Friday, April 26, 2024

More thoughts on MLS to Indy

I've had another day to think about things. Another day to read informed and uninformed posts from people I respect, people I don't know, and people who I think are morons. Sorry, that's unfair. People that I think are maybe, or probably, unintelligent about the issues at hand, but speak as if they know what is going on. I'm going to be clear with you on where my information gaps are at in all of this. 

Let me be clear for the people in the back. I have no idea what is going on. I have guesses, suspicions, and some general knowledge of how these things have happened in the past to other clubs. There are probably only a handful of people that know most, and maybe not all, of the details, and all of those people are going to hold that information as close to the vest as they possibly can until it's impossible for them to hold it any longer. Keystone released an announcement about the Mayor and showed one of their cards. The Mayor had to respond and showed one of his cards. Both still have a bunch of cards in their hands.

Indy Eleven and Keystone have been doing this for years. How many of the Indy Eleven staff knew about what was going on with Keystone might be limited to just a couple people, or maybe none. I would guess that Greg Stremlaw had at least a surface level understanding, and maybe a little bit more, but I would bet that it didn't trickle down very far past him. Your day-to-day front office staff? They received the news with the rest of us. 

Politicians are synonymous with not giving all the details to all the people. The old saying, "lies, damned lies, and statistics" could probably be changed to "lies, damned lies, and politicians" at this point. I haven't seen a politician that I can fully trust in my entire life. So it doesn't surprise me at all that Mayor Hogsett was working behind-the-scenes on a potential MLS bid/stadium despite him having one of the shovels in his hand when the Indy Eleven had their groundbreaking ceremony last year. Did he know then that this week's events might take place? I doubt it, but you never know.

So whatever information we all know at this point, it's because somebody involved wanted you to know that piece. Whether they judged correctly on whether it was the appropriate time to pass along that information will be determined later. As I stated yesterday, Mayor Hogsett looked like he was being forced to give information yesterday. Like he wasn't ready to give what he did, but sure as hell wasn't going to give any more. From what I've seen today, that hasn't changed much.

As I also stated yesterday, Indy Eleven isn't perfect. Supporters know this. Some have decided to not be involved with the club due to some of those imperfections. I don't blame them for that. I have stuck around for 11 seasons despite some of my issues with the club. Maybe it's similar to a routine for them of not being able to "separate the art from the artist." Maybe I haven't given up on the soccer; "separating the soccer from the club" so to speak. Yet, despite those imperfections, I have dealt with some really good people with this club for a long time. I have had almost no interactions with Ersal, so I don't know him to be able to judge him. He doesn't know me. I bet he couldn't pick me out of a police lineup, despite my constant presence at games and in post-game media sessions, and that's okay. I don't do this to interact with the owner of the club. I do this to interact with other fans and supporters.

Those interactions, and the sweeping of them under the proverbial rug by the Mayor, are what have this fanbase up in arms. It's no secret that Ersal, the club, and many fans wanted MLS in the beginning. Let me rephrase that. It's no secret that Ersal, the club, and many fans wanted Division 1 status in the beginning. Early on, that meant MLS. Now, many/most of the long-time supporters have soured on MLS as they watched their brethren in other supporter groups around the country get booted to the side as billionaires bought teams in their city and forced the team that built relationships from the bottom up get kicked to the curb.

This is exactly what Mayor Hogsett proposed yesterday. He took what Indy Eleven and its supporters have built over the past 11 years and said it wasn't worth anything. For the past 24 hours, I have read people calling Indy Eleven "minor league." People who apparently don't understand how soccer in this country is different than the other major sports. Indy Eleven isn't a farm club to some "major" team. At this point, none of the USL Championship teams have that relationship. These are independent teams with professional soccer players that are working to bring soccer to their market and hopefully be financially successful at it. As I stated on X, Indy Eleven has a championship winning women's team, a championship winning Academy program, and 21 soccer clubs throughout the state that have an affiliation with the club. Indy also is set to have a 1st division women's soccer team starting in 2025, which could now be affected by the Mayor's announcement. 

Those are not actions of a "minor" club. Your continued use of the term undermines the rest of your point for soccer fans. 

One of those people was James Briggs with the Indy Star.

"Also, to state the obvious, Indy Eleven is a minor league team, a shaky status for long-term endurance. Indy Eleven has strong, passionate supporters and a cool culture. But the team is a niche, small-scale entertainment product that the vast majority of Indianapolis doesn't care about."

Given that James' previous statement before that one was this next gem, he lost me as being a reputable resource on this discussion:

"Indy Eleven's plan to build a 20,000-seat soccer stadium without an MLS team was like building a cruise ship and hoping it would bring the city an ocean."

