Monday, January 29, 2018

Indy Eleven 2018 ticket prices

In case you missed it, the Indy Eleven announced today that they will be playing "most" of their home games in Lucas Oil Stadium this year. What happens next year are all to be determined.
With the announcement, the team's website that allows people to reserve their season tickets was updated to include a cost breakdown, which is what I want to discuss. Many people, myself included, were concerned about what a change to Lucas Oil Stadium would do to ticket prices. Now we know.

From the IBJ article today about the venue change:
Belskus doesn’t expect ticket prices to change much from the team’s games at IUPUI.

“Some ticket prices could be a little more and some could be a little less,” Belskus said. “General admission—what we charge the Brickyard Battalion—in Carroll was $15 and that will stay the same.”
Here's where I want to dive into that statement a bit. As a reminder, here was last year's seat map showing the sections (I've removed the prices for now):

Now, for comparison, here is the new seat map for 2018 in Lucas Oil Stadium:
So it looks like the team intends to still use just predominantly one side of the field for spectators (edit: for season ticket holders). The Brickyard Battalion, at least graphically, gets substantially bigger and there will still be seats on the opposite end line. Between all that is where it gets interesting. Sections 107, 108, 113, 114, 115, 207, 208, and 209 of Carroll Stadium roughly translate to the Sections 108, 109, 110, 116, and 117 of LOS. Yet, what was two price points has now become one price point; the higher price point. If you were in the "Endline" sections in Carroll Stadium, be prepared to fork out significantly more money for the same site lines at LOS that you had at The Mike.

As Doc Brown said, "I apologize for the crudity of the model, but I didn't have time to paint it and make it to scale." What my model tells me is that the season ticket holders who were sitting in the "Endline" seats in Carroll were paying $180 (not including the 10% facility fee) for a 17 game package or $10.59/game. With the elimination of that price point, for the same sight lines, those people will now be paying $289 for a 17 game package or $17.00/game. That's right, a $6.41 increase in price. The "Sideline" and "Midfield" price points also see an increase in their ticket prices, between $2.12 and $2.59 more per game.

"Some could be a little more and some could be a little less." I'm sorry, but a 60% price increase for tickets is not "a little more." Belskus wasn't lying about the some will be less part since the East Goal (now South Goal) and the BYB prices stayed the same per game or went down, respectively.

As a family who sits in one of those "Endline" sections, I'm not enthused about the additional expense that my family is going to have to endure with this change. The high end tickets didn't change, the low end went down, and it's the middle class fans that are going to be stuck with financing this move to LOS, with the lower middle class bearing the brunt of the price changes.

At least Ersal gets to use the stadium rent free...
The Indy Eleven will play its home games rent free at Lucas Oil Stadium and the city and team will each pay part of the operating expenses at the city-owned venue.

The details of the one-year deal are still being worked out, said Capital Improvement Board President Melina Kennedy after a Monday press conference.

It’s not clear yet, Kennedy told IBJ, what share of the operating expenses the city will pay versus what the team will pay to play most of its games at Lucas Oil, rather than IUPUI's Carroll Stadium, which has been its home. Kennedy said the deal will be finalized “soon.”
Well, that's just more salt in the wound for the fans in those sections. 160% increase in ticket price and the owner gets to use one of the nicest NFL stadiums in the country rent free.

Eleven Best XI

To put it mildly, the Indy Eleven are going through some roster changes. Guys that I expected would be locks to return for the 2018 season have been announcing their departure every couple days. Only time will tell whether the scorched earth rebuild of the roster is a success, but it's difficult to watch crowd favorites leaving to find new homes. With less than two months before the first game and around 2 weeks before players are expected to be in town to start preseason, only four players have been officially signed so the next couple weeks should be awash with additional signings. Whether there are a few players from last year returning or not will be seen, but we do know that the team will be without Busch, Zayed, Falvey, Franco, and Vukovic, all key pieces of the 2016 run to the Championship game.

As I sat and discussed the roster changes recently and thought about the 70 players that have signed with the team since its inception (now 73 players with the addition last week of Reiner Ferreira, Brad Rusin, Kevin Venegas), I thought it would be a good time to consider an Indy Eleven Best XI, using the rosters from 2014, 2015, 2016, & 2017. As can be expected, my Eleven Best XI is heavy on players from the 2016 season, but winning tends to skew opinions of players. As I started evaluating the players, I decided to expand it to include 11 starters, 6 substitutes, and even added 2 honorable mentions.

