Thursday, April 25, 2024

MLS to Indy - that ole trope

Look, nobody asked my opinion on this, but I've been writing about the Indy Eleven since the first games. I can't claim to be one of the original BYB members, but as the only grassroots media member to have stuck through the past 11 seasons with this team, maybe there's something that I can say about today's announcement that will resonate with other people.

Let me first fill in those who haven't heard. Today, at 5:30 PM, because that's a perfect time to make what he thinks is a major announcement, Mayor Hogsett announced that he had used the taxpayers' money to fly to New York City to met with Don Garber of MLS this past Monday to discuss the possibility of Indianapolis submitting an application to be part of Major League Soccer. Yesterday, to that end, he "submitted to the Metropolitan Development Commission and proposal for a new Professional Sports Development Area (PSDA) that would enable an alternative stadium site for the League and a prospective ownership group to consider, located near the Downtown Transit Center."

What he did and did not say spoke volumes. Or at least raised volumes worth of questions from Indy Eleven supporters, taxpayers, and Keystone/Indy Eleven.

At no point during his 5-ish minute press conference did he ever mention the current soccer team that resides in Indianapolis and has done so since 2013. 

At no point did he reference the groundbreaking ceremony he attended for Indy Eleven's Eleven Park less than a year ago, praising Ersal Ozdemir for his forward-thinking vision.

At no point did he say who was behind this bid application, because it's not the City that will pay for the MLS expansion fee that is generally considered to be in the $0.5 BILLION range these days, nor who would build the requisite soccer stadium for said potential MLS team, other than to say an "ownership group is forming - it includes a group of investors led by an experienced and well-respected sports executive, who has held leadership roles in MLS and global soccer.".

At no point did the Mayor reference any of the "minor league" teams in the City, just the Fever, the Pacers, and the Colts. Makes me wonder what he thinks of the Indy Fuel and the Indians, and even the forthcoming Indy Ignite pro volleyball team (which admittedly will play in Fishers...). Are those teams just as disposable as he apparently thinks about Indy Eleven?

At no point did he take questions from an audience that looked like it didn't include a single noticeable soccer supporter. They all clapped after the announcement, but I'm not sure why. The Mayor said his piece and then bolted out of the room like he stole something.

What I noticed most about the press conference announcement was how the Mayor seemed like he was at somebody's funeral giving depressing news or news that he didn't fully believe. It felt like a rushed announcement, given after normal work hours, like he was trying to get ahead of or respond to comments that others were making. It didn't feel like a complete announcement.

It's ironic to me that he did mention (or at least the press release mentioned) an "alternative stadium site," clearly referring to Eleven Park without actually calling it out, "located near the Downtown Transit Center," which if I'm not mistaken is about 2 blocks from the Indy Eleven offices. If this is due to a failing relationship between the Mayor and Ersal Ozdemir/Keystone/Indy Eleven, that's some stone cold brashness to suggest a site that close to the Indy Eleven headquarters. Why there might be some failing relationship is only speculation from me and I won't go down that path. 

If there was ever a way to light a fire under a team's fanbase that has been around for more than a decade, it's to deliver a press conference completely ignoring everything that fanbase has done for the City over that decade plus. Indy Eleven Twitter was, understandably, upset about the announcement, to say the least. Hell, if I was a bit more insane, the announcement probably only helped Ersal and Indy Eleven at this point. I won't go so far as to say it could have been orchestrated by Ozdemir, but I've seen dumber marketing campaigns.

Here's what I have to say about all this. If you look through this site even just a little, you'll know what the team has meant to me, and the millions of words I've written about the club. But Indy Eleven isn't perfect. They're not. The fans that are coming out of the woodwork right now to express their feelings know it isn't perfect. 

Yet, it's their club. 

This is a club that was built BY the fans, with the help of an owner with a vision and an original GM in Peter Wilt that saw what it could become. Through all the seasons, the Brickyard Battalion and fans have been there. For the Mayor to go around everything this club and its fans have tried to build for soccer in Indiana, it feels like he came into the game and kicked our soccer balls over the fence into the White River, spouting an application with an unnamed and faceless entity (or entities), with a mournful voice that was like, "I'm sorry, but this is in your best interest." 

Don't think that the entity is somebody like Simon or Irsay either. Money is flying all over the world right now with American investors in European clubs. There's no reason why that money can't stay domestically. The investors Mayor Hogsett references could literally be from anywhere, maybe in the world. If the Mayor has found a group to get a MLS team to Indy, I'm guessing it isn't local. And that's a large "IF" he found a group. His announcement was so vague, it sounded like a politician wrote it.

Indy Eleven had/has desires to be in MLS and Eleven Park was a step to make that move a bit more possible. They have been less vocal about it lately, and the rise of USL, and particularly the USL's Super League achieving first division status in competition with NWSL another first division league, have shown a potential way to be 1st division without being in MLS. However, you can't look past the fact that Indy Eleven, under current ownership even with the expanded ownership group, is likely to never going to be able to provide the upfront capital to get into MLS. 

If, and again that's a big IF, Mayor Hogsett somehow convinces MLS that they need to be in Indianapolis with local-ish teams already in Columbus, Chicago, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Saint Louis, and previously discussed city's like Detroit, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of Indy Eleven. I've written before about how many teams are based out of the Indiana area, and there could be room for two teams here; maybe not two first division teams, but two teams. I can envision Ersal and a bunch of BYB supporters staying with Indy Eleven purely out of spite for as long as they can muster the funds and the effort. Whether that's still in the USL Championship or requires moving down to League One, Ozdemir will likely give the ole F You try just to prove to the Mayor that the MLS team didn't kill his team. Indy will lose fans though, that's a given and Austin and San Diego have proven that the non-MLS team will suffer. Casual fans will support the "major league" team and Indy will have to try and survive with the die-hard fans who have supported Indy Eleven for a long time.

I don't how if, or how, the City and Indy Eleven plan for Eleven Park can be torn asunder, but if Soccer Warz has taught me anything over the years, it probably won't go down without a fight in court. We're missing all kinds of details and until those are brought to light, this is all speculation and a worthless press conference describing vague details that will go into an application process. I'm not getting worked up over this yet. There's too much politicking and positioning to know much of anything worthwhile.

For now, for the other Indy Eleven supporters or casual soccer fans that found this article because of the Mayor's announcement, I'll be at Carroll Stadium on Saturday night when Indy Eleven take on North Carolina FC.

That's where my soccer team plays.


Anonymous said...

This I know for certain, the Mayor lost my vote in the next mayoral election!

Rachel said...

At the end of the day, I am an Indy Eleven fan for the community and I will go wherever the BYB community goes. But we've known for years that this is the slimy way MLS operates and I was really hoping they'd stay out of Indy. I hope this backstabbing BS blows up in MLS', those secret investors', and the city of Indianapolis' faces.

Travis Phelps said...

#HogOut #NoIXINoMLS #SaveOurClub, I will watch and invest in our local college teams before I will support a non Indy Eleven, Boss Hogg founded club!