I thought it when I read that part, but thankfully a former classmate of mine (technically my siblings' classmate) and former President of Indiana Sports Corp and former Chief of Staff under Mayor Ballard, Ryan Vaughn verbalized it for me:

The City of Indianapolis has a history of doing bold things with sports teams and one of those teams that Mayor Hogsett referenced yesterday was a result of the very thing Ryan was implying. The Indianapolis Colts are no longer the Baltimore Colts because Indianapolis built a cruise ship and it brought the ocean. The difference is that Indy Eleven already has the team here. There doesn't need to be a reason to start a new one or steal one from somewhere else. The stadium just gives them a proper place to play, and maybe, in the future, be capable of being a 1st Division club (again, with the men since the women's team will already have that status next year when ("if" now?) they join the USL Super League). 

Then there were a couple of interactions I had with Jefferey Tompkins, who I normally like to read regarding his thoughts on developments. However, he showed he may understand developments (of which Eleven Park is definitely one), but doesn't understand soccer in this state by first continuing the "minor league" narrative, but also with a post that is he deleted where he stated that Indy Eleven could move to Fort Wayne because they too are planning a downtown development that could include a soccer stadium. Fort Wayne already has a professional soccer team in the USL system that is partially owned by former U.S. Men's National Team player DaMarcus Beasley. Part of the issue today was soccer fans having to explain how soccer works in this country.

Former Indy Eleven player Daniel Keller had this to say to Mayor Hogsett:

I appreciated Keller has a player, but unfortunately, I disagree with him here. An MLS team in Indianapolis would fill a stadium. There are enough casual supporters who want to watch "major league" soccer to fill the stands. There are enough people out there who know Messi and some of the other major stars on those teams that they will come to the games that might not come to the Indy Eleven games. There are enough Indy Eleven soccer fans that just want to watch and support soccer in this city. An Indianapolis MLS team would be successful. Ersal knows it. The Brickyard Battalion and Indy Eleven soccer fans know it. There is interest in soccer in this city and state. 

The issue and outcry from Indy Eleven supporters is not (entirely) about bringing MLS to Indianapolis. It's that its being done without the people who have been supporting soccer in this city and state for a decade or more. It's looking around them to find something shinier. Daniel is right that a plan for MLS expansion without collaboration with the Brickyard Battalion is a miscalculation. If the Mayor had stood there yesterday with Ersal and a bunch of Indy Eleven fans next to him, this entire thing goes differently. 

The Indy Eleven fan base, but particularly the hard-core, long-term supporters value that Indy Eleven has been built, not bought. Maybe those are midwestern ideals, but those are things that are important to this fanbase and the Mayor overlooked everything about it.

I don't know if MLS will accept an Indianapolis bid to join the league. History has shown that Indianapolis have never been that high on MLS's list, and so I seriously doubt that anything comes of it except the Mayor spending a bunch of money for a marketing campaign that won't work. The collateral damage, though, could be the demise of Indy Eleven. I know some people who don't think that will be true, and I indicated yesterday that it could survive as least short-term as an F you to the Mayor from Ersal. Yet, fans have waited years for the idea of having their own home stadium instead of sharing one with the Colts or playing at a track and soccer stadium that was on the IUPUI Master Plan to be demolished before Indy Eleven became its tenant. That, now, seems less likely again.

But who knows? 

The Mayor? Ersal Ozdemir? Their inside circles? Beyond that, I haven't found anybody that really knows what's going on. So maybe I'll be wrong.

Maybe Ersal and Keystone/Indy Eleven will pivot and the proposed >$1.0B development will be scaled back. The stadium was set to be $200M of that total, with the rest being the hotel, apartments, etc. Maybe the stadium doesn't look like the renderings (again...) and it gets redesigned to serve the more immediate needs with the ability to expand, which I've been saying they should do for years, and not all of the development happens. Maybe Ersal and Keystone/Indy Eleven say that they took over the management of Grand Park in Westfield, maybe they should just management Eleven Park and not turn it over to the Capital Improvement Board, which had been the plan. Maybe that's one more F you from Ersal to the Mayor, who I suspect won't be invited to that ribbon cutting ceremony. 

Who knows?

All day, I kept thinking about the phrase "Of all the unimportant things, football [soccer] is the most important." It's been attributed to Pope John Paul II, and whether that part is correct or not doesn't matter. What matters is that soccer and the community that it can build for them means a great deal. Soccer is important. The soccer community is important. The Mayor's announcement yesterday reminded me of that fact. I don't know all the Indy Eleven supporters, but I know a fair amount, and I believe a fair amount read the things that I write. The things we share are important to us, and we've built it that way. The community we built is important to us. The Mayor has forgotten that.

Like I said yesterday, tomorrow night I'll be at Carroll Stadium with a bunch of other people who like to watch "minor league" soccer and scream and cheer for Indy Eleven for 90-minutes. I have a feeling that a bunch of the people who you have been reading the past 24 hours can't say the same thing.

For now, that's where my soccer team plays, so that's where I'll be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only way I'll ever watch MLS in Indy is if the Eleven get promoted there. Not bought - promoted.