Jon Busch

Marco Franco
Colin Falvey
Greg Janicki
Daniel Keller

Gerrado Torrado
Brad Ring
Don Smart
Dylan Mares

Eamon Zayed
Justin Braun

GK Kristin Nicht
D Nemanja Vukovic
D Lovel Palmer
D Cory Miller
M Zach Steinberger
F DukeLacroix

F Ben Spencer
M Kleberson

  • In four seasons, only three goalkeepers have seen playing time, but this is the easiest decision of all the positions. Nicht is the first player ever signed by the Eleven, but Busch is a legend who played much younger than his age will make you believe. The team gave up a lot of goals in 2017, but there were games where Busch seemed to single-handedly keep the team in the game with amazing save after amazing save. 
  • Marco Franco is the team's career minutes leader despite the fact that he didn't join the team until September of the 2014 season, having been loaned to the Eleven from the Chicago Fire. Like a couple of the guys on my list, Franco continually performed at a level that made it difficult for coaches to keep him off the field. 
  • Colin Falvey is the Captain. As Kevin Johnston stated on a recent Soc Takes podcast, there were several players on the 2016 roster that had been a captain at previous stops and Falvey differentiated himself as the clear captain. That's an astute observation and speaks volumes to Falvey's leadership and playing ability. Few fans will forget Falvey's head wound, getting stitches during halftime, and finishing the game.
  • In 2015, many fans were rightly disappointed by the play of Greg Janicki. However, the 2016 season for Janicki is one of the best examples I've ever seen of a coach believing in a player and putting him in a position to succeed. The centerback pairing of Falvey and Janicki was a successful one and Janicki's retirement proved his worth as the 2017 pairings were often serviceable, but never had the same affect.
  • I might catch some naysayers with my selection of Daniel Keller in the starting Best XI, but "K-Swiss" proved to me this past year that he was also a player that made it difficult to keep off the field due to his ability to play multiple positions. Other players were intended to be starters in the defense, but Keller's consistency consistently put him in the starting lineup.
  • Torrado is another legend that Indy Eleven fans have had the privilege of watching. Torrado rarely showed up on the score sheet, scoring just twice (both in a memorable game against the Cosmos) and having one assist, but Torrado rarely made the wrong decision with the ball, completed most of his passes, and was unafraid to play a physical style of game routinely receiving yellow cards. 
  • On a team that has had legends of the game, Brad Ring is the one who has acquired the "Legend" nickname. Like Torrado, Ring is unafraid to play physical, despite his somewhat diminutive size, to the point of being the team's career leader in yellow (and red) cards. He's been good for a goal a season, but they seem to always come at key times. If all that's not enough, he famously chugged a bear on the field during the on-field celebration when the team won the Spring Season in 2016. #Legend
  • "Super Sub." "Mr. Indy." "Bae." Whatever you want to call him, Don Smart is the longest tenured Indy Eleven player and the greatest example of a player that has continued to make it difficult for the coaches to keep him off the field. As the seasons have progressed, his improvement in his defensive responsibilities and his crossing ability have taken his playing to another level.
  • Dylan Mares may forever be known by Indy Eleven fans as the best player to have gotten away. Mares turned a fabulous 2016 season into a large payday in 2017 as Miami FC offered the midfielder a pay raise that the Eleven couldn't match. Then in 2017, on what might have been the best Division 2 team in the country, Mares finished the year on the league's Best XI, scoring eight times with five assists and made the Team of the Week 8 times. Despite moving to another team, Mares is still the team's career assist leader, top 3 career leader in goals and points, and top 5 in games played. Like a couple of these guys, coaches couldn't keep him off the field despite the fact that I don't think Coach Hankinson initially thought of Mares as a starter. 
