Long rumored and oft-discussed on Reddit, AL.com confirmed today that Birmingham will have a USL franchise beginning play in 2019. An official announcement is coming this afternoon at 5pm at a local brewery.
USL currently sits at 30 teams, with Nashville and Fresno having been announced to begin play in 2018. It is expected that Las Vegas will have their own team unveiling for 2018, also, while Memphis and Baltimore may yet be announced for 2019.
Moves like this one illustrate USL’s broader strategy of establishing themselves in cities or markets (I hate to use that term in sports, but there you are) that are a cut below traditional, big-league sports cities like New York, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and the like. As the startup costs for a USL team are several orders of magnitude less than an MLS team, moneyed owners in smaller cities likely find the chance to own a professional sports team enticing, especially when there is little to no nearby competition for live sports entertainment dollars.
From a Louisville City perspective, this adds a city to a possible road trip rotation that will soon include St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Nashville. Birmingham is only a five hour drive from the Falls City, and is an up-and-coming southern city in its own right. I don’t know what there is to do there aside from play golf, but I’m sure they have a Chili’s or something.
As far as the team itself, we don’t yet know if they’ll be affiliated with NPSL’s Birmingham Hammers, minor league baseball’s Birmingham Barons, Alabama FC of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, a combination of any of those three, or none of them at all. The Hammers have some pretty nice intellectual property in the form of their name and images, but they’re a crap organization if Reddit is to be believed. The Barons and Alabama FC are reputedly much better run organizations.
In any event, more soccer is good. Bring on Birmingham.