Friday, February 19, 2016

An Airport Stadium?

I wasn't planning on writing about this because it seems so speculative, but there was an article in today's Indy Star that was enough to push me to write. The article by John Tuohy, was titled "Developer wants to draw pro sports team to airport stadium" in the online edition, but was titled "If he builds it, will pro team come? in the paper edition. I'm going to pull from the online edition text as appropriate. Today's article was proceeded by an article yesterday titled "$500M sports medicine complex chosen for airport site".

The first article stated:
The developer, the Athlete's Business Network, said its development would employ 3,000 workers. Built on 130 acres south of Washington Street near High School Road, the complex would have five medical office buildings that specialize in sports performance, substance abuse sports medicine, and orthopedics and sports medical technology. The centerpiece, called the ABN Global Center for Brain Health, would focus on brain trauma.

Plans also call for two 250-room hotels and a 20,000-seat stadium. The project would be built in two phases.
Like I'm sure many Indy Eleven fans, the words "20,000-seat stadium" has become the de facto number of seats for soccer specific stadiums and so the words jumped off the screen at me. However, it's vagueness was enough for me to dismiss it as not worthy writing a post about it. The concept of a stadium at the airport isn't new. I even did two versions of it (again using the Chicago Fire's Toyota Park as my basis), but never discussed it because of the Indy Eleven's repeated desire to be in Downtown Indy. The first option I did had it located in the place of the old terminal, which is a location that the City and the Indianapolis Airport Authority would desperately like to have developed again.

Airport Option at the old Terminal site
The second option moved it to the other side of High School Road because of my perceived difficulties with placing a soccer stadium directly within the airfield.
Option across the High School Road, east of the old Terminal site
There is more space than the Eleven have indicated they would need, but it is close to transportation, is a part of town that the City would like to have look like more than a massive amount of concrete parking lot, and has available hotels in the immediate vicinity, making it a reasonably desirable site. Though, can you imagine spending two hours at the game and having a fly-over every 90 seconds?

One other clarification quickly, the first article and the subsequent articles refer to "developing the former terminal site at the Indianapolis International Airport." I don't believe that the developer has plans to develop the terminal site WEST of High School Road, when you look at the rendering provided in the article.
Rendering taken from Indy Star article
To me, that looks like the complex is being wedged between I-465 on the East and High School Road on the West. The right side of the rendering looks like the On/Off ramps for the Sam Jones Expressway.  Coincidentally (or not), the area between those two thoroughfares is 130 acres.

So I think the plan is more similar to my second alternative. The facility is being proposed by a developer, the Athlete's Business Network, in partnership with:
developers The Pataki-Cahill Group of New York; Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago; construction company The Hagerman Group of Indianapolis; real estate consultant Johnson Consulting of Chicago; investment bank Ziegler and global design firm Gensler of Houston.
Two of those are construction companies that are likely in frequent competition with Indy Eleven's owner Ersal Ozdemir's company, Keystone Construction. This piece by itself was enough for me to feel that this venture did not include the desires of the Indy Eleven, but was something that I would continue to watch progress to determine the realistic possibility of the stadium component to the complex.

I didn't expect that only a day later, more details would be provided that were even more confusing. While the first article didn't provide many details of a stadium, the follow-up article was much more explicit.
The developer of a $500 million medical complex on the site of the old Indianapolis International Airport terminal said he is talking with out-of-state professional sports organizations about moving to a stadium on the city's west side.

Included in Athletes Business Network Holdings’ plan for a five-building complex is a 20,000-seat stadium or arena to host entertainment and sports events year-round and be the home field/ice/court for a pro team.

ABN co-founder Craig Sanders said he has had serious talks with representatives of pro sports teams about locating at the new stadium.

“We are having very active discussions with sports organizations outside of Indiana, professional and amateur," Sanders said, though he declined to name which organizations.
There's a lot in that little segment that could be both good or bad for the Indy Eleven's hopes of getting their own stadium. First the bad. Is Sanders in discussion with another soccer team from any of the three higher tiers of American soccer, MLS, NASL, or USL? I limit it to those three tiers because I don't believe any teams in lower tiers have attendance figures that would necessitate a 20,000 seat stadium. If he has had those discussions, a privately funded stadium would certainly hamper the Indy Eleven's current legislative route of helping to pay for the stadium. The article implies that the stadium could be used by the Indy Eleven, but that isn't any more advantageous to the team than its current arrangement, where it would still be paying rent to play there and not be able to control the money that is made there for other events. Plus, it means a direct competitor for supporters.

The good news is that it would seem unlikely that an existing MLS team would relocate here because that would have made the rumors by now. It makes absolutely no sense for a NASL team to relocate here because there is already a team here and the NASL wouldn't expand in that fashion. So that leaves a USL team. A league that mandates that all teams have a soccer specific stadium by 2020. I'm sure if I dug deep enough, I could find a USL team unhappy with their current location, but enough that they would risk moving to a new city to directly compete for fans of an existing team? I don't think so. The Indy Eleven may have the highest attendance in the NASL, but I'm not convinced that it could support two professional soccer teams.

It just doesn't seem to make good business sense to build a stadium for a relocated soccer team in a city that already has a team. That extends further down the major professional sports market for Indianapolis.
NFL team? Check.
NBA team? Check.
WNBA team? Check.
Professional hockey? Check.
Professional baseball? Check.

