Monday, February 8, 2016

The Politics of Soccer

In a couple of months, I will have been writing this blog and about the Indy Eleven for two years. In that time frame, I have written about wins, losses, players, coaches, tactics, and the business of soccer. I hate writing about the losses, but even more so, I hate writing about the business of soccer. Even though the predominant topic of the writing is about a professional team in the Indy Eleven, I still often think about soccer in terms of the child-like joy it brings me and not the business of it. Men getting to play a game. A game that I have loved since I was a little kid. Men getting to do what I wish I could do.

Player signings and releases, coach firings, the departure of Peter Wilt so that he can work to get a competitor into the league, the hiring of a new President, and a future hire of a General Manager to replace all of Wilt's duties; all of this constitutes the business of soccer.  All of this is what takes the child-like joy out of writing about my favorite team.  Yet, I recently became aware that there is an aspect of writing about soccer that I enjoy even less than the business of soccer.

The politics of soccer.

It's always been there as I've been writing about the Indy Eleven, but it's been more of an unspoken player.  I think it was because it was more wrapped into the business and economics of soccer that I let myself gloss over the politics of it. Yet, the way that the club has pursued the funding of a new stadium through the Indiana Legislature makes it clearly a political venture and a piece of the puzzle since before the team ever played a single game. The politics of soccer has always been there, it's just now more apparent to me.

There was an article published in the Indianapolis Business Journal, dated January 20, 2016, entitled "State lawmaker tells Indy Eleven owner 'be a man,' pony up for stadium". In the article:
Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, told IBJ on Tuesday he’s not expecting any movement on a soccer stadium during this year’s legislative session—and not ever unless Ozdemir, the Eleven’s owner, agrees to kick in significant funding for the project.

“I keep telling him to stand up and be a man,” Kenley said. “If you’re a real capitalist, you should have money of your own in this. He’s one of those developers who’s had a little success and who realizes if he can get government to pay for this or that, then that’s a good deal for him. He acts like that’s pro forma.”
Obviously, this made a lot of noise with the Indy Eleven fans. Some have questioned where Senator Kenley stood on the $870M funding of Lucas Oil Stadium. Well, it turns out that he was part of the process that put together that deal.
According to the agreement negotiated between city and state officials, taxpayers were responsible for funding 87 percent of the stadium. That makes Lucas Oil Stadium the most heavily taxpayer-subsidized stadium in the country.
State Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) helped put together the final deal and says city officials knew they were responsible for finding money for the operating expenses.
I have been told that Senator Kenley has indicated that part of the difference between the Lucas Oil Stadium deal and any Indy Eleven Stadium deal is that Jim Irsay put in money himself and that Ersal Ozdemir has not stepped up to any extent in his proposals.  While I disagree with that since the versions that went through last year included using one of Mr. Ozdemir's hotel properties to make up any shortfall each year that was not achieved through the use of the stadium, let's also look further at the Irsay piece of the pie. The other 13% beyond the 87% that the taxpayers  were responsible was contributed by Jim Irsay...
Colts owner Jim Irsay was able to cover his 13 percent portion of the cost when he sold the naming rights to the Lucas Oil company for $120 million.
So isn't that Lucas Oil that put the money in?  Couldn't Ersal Ozdemir do the same thing for the soccer stadium? Just for simplicity and talking purposes (and for those not wanting to do the math), 13% of the $85M that the team originally suggested as a starting point is $11M. Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance agreed to a 10-year $6M naming rights deal for the Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds. I have to think that the team could find somebody willing to do at least that, maybe all $11M. Has this not been part of the discussion and when did Irsay acquire the Lucas Oil money in the process of that stadium funding?

Put all of that politics in your memory bank for now.  Three days after that IBJ article, there was another one that seems to have gone completely unnoticed by many Indy Eleven fans, but I think speaks volumes. That article was titled, "Key lawmaker wants state to buy GM site for green space". I'll give you three guesses which lawmaker wants the space. That's right, Senator Luke Kenley,
One of the most-powerful members of the Indiana Senate wants the state to buy the 102-acre General Motors stamping plant site on the western edge of downtown and turn it into an expansion of White River State Park.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, wants lawmakers to allocate funding for the purchase when they craft the next two-year budget in the spring of 2017.

“For the long-term benefit of the state and Indianapolis, it’s better to have the whole 100 acres and dedicate it to White River State Park,” he said. “You only get one chance at a piece of property like this. It would be silly not to try to consummate that deal.”
Kenley’s proposal would not necessarily derail the widely discussed plan to build a $30 million, 10,000-seat amphitheater on the eastern half of the property. He said he’s open to using some of the land for a concert venue, but doesn’t want any restrictions on the state’s purchase.
Local developer REI Investments Inc. last year agreed to buy 51-1/2 acres on the east side of the property for the $30 million concert venue. It would build the project in partnership with White River State Park, Live Nation and the Indianapolis Zoo.
Construction of the amphitheater can’t proceed without the state’s blessing, however, since it hinges on the state’s ponying up half the $30 million cost.

Kenley said he has discussed buying the site with Gov. Mike Pence and REI President Mike Wells. He expects the purchase price would be well under $15 million.

Under REI’s plan, it would develop the venue, White River State Park would own it, and Live Nation would run it. Live Nation also runs Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville and the Old National Centre downtown.
There's a lot there that's interesting to me, but the old GM stamping plant locale has always been one that Indy Eleven fans have thought would make for a great location for a new soccer specific stadium and was one of the first that I discussed in my first potential stadium location posts, but had to eliminate because it appeared to have other uses. It's also a site that I believe Mr. Ozdemir made a bid to get at the time. It's close to downtown, access to major roads and transportation, and plenty of space for the stadium (and practice facilities?), parking, and other development. What's interesting to me about Senator Kenley's proposal is that a business would develop the site, but it would be owned by the State, and another business would run it. How are those businesses being paid for their efforts? Isn't that from the taxpayers, as well as the $15M for the site coming from the taxpayers too? Will 100 acres be able to generate any income to the state or will it only be taking from the taxpayers?

I find it interesting that the same politician that tells a businessman to "man up" and put some of his own cash into a venture turns around three days later and suggests that the state provide $15M to fund a public park on a piece of property that would seem like it could be used by other businesses, including by the same businessman that he told to "man up."

It's been the general consensus among many Indy Eleven fans that the new President of the team, Jeff Belskus, was brought in as much for his past experience with navigating the political landscape in Indianapolis from his time with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he was for his business ability. Mr. Belskus is here to run the business side of Indy Eleven with the departure of Peter Wilt, but that likely includes the creation of a new stadium as one of his highest priorities. That's my assumption...

Which may be why 7 days after Senator Kenley told Ersal Ozdemir to "man up," and 4 days after indicating that he wants the State to purchase the 100 acres of the GM stamping plant for $15M, Jeff Belskus tweeted this:

I officially hate the politics of soccer more than I hate normal politics. Shaking hands, kissing babies, and seemingly playing games with my childhood love.

1 comment:

Don said...

Great blog Drew.

Even if Mr. Irsay had to front the money, I find it impossible to believe that he didn't know how much he would be receiving in the naming rights and that it would cover his portion of the stadium cost. If I remember correctly, there were threats of moving the Colts it they didn't get a new stadium. Not a chance he paid a dime knowing that if the City of Indianapolis didn't ante up, he would have found another city willing to pay the entire cost.

I emailed Senator Kenley regarding the IBJ article and he blamed "some of the terms" of the Lucas Oil Stadium agreement on Mayor Peterson.

I will take your closing statement one step further and say that I hate politics, and dislike most politicians.