  • "Mr. Hat Trick" has taken goal scoring to a completely different level for this club. Zayed scored a goal, on average, every 2.2 games. He "weakness" was that he was not known as a guy that could easily create his own shot, but with the correct service, you would be hard pressed to find a guy that could so routinely find the ball to put it on frame. Zayed scored three goals in the "Miracle at the Mike" to give the Eleven a 4-1 win over Carolina and the team's first piece of hardware. 
  • Justin Braun's work-rate, size, and ability to find the back of the net made him the team's MVP last year despite not playing a large portion of it due to an injury. Braun forces teams to keep track of him and his constant motion routinely causes defenses to lose track of the other Indy Eleven players, allowing them to slip behind the defense. A healthy Braun keeps defenses honest and gives his teammates opportunities to do great things.
  • Like Busch, Kristian Nicht periodically kept the Eleven in games, but he was not blessed with the same level of defense as Busch. He'll always be known as the first player signed by the league and came to love this town.
  • Nemanja Vukovic is a striker playing in a defender's position. Team's learned his propensity to go forward with abandon and not always hustle back on defense, but he could put in an great left-footed cross. His set-piece kicks were a thing of beauty. 
  • As Greg Rakestraw liked to say, Lovel Palmer was the "most yoked" soccer player I've ever seen. Palmer was a physical presence that's hard to match in the NASL. The thing that kept him out of my Best XI was that my eyeball test told me that he was a bit prone to the long ball. Don't know if the stats confirm that, but it feels like that was part of the reason Franco bumped Palmer out of the starting lineup.
  • Cory Miller may be the best in the league at winning defensive headers. Much like the physical presence that Palmer and Falvey brought to the backline of the Eleven, Miller makes sure you know who is defending you. Periodically, his defending required last ditch slide tackles, often times in locations worrisome for fans, but he tends to win more than expected.
  • If memory serves me, Zach Steinberger was signed on a Wednesday and made the starting lineup that Saturday after being loaned to the Eleven from the Houston Dynamo. It was a somewhat desperation move by Peter Wilt to salvage a rough 2015 season, but Steinberger turned out to be a good addition to the midfield. 
  • Duke Lacroix, "Super Sub 2.0." Lacroix brought a pace that most team's couldn't match when he was brought on late to create a spark. Lacroix finished his time in Indy with 4 goals and 4 assists, putting him in the top 10 in career points for the team. My main objection to Lacroix, and this is minor, is that he often continued to dribble when the pass would have been more effective. Though given what he was asked to do when brought on, which was attack and attack with speed, I'm kind of nit-picking. 
  • Ben Spencer makes my honorable mention not so much because of what he did as a player, but for the potential that was there when he was healthy. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to happen that often. Spencer only played in 11 NASL games that first Indy Eleven season, but managed to score twice and have two assists. He was a big strong target forward for the Eleven that has since found his way onto Toronto FC's squad, finding the occasional minutes and goals/assists for an MLS team.
  • Kleberson. Oh, Kleberson, what could have been with or without you? Kleberson is another legend of the game to wear the Eleven crest, but he wasn't surrounded by enough guys to properly utilize his talent. Unfortunately, a lot of money was wrapped in his salary and an achilles injury basically ended his time in Indy and limited the amount of money that could have been spent on other players. Much like Torrado, he routinely made the right decision with the ball and the guy has some of the most amazing free kicks this team has ever seen.
So that's who I would put on my Eleven Best XI (with subs and honorable mentions) and the reasons why I selected them. Where did I go wrong and who would you have picked?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Geographic Rivals

