Indy Eleven is adjusting to a new set of circumstances, and adjusting nicely. Despite a new venue and a new league, the club continues to thrive, with has even bigger plans for the future.
The club began play in 2014 and played their first three seasons at Carroll Stadium, home field for Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. The stadium held just over 10,500 for soccer, and the club sold out all home games during their inaugural season. The Eleven led NASL in attendance for three of its first four seasons, including last year, when they drew almost 9,000 fans per game. It was a flying start for a new franchise-one that is the envy of any soccer start-up.
With the NASL’s decline, however, the club shifted leagues and began play in USL for the 2018 season. Not only did the club have to prepare for a new slate of teams, they also took the opportunity to upgrade stadiums, striking a deal to play home games in Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL Indianapolis Colts.
According Indy Eleven club President Jeff Belskus, the club is happy to be part of USL. He suggested that the league is bigger and stronger than NASL was, with more resources.
“It also creates some nice regional rivalries with other clubs in the Midwest” — like Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville and Pittsburgh — “in the NASL, we didn’t have that.” Belskus said that the rivalries were good for ticket sales, and for fans who want to travel to away games.
Belskus also lauded the great facilities at Lucas Oil Stadium. “We’re very pleased to play in one of the finest sports facilities in the country in terms of amenities and fan experience,” he said. The club is staffing and selling the lower bowl, which has a capacity around 16,000, and thus far have averaged 10,340 fans per game, a significant increase over last year.
The team is, however, struggling somewhat with the NFL stadium share model. Belskus calls the situation “less than ideal… since the stadium was built for a different capacity and a different game than the one we’re playing.” Also, unlike the NFL share model that works in other markets — Seattle, Foxborough and, most notably, Atlanta — the ownership of the two teams is different, which he suggests makes it “more challenging.” The team has a “great relationship” with the Colts, even sharing their practice facility at Grand Park for the Colts training camp, but the NFL stadium model is not what they are pursuing.
Instead, the club hopes to build a 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in downtown Indianapolis. The stadium was a part of the club’s MLS bid proposal, and still represents its future hopes. According to Belskus, the club has identified a perfect downtown location, which he believes is key to the project, but the specifics have yet to be negotiated. A website details the club’s vision and includes renderings of the potential project. The project has yet to find public or private financing.
With a new league and new stadium, these are exciting times for Indy Eleven. As one of only four teams with average attendance over 10,000 in USL, with room for growth in Lucas Oil Stadium and plans for a new downtown stadium down the road, the future looks very bright.