of that team and they've done really well. Who would have thought 10 years before they got their team that they would have one and do so well? And yet they are," Hunden said. "(Oklahoma City has) all those eyeballs and attention and positive city spirit focused on that. And we think that could be the case for Louisville."

Hunden said Louisville's love for the Cards actually counted against it in the rankings. A pro team would be fighting for fan loyalty and the dollars that come with it.

"But even so," Hunden said, "the great college program that you have, you still rank number two behind Austin for the ability to support certainly an NBA team."

The economics considered in the study also determined Louisville could support an NFL franchise. But its proximity to other NFL cities makes that a long shot.

One big surprise in the study showed Louisville wasn't on the map at all for a Major League Soccer franchise, in spite of local enthusiasm and investment in a brand new stadium.

These are the cities that made that top five:

1. Phoenix 
2. San Diego 
3. Raleigh-Durham 
4. San Antonio 
5. TIE: Indianapolis, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Charlotte

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