Professional soccer?
Men's team? Check.
Women's team? Not checked. Could it be a NWSL team with the hopes of bringing in the Eleven as a partner to use the facilities. Possibly, but I don't see a team relocating within the league. A new team maybe, but I still think that an explicit partnership between the Indy Eleven and a NWSL team would be beneficial for both teams, not just them using the same facilities. I don't think those conversations have occurred based on the rest of the article (see text below).

Indianapolis loves sports and have built a reputation as such, but with the exception of possibly adding a women's soccer team, supporting multiple professional teams within the same sport/league seems a bit much.

Then the article went off the rails for me:
"but Sanders said he had not been in contact with team owner Ersal Ozdemir.
A spokesman for the Fuel could not be reached, but the minor league hockey team  is in a long-term agreement to play its home games at Indiana Farmers Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds. Likewise, baseball's minor league Indianapolis Indians recently signed a 20-year lease extension to stay at Victory Field Downtown.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Joe Hogsett said the mayor had no advance knowledge of the medical center plan or the sports stadium.

Barry Levengood, executive director of the Capital Improvement Board, which oversees the city-owned pro sports venues Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Victory Field, said that in his 25 years with the board, it never discussed getting another sports team.
Sanders said his stadium also could host top-level amateur events, such as the NCAA’s Final Four, without stealing thunder from Lucas Oil Stadium or Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"Our objective is to be a collaborative partner and help elevate the city as a whole,” Sanders said. “Especially as various other entities seek to develop sports infrastructure Downtown.”
So you want to be a collaborative partner and you haven't talked to a single entity within the City (or State?) that runs a sports organization or doesn't already have a long-term agreement in place for their home games? The stadium portion of the proposal seems completely unrealistic to me now and there's a reason why it's included in Phase 2 of their plan. I don't know to whom Sanders has been discussing the plan, but I don't think it's anybody in Indiana willing to tell him the plan seems flawed.

I assume they haven't gone into this concept completely haphazardly, but my two day old evaluation of the plan has me wondering how anybody would take the rest of the proposal seriously. Particularly when the rest of the plan includes hotels totaling 500 rooms in a part of town that can't routinely fill the hotels that are already located there. While the articles continue to reference the Indy Eleven, including providing a photo of Woj in the second article, I firmly believe that a stadium near the airport is not in the team's plans and Indy Eleven is only being mentioned by the Indy Star because of the recent stadium discussions with the team.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the idea of a second NFL, NBA, WNBA, or NASL team relocating to Indianapolis is a non-starter. I also don't see any current MLS franchises that are in dire need of relocating from their current markets.

As for pro baseball, an MLB franchise would need more than a 20,000-seat facility and, frankly, that's the only level of play that could unseat the Triple-A Indians. MLB and MiLB aren't going to sign-off on another level of affiliated minor-league baseball competing for fans in the same market as the Indians, so that's out. As for an independent minor-league baseball franchise setting up shop in Indianapolis, such a team wouldn't need a 20,000-seat home.

That said, I wouldn't immediately dismiss the notion of a 32nd USL side being added to the mix. After all, not only would a 32nd team bring league membership to an even number of franchises, but it would provide insurance against the day when Sacramento Republic FC makes its anticipated jump to MLS. Ditto for the possible day when Saint Louis FC is potentially displaced by the MLS squad investors are currently exploring bringing to that city. As for a newly-minted Indianapolis-based USL team being able to compete with the established NASL Indy Eleven, if said USL side is playing in a state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium and the Eleven are still making do at a renovated track-and-field facility shared with IUPUI... well, is the idea so far-fetched?

One thing I wouldn't do is to ignore the possibility of an National Hockey League franchise relocating to Indianapolis. There are several NHL teams that are, pardon the pun, "on thin ice" business-wise in their current markets. Rumors swirl around such franchises as the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Florida Panthers. If the owner of an NHL squad were to set his sites on a newly-built, 20,000-seat arena in Indianapolis, there's nothing that a minor-pro ECHL team like the Fuel is going to do to stand in the way of the major-pro franchise.

Drew said...

With so many markets still available for USL to enter, I don't see a team transferring to Indy. Peter Wilt has been making the case that Chicago can support two professional teams but it is the Erd largest metropolis in the country. I don't see Indy having that same ability. Nor do I think it makes sense to enter this market with another team in a lower tier league hoping to steal fans from the Indy Eleven simply because they have a shiny new stadium. I don't think the Indy supporters are that fickle.

I agree that the Indy Fuel couldn't compete with a NHL level team but Indy has never been able to consistently bring in anywhere close to NHL level attendance. I believe the Ice used to average near what the Fuel are averaging, which is in the 4-6k range. Periodically, the teams have pulled in +10k, but not consistently enough that I would think it would make sense to bring a team here.

I think that building a stadium in Indy without any prior discussions with the existing sports team in the city is a bad business decision. One that I don't see as being long-lasting.

Jeff C. said...

Thanks for putting all this together so thoughtfully and carefully, Drew. If the reports are correct, and the proposal was made public without any discussions with the CIB or with any of the players on the Indianapolis sports scene (including Ozdemir), then the proposal isn't even half-baked.

Drew said...

Seems like an overly optimistic "if you build it, they will come" mentality. The developer hasn't had the best track record either...

Jeff C. said...

That article underscores how shaky the entire proposal is. The stadium is simply the most pie-in-the-sky component.

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