By Braden Pelley
Nearly three years ago a new phenomenon swept through Indiana: Soccer Fever – and it hasn’t slowed down.
The Indy Eleven soccer club launched on Jan. 16, 2013 as part of the North American Soccer League and kicked off their legacy in the 2014 season.
The team calls IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium home – for now. Dreams of a new stadium in downtown Indy are still alive even though a bill that would have provided funding in the state’s two-year budget died earlier this year.
In their inaugural season, the Eleven sold out every single home game. The recently renovated stadium holds just more than 10,000 fans. Indy Eleven set a record for being the first American soccer team to sell out every home game during its first season.
“The capacity [of Carroll Stadium] is not sufficient, we sell out on a regular basis,” said Indy Eleven President and General Manager Peter Wilt. “It is important for any professional soccer team to have its own venue.”
During the 2015 legislative session a bill aimed at giving the team its own stadium flew through the House. In the Senate it was amended to instead provide $20 million to renovate Carroll Stadium.
Carroll Stadium underwent a multi-million dollar renovation prior to the team’s first season. The idea was to create a more soccer friendly environment. Suites were added closer to field level and 2,000 seats were added behind each goal.
Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, says he has not been in contact with team officials since the first bill for the new stadium died in the Senate in the 2015 session. He said the team would need to work with leaders of the legislature to push a new fiscal bill in the 2016 non-budget session.
“What the Indy Eleven has shown is a great enthusiasm for soccer in the city,” Huston said. “There is certainly a place for a midsize, multipurpose stadium in Indiana. It is essential and the Indy Eleven would be a great tenant for it.”
If a proposed bill for a new stadium arises when the legislature returns for session, the new stadium will have the city of Indianapolis and the fans in mind.
“We want the stadium to become an economic engine for the city,” said Wilt. “We are open-minded to a location but it would be critical for the stadium to be built downtown.”
Huston isn’t putting off all dreams of a new stadium. He said a midsize stadium in downtown Indy could benefit more than just the Indy Eleven and, ideally, it would be a venue built to host many events and organizations, such as the NCAA.
The next step for the Indy Eleven soccer club would be for the team to create a financial assessment to present to the legislature. This assessment would need to prove that a larger capacity stadium would create more revenue and be more beneficial to the team.
“Teams are a business and businesses run on revenue,” said Brickyard Battalion member and Indy Eleven season ticket holder William Sloane. “A bigger stadium means bigger gate receipts, which translates into better facilities for players and the ability to go out and buy better players.”
Carroll Stadium doesn’t house a functional kitchen on the grounds nor do the Eleven have any team merchandising locations permanently at the stadium. “The goal is to have the opportunity to create more revenue for the team and also for the city of Indianapolis,” Wilt said.
The team that set the record for selling out consecutive games in the North American Soccer League will have to wait on plans for a new stadium, but no matter where the team will play, the support for the boys in blue will remain strong.
“My favorite part of going to a game is the atmosphere,” Sloane said. “I’ll still be a season ticket holder, going to every home game, and sitting in the Battalion regardless, but I believe the consensus surrounding the organization is that a move is necessary and we will continue to press the issue with legislation.”
“It is important that any professional team have its own venue,” Wilt said. “It is important to control the environment for fans and players.”
Wilt said team officials are planning to approach the General Assembly again and will use the experience from this year to help make proposals and aid lawmakers in crafting future legislation.
For more information about the Indy Eleven visit IndyEleven.com. The next home game is on Aug. 19 against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Braden Pelley is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.