Charlotte was announced as the next MLS expansion city this week and that will have an impact on Indy Eleven.
Expansion cometh and expansion goeth and for Charlotte, North Carolina, expansion cometh with MLS in 2021. The city will celebrate a new soccer team (in a city already holding a USL Championship team) in 2021 and with that comes David Tepper, who is already worth enough money he can use 100s as tissues and is being gifted over 100 million dollars in tax money to renovate the publicly-owned Bank of America stadium. The stadium, which hosts Tepper’s NFL team, the Carolina Panthers, will undergo in the two years leading up to their first MLS season renovations that include a center entrance for soccer games in the stadium and new locker rooms.
Stadium for Indiana
As this debate ramps up in the Tar Heel state, in Indiana, it shines a light on the always spicy debate involving Indy Eleven’s pursuit of a home they wouldn’t share. Since moving to USL in 2018, Indy Eleven left the folksy confines of Michael Carroll Stadium. Known for its use for the Pro-Am games in 1987, it is the model of a modern major module stadium and was home to many of the historic moments during the beginnings of the team.
One thing to clarify for those who are on the outside looking in and ears perked up about the Charlotte bid… key things to take note of:
- The bid does not include the current team who play in the United Soccer League, Charlotte Independence.
- The bid is tied to David Tepper being given the tax money to help improve the stadium.
- The bid was actually delayed DUE to the tax money the city is giving Tepper
- The attendance of one team in no way can correctly predict the attendance of another.
Like most pro teams though, eventually, Indy Eleven would for both infrastructure and logistical reasons outgrow the confines of Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium. With their current home Lucas Oil Stadium, while obviously not built for soccer despite being billed as a multi-use facility, it’s opened new doors for the team. Indy Eleven saw a bump in attendance in 2019 compared to 2018 by about 700. The deal is rumored to be at minimum a better off deal for the team.
Needs vs wants
Let’s just cross this bridge early on. Indy Eleven does not need a soccer-specific stadium. They don’t. Anyone who says they do either is naive enough to believe the team is incapable of accomplishing what many other teams in this country have done by playing in a multi-use venue or they just simply would like to watch the city and state shovel tax money into a fire pit rather than