The first official domino of the season has fallen and so fans of the Indy Eleven now know that the team will be playing in the USL. This has been conveyed to me several times that the league decision preempted all of the other decisions for the team. With the announcement last week of which league the team would be playing, the remaining dominoes should start falling soon.

Fans know that discussions are being had regarding the use of Lucas Oil Stadium as the team’s new home as a potential replacement for Carroll Stadium, which I’ve discussed here. Despite some people’s optimism for using LOS, I’m still hesitant of the advantages. The team has started taking reservations for season tickets, and have indicated in interviews that, as of right now, Carroll Stadium is the team’s home. As such, ticket prices for the 2018 season have been stated to remain the same as those from the 2017 season. A move to LOS would adjust the price, but those number are not being made public. I suspect from conversations that the team has an idea how the prices will change, but like most of the items that took place in this off-season, they aren’t going to play their hand just yet.

The team website, for a bit, indicated three players on the roster; Brad Ring, David Goldsmith, and Ben Speas. While the team’s site no longer shows the roster, the USL website still lists those three players under their “Transfers” page. As I’ve written before, the team has indicated “several” players options were picked up and “several” players options were not picked up. I assume we won’t get any official player announcements until a decision is made on who will be the next head coach. A report from Soc Takes are that Trevor James, Jimmy Nielsen, Martin Rennie, and Mark Lowry are the leading candidates. Until I hear an official announcement, it’s all hearsay to me. Two years ago, people had guesses and rumors, but none of them included Tim Hankinson and he brought the team to penalty kicks away from beating the Cosmos in the Championship game.

While we wait for all of those dominoes fall, let’s talk about rivalries. Geographic rivalries at least. The Eleven have some past history with some of the teams in the USL Eastern Conference due to the exodus of NASL teams over the past couple years to the USL. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Ottawa Fury, and North Carolina FC (formerly Carolina Railhawks) all have past experience playing the Eleven. NCFC being the most recent since both teams were in the NASL last year. However, I want to discuss the two teams that are expected, at least on paper, to provide for supporters group road trips; FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC.

Indy Eleven have a history with both teams, to varying levels. The Eleven played FC Cincinnati during the 2016 preseason, ending in a 1-1 draw. The Eleven have a much more extensive relationship with  Louisville City FC, having played them at least once in each of the past three season. The teams played a preseason game in 2015, won by LCFC 2:1 in a “chippy affair” before meeting again in the U.S. Open Cup, with LCFC again winning by a 2-nil score with the goals coming late in the second overtime. The two teams met in the 2016 preseason with the Eleven again falling to the southern rivals in a 1-nil match. When the U.S. Open Cup draw came out, the two teams found themselves pitted against each other once more. The Eleven finally broke through and defeated LCFC behind goals from Omar Gordon and Eamon Zayed.
This past year, the two teams met in Evansville for the Eleven’s final preseason game. Thanks to a stoppage time goal by Vukovic, the teams walked away with a 1-1 draw. The Eleven have managed a 1W-2D-3L record against their two new league mates in U.S. Open Cup and preseason matches.

@phat7deuce post
Everyone expects that these two teams, more than any of the others, will be able to bring a significant number of their own supporters to Indy and that Indy will reciprocate and take significant numbers to Cincinnati and Louisville due to the approximately 2-hour drives between the cities. With the help of former Indy Eleven public relations staff member Scott Stewart (now serving as Director of Public Relations & Media Relations for LCFC) and lower league attendance extraordinaire Mike Pendleton (who you might know as @phat7deuce on Twitter), I was able to get some data about how LCFC and FCC traveled to each other. On the season, FCC lead all of Division 2 soccer averaging 21,199 people per regular season game, with LCFC coming in third with 8,613 people per game, and Indy Eleven finished in fourth with 8,395 people per game. However, if you subtract the regular season games against each other, FCC averaged 21,250 people per game and LCFC averaged 8,026 people per game.

As Mike pointed out to me, “Cincy is a whole other animal, so hard to tell for them. Their biggest games came down the stretch” and LCFC went to FCC in late April so it's hard to tell, just from the data, on what affect Louisville had on FCC's attendance. However, it’s clear from the data that FCC playing IN Louisville had a major affect on LCFC’s attendance. Average attendance in Louisville for the two matches against FCC was 12,722 people, with a high value of 13,812 people. LCFC averaged nearly 4,700 more people in the two games against FCC than they did the rest of the year. Mike also pointed out that FCC traveled well to Louisville, but “it was also Louisville crawling out of every hole to make sure they didn't give Cincy a warm welcome.”

LCFC brought a decent crowd to Indy for the U.S. Open Cup games, but those were mid-week games in the early rounds of the USOC. I fully expect them to bring more to Indy for league matches taking place on the weekend. FCC looks to have traveled well to Louisville so I would expect a similar trend when they play Indy. I can’t find the numbers on how many Indy fans made the trip to the USOC game versus the Fire, but that was, again, a mid-week again and I suspect weekend games against FCC and LCFC are going to get at least a few hundred supporters making the trips. In all cases, I think Mike’s comment of the home crowd “crawling out of every hole” will likely hold for Indy as well. If the team’s home opener against FCC takes place in LOS, I’m going to guess that there will be a lot of the Indy Eleven fair-weather fans show up along with the FCC supporters. The LOS lower bowl seats 16,000 people and I’ll guess that announced attendance will hover around 14,000 for that game.

NASL Team Banner - current as of 01/16/2018
It’s painful that the Eleven’s departure from the NASL has left a league grasping for survival (have you seen their banner lately?), but the ability to have geographical rivals has been a major selling point for the USL for me. I just hope that the Eleven start to turn around that win-loss record against these two teams and start getting more wins than losses. It's only a rivalry if both teams actually have some wins. Otherwise, it's just one team constantly beating another one that just happens to be geographically near them.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Thoughts on the Eleven playing in Lucas Oil Stadium

Photo Credit:
Based on everything we've all heard, the Indy Eleven will be headed to the USL. This could happen on Wednesday or Thursday, depending on reports and rumors. The report that started this past few days of evaluation and additional speculation from the crew at Soc Takes, stated, "Unless unexpected changes occur, Indy Eleven will play its home games at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2018, the home of the Indianapolis Colts."

I said it before, I've said it repeatedly over the past few days, and I'll repeat it again now.

This is a bad idea for the Indy Eleven.

There is "absolutely no reason to play every single home game in that building" and that doesn't come from me, but a statement that I agree with completely. What I have said is that if it works in LOS, even for a year, people are going to ask why it can't work for longer and the team, and more specifically, team owner Ersal Ozdemir, will have a harder time maintaining the argument that has been the narrative to date. That the team needs its own stadium to survive. It's also his money to burn, but I believe that the poor optics of a massive stadium with 8,000 - 10,000 (Indy) fans in it will hurt the team long-term. As I said on Twitter today:
That's how I see it.

There's something to be said for knowing your market and the soccer environment. I don't think Indy will ever be MLS, but I do think that there is a market for Div 2 or Div 3 soccer in Indy for a long time. LOS is not necessary for a Div 2 or Div 3 soccer team and a full season in LOS is going to cost the team more money than Carroll Stadium at no real benefit. Money that won't be spent on players. Or a coach that hasn't been hired. Or a General Manager/Technical Director. Or a Public Relations guy. All positions that are currently not filled at the moment.

My belief is that attendance has dropped at Carroll Stadium in part due to the "stadium experience" and with improved bathrooms/concessions/etc and appropriate ticket prices, the Eleven could average 10k-12k. Providing a better "stadium experience" in LOS for a season isn't going to help the Eleven prove that they need their own stadium. They will no longer be the highest attended team in the league, something they've been able to hang their hat, and will have telecasts showing thousands of empty seats. Tens of thousands of empty seats.

Attendance will likely see an uptick from where it's been at Carroll, but it won't be enough that the team will be able to convince government officials to suddenly change their mind on a public-private partnership. A move to LOS continues the team running at walls with a P3 stadium, which they are going to continue to do again this legislative session, despite it being the short session. If Belskus, who was hired for the sole purpose of convincing legislators of a stadium, couldn't make any headway last year, I don't see it happening this year.

At this point in the history of the team, I think a better decision would be to continue to use Carroll Stadium for the majority of the games this year, use LOS when it makes sense against Cincinnati and Louisville, and work toward the process of building a 15k to 16k stadium in the future. A 16k stadium with the ability to expand (if necessary) is a much more realistic approach for Indy, provided Ersal chips in more of his own cash.

It will be nice to have concession stands not operated out of cargo containers, bathrooms and not Porta-potties, and actual locker rooms for the teams. I just don't think that a season at LOS is the right move at this time.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Indy Eleven Drop Tower

Photo Credit: Theme Park Review
The off-season the past couple years in lower division soccer in the United States has been less like a roller coaster and more of drop tower. Emotions going from highs to lows quickly and slow painful waits to get back to the highs.

In 2016, the North American Soccer League (NASL) looked to be shuttering only to get a late reprieve and a provisional 2nd division status. The United Soccer League (USL), in January, was also given a provisional 2nd division status, giving lower division fans two leagues in the 2nd division, but leaving an empty 3rd division. The NASL's lack of teams and deficiency in meeting the time zones requirement being major components of their provisional status. Before the NASL could even reach the end of the 2017 season, word came down that they would not be able to maintain their Division 2 status, and the Drop Tower off-season began.

