Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Goin' back to Carroll

We're goin' back to Carroll. 



We're goin' back to Carroll.

The Indy Eleven made an announcement today that their 2021 home games (and possibly up to the point where the proposed stadium is constructed) will take place at their original home on IUPUI's campus; Michael A. Carroll Stadium.

That's a simple tweet, with quite a bit of ramifications. Enough ramifications that the team felt the need to roll out a Carroll Stadium FAQ page later in the day. The key component to me is: 

... after continued discussions with Lucas Oil Stadium, it became clear that there were not enough potential available dates to host a season at the venue, especially pivotal weekend dates that result in a schedule most conducive to success both on and off the field. 
It's important to note that this is a change from everything that the team had mentioned to me in the past. That they were going to be at Lucas Oil Stadium "for the foreseeable future." I guess a pandemic will readjust many things, including what I perceive as a step back in stadium. 

From what I saw of the Twitter responses, the move was well received by the majority of the fans. As was indicated in my twitter exchange with Andrew Retz, he pointed out that, "honestly perhaps the only people most excited about going back to Carroll are the ones in the supporters section." To which I fully agree. 

The fans who don't sit in the supporter's section are likely not all happy with this move. The BYB appreciated the atmosphere of "The Mike" because they were standing in permanent temporary stands, but could set off smoke, their chants seemed louder because they weren't lost to the cavernous corners of Lucas Oil Stadium, and frankly didn't care about the stadium amenities anyway. 

The rest of the stadium attendees, however, get to go back to metal bleachers instead of seats, porta-potties for their trips to the bathroom, concessions out of cargo containers (I don't foresee this changing despite their FAQ stating "our focus will be on improving our gameday experience for all fans"), and the evening crushing opportunities to go home early when inclement weather forces everybody to evacuate the stadium because there isn't a weather safe concourse (many people can't hang around during extended rain delays). It doesn't get any better for the players who will now go back to having their locker room in the Natatorium across the street and a storage room for the halftime resting space. 

Back in 2018, before the team made the move to Lucas Oil Stadium, I wrote a fan tribute to Carroll Stadium for what it provided this team in its infancy. Like many fans, I have a soft spot for Carroll Stadium and what it means to many of the key moments in the club's history. I ended the article, by saying (new emphasis not in original article): 
The Indy Eleven may have temporarily kept Carroll Stadium from demolition and may one day find itself playing there again. With the changes affecting the team in 2018, the stadium is the one that seems the least clear about what the future holds. If the team never makes its way back to Carroll Stadium, I think it's served the team as well as can be expected of a stadium built in the early 80s and ideally designed with track and field events in mind.
I didn't expect then that just three years later they would be back in the stadium full-time. In that article, I also called many of the items above "as superfluous distractions from the main attraction of the game," but I still feel like this move to Carroll Stadium is a step backward for the club.

Yes, I know, the move also allows the team (see previously linked FAQ):
... not only greater control of our scheduling, but also gameday atmosphere, in-stadium promotions, partnership activations, promotional signage, and more items that make Eleven matches a unique experience in Indy’s sports and entertainment scene.
Recently on Soccer Saturday, Greg Rakestraw and Brad Hauter were talking about the move to Lucas Oil Stadium and remarked how at every single game, there were players from vising clubs who would step onto the field for the first time with their cell phones, recording the experience. I imagine the visiting coach breaking out his best Norman Dale impression and reassuring his team that despite the envelope, the field is basically the same (though with football lines). 

Lucas Oil Stadium garners that reaction. 

Carroll Stadium does not.

I have also seen the responses from some former players stating that they like this move. I hope everybody else is right, but I said it earlier today in the exchange with Andrew Retz and I'll reiterate it here. The excitement for this moves seems to be from people remembering "the good old days" and forgetting that the stadium is "old," but not necessarily "good" and that Lucas Oil Stadium is likely the only reason that there were fans at the games this past year. Lucas Oil Stadium provides so much "social distancing" opportunities that they were 1 of only 7 USL teams to allow fans into the games in some form and earlier in the season than most teams. I honestly don't think that happens with Carroll Stadium, for much the same reasons as the other 28 teams in the USL had for not having fans in attendance (likely in outdoor venues).

I don't know the team financials. They wouldn't tell me even if I asked. I don't know what it costs to be in Lucas Oil Stadium. I don't know what it used to cost and will cost in Carroll Stadium. What I do know is that the average person in Indianapolis could see a move from Lucas Oil Stadium to Carroll Stadium as a sign of a struggling second division soccer. Which, if we're being frank, would it surprise anybody if they were? I'm sure they have one of the highest budgets in the league and a pandemic-affected year of reduced ticket and merchandise sales isn't going to help the bottom line. 

Moving back to Carroll Stadium affects the fan experience, even if it may somewhat improve the supporter's experience. Getting casual fans to return to porta-potties and rain-delayed exits from the stadium is going to be a tougher sale now. I suspect that the team hopes to temper some of those concerns with the announcement of the site for Eleven Park in the coming week, but even with that announcement, it's still likely 3 years away from playing a game there. 

I hope I'm wrong and this goes well for everybody. I hope the team remembers how to operate under the challenges of cargo containers and temporary stands so that a repeat of opening night 2014 isn't repeated. I hope the new stadium eventually solves all of the issues. I hope Jon Busch tells Jordan Farr to get some Indy Eleven baseball hats...

But goin' back to Carroll Carroll Carroll is not the home run decision for me that it was for the majority of the responses I saw on Twitter. 

Guess we'll see in about 3 months.


Josh said...

I was told by a team employee once that running A/C at Lucas Oil for a game cost the Eleven ~$70,000.

Drew said...

I have heard a similar value. Likely why fans and players dealt with 90-degree games with the roof open.