Two of the most popular soccer teams in the world — F.C. Inter Milan and Chelsea F.C. — will faceoff at Lucas Oil Stadium on Aug. 1.
Local promotional partners — including the city's new pro soccer team, Indy Eleven, Visit Indy and Marion County's Capital Improvement Board (the stadium owner) —met with the news media Wednesday on the field of the stadium to make the announcement that the Guinness International Champions Cup will play a first-round match of its premiere club tournament in Indianapolis.
The Lucas Oil field itself, festooned with a regulation-sized goal set atop a fresh layer of sod courtesy of Prairie Creek Sod Farm in Lebanon, hinted at its impending metamorphosis. Of all the events the stadium has hosted so far, organizers said live grass — which the world's top clubs demand — and a soccer goal represent virgin territory for the pigskin palace.
The announcement served as a monumental cap to the one-year anniversary of Indy Eleven President Peter Wilt's arrival in town to formalize discussions with the team's owner, local developer Ersal Ozdemir, about the possibility of bringing a pro soccer team to Indy.
"This city has been called a sports capital — earned over the years ..." Wilt said. "In the past year, we've made it a soccer capital. Not just because of Indy Eleven, but what has happened before in Bloomington — the Hoosiers with eight national championships - and with youth soccer."
On Tuesday, the Indiana Soccer Association, a nonprofit that boosts the sport at all levels throughout the state, and Indy Eleven announced a "comprehensive partnership" to further develop local soccer culture at all levels of the sport. The collaboration, which involves mutual promotion of each group's efforts to promote the sport, is "unprecedented in American soccer," Wilt said.
Combining local pro soccer with youth soccer will enable young players "to see what that brass ring is," added Steve Franklin, director of coaching education for Indiana Soccer. As this enriched environment enables opportunities for youth development, programs at local colleges and universities will benefit, as will Indy Eleven, Franklin explained. Where talented players routinely leave the state to pursue top-level careers, "now you'll be able to keep it at home," he said.
Indiana Soccer estimates its active membership base at more than 56,000 youth players, 3,000 adult players, 8,000 active coaches, 3,800 referees and thousands of volunteers representing more than 130 clubs statewide.
As additional confirmation of the growing enthusiasm for local professional soccer, the Brickyard Battalion fan club marked the serendipitous milestone this week of registering its 1,111th member.
The efforts of the Battalion on behalf of pro soccer in Indy cannot be over-emphasized. Years before Ozdemir and Wilt began to build Indy Eleven, Battalion members had a Facebook page with thousands of friends rallying support for a fantasy Indy pro team, which they hoped would gain enough traction to materialize as reality. They called the team Racing F.C. and would poll the community on topics such as uniform design and other aspects of planning the team's identity. Then one day Wilt, who along with Ozdemir had been keeping an eye on Racing F.C.'s growing support, called the group's co-founder, Derek Richey (who NUVO members may remember as the front man for the band Brando), and said, "Let's go have a beer and talk about bringing pro soccer to Indy."
Richey and his cohort, Gabe Peters, attended Wednesday's event.
"It's not like any sport in the U.S.," Richey said. "It's like a culture. It's something you just live." The Battalion, he added, has "become a family, living that together. It's a brotherhood and — as we have many female members — a sisterhood."
Battalion membership is free and offers benefits, such as discounted meals, at soccer-loving establishments all over town. At watch parties and in planning sessions, members talk about the chants and antics they will unveil to support Indy Eleven when the team takes the field next year.
At Wednesday's event Peter O'Scnaill of High Performance Soccer in Anderson talked with Richey and Corbit after the press conference about ideas for anthems.
"Go to Youtube and listen to 60,000 Liverpool fans sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone,'" he suggested to this reporter when asked for a demonstration.
Though pleased with the progress of Indy Eleven season ticket sales "with 10 months to go before we kick a soccer ball," Wilt said he hopes to double those commitments before the team's inaugural game next season Downtown at IUPUI's Carroll Stadium.
As a reward to the more than 3,500 people who have stepped up to support the team, Indy Eleven arranged for those who have made season ticket commitments (a $25 deposit, with an additional $75 due when seat selections are made later this summer and the remaining balance due in February 2014) to have first dibs on the Inter Milan v. Chelsea tickets.
Beginning 10 a.m., May 31, fans from the Brickyard Battalion, Colts season ticket holders and affiliates of Indiana Soccer Association, Indiana Champions League and Indiana Sports Corp will join the pool of exclusive access.
Tickets go on sale to the general public June 4 at 10 p.m. through ticketmaster.com. They range from $30-$135 for regular seating. VIP hospitality tickets are $250.
"Soccer in this facility is just a dream," Barney Levengood, executive director of Marion County's Capital Improvement Board, said. Noting that FOX Soccer is set to broadcast the match to an international audience, Levengood added, "This is truly just a part of the buffet to bring (big) events" to Lucas Oil Stadium, and further the potential economic impact envisioned by "those that stood up to put funding in place for this building."The economic impact is estimated to be in the millions. This story will be updated when more detailed figures are provided. For now, Kwame Bryan, vice president of Relevent Sports, the match's national promoter, said he will "fight and claw" for a sell-out crowd.
"I'm so grateful for the faith they've shown in Indy Eleven and this community to host this event," Wilt said. "I'm pleased not just to bring it for the soccer fans, but for all of Indiana — to share with all of Indiana the world's game."*[Full disclosure: This reporter made her downpayment on season tickets, wears an Indy Eleven t-shirt and is already a card-carrying member of the Brickyard Battalion.]