What followed was a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), an appeal by the NASL after the lawsuit did not go the way that the league had hoped, North Carolina FC moving to the USL, Edmonton FC ceased operations, and the San Francisco Deltas shut down after just a single season in the league. The positive side of things for the league were that they picked up commitments from California United FC and San Diego's 1904 FC. However, all that change meant that the NASL's 8 team league in 2017 dropped to 5 and then back up to 7 for the 2018 season.

Late Friday night, the Soc Takes crew released a report that the Indy Eleven will be joining NCFC in their move to the USL and will be playing their games at Lucas Oil Stadium with an official announcement from the league/team coming late next week. There hasn't been any indication from the league or the team of the validity of the claim, but given the magnitude of the statement, that's not unsurprising. While many in Indy's fanbase celebrated the move, it could spell disaster for the NASL, even if they do win the lawsuit. A 4 + 2? team league likely doesn't see a 2018 and maybe not another game ever.

I have routinely contacted the team for comment on their plans and were repeated told that the falling domino of the appeal process was their starting point. Given the prolonged appeal process, that there doesn't seem to be a finish line in sight for it, and a fast approaching deadline to be able to play in a spring season, Eleven ownership and front office staff may have decided they were left without a choice. The move surprises me based on what I've inferred from Ersal over the years, but he's a businessman and lower division soccer has a hard time making money in the best of days. Lower division soccer doesn't make any money if there aren't any fans in the seats for a good portion of 2018. Sometimes you have to adjust your business and your business model to succeed.

Another recurring topic of my questions to the team has been about the players. How are they dealing with the delay? What have been their interactions with the team? What players are remaining? The "Standard Operating Procedure" response provided very little information. What I have been told over the last couple months is that the team does have players under contract. In the last week, that has been adjusted to the point where I think I can provide a guess what players might be returning to a USL-bound Eleven. In September, I had some thoughts on a 2018 roster and I think I'm going to change my mind a bit on a few. I do know that before the holidays none of the players had requested release from their contracts, that most were waiting on the court decision and a subsequent decision on the next coach, but that "players always have options to get out of their contract if they can receive a more lucrative contract elsewhere (especially if the acquiring team pays their penalty fee to close out their existing contract)."

We know Torrado and Ubiparipovic are gone. Rumors are that Cardona is trying out at other teams. That doesn't surprise me either if you think Busch is back. Given that we haven't seen an announcement of that, it doesn't take too much to think Cardona is moving on. I'm guessing that Junior and Ables weren't given much more than stop-gap type contracts and were free agents not long after the season finished. So that's 5 players not returning.

I still believe that Franco, Ring, & Keller were under contract for 2018, regardless of what happened. Greg Rakestraw and Soccer Saturday more or less confirmed this about Ring today. I was told on Friday that the team had "optioned on several players, but haven't on several others." Used the word "several" in both.
Optioned (my guesses):

Not Optioned (my guesses):

If the team has decided to move to USL, expect a decision on a coach soon as well so that the player piece can be finalized. The new coach may see value in the guys that weren't optioned, but we're still a bit out from that point. If those guys have any interest in playing in 2018, they aren't going to want to wait much longer to get those conversations started with other teams.

A couple final comments on the announcement from Soc Takes related to the use of Lucas Oil Stadium. I was told awhile back that the ticket prices for 2018 would remain the same as 2017. I don't see how that can hold true with a move to LOS. I don't know how much the tickets will change, and hopefully there will continue to be the low-end entry point, but ticket prices are going to have to change if the new home of the Eleven is LOS and not Carroll Stadium. Additionally, I believe that a season in LOS will drastically affect the team's hopes of a P3-funded soccer specific stadium. The argument will be that if they can make it work for a year, why can't they make it work long-term? It will become increasingly more difficult to make the argument that it's not feasible if they are able to do it for a year.

The announcement is a big one. Official words will come eventually. I'm still trying to temper my enthusiasm until I know the rest of the details. Just waiting for the rest of the Drop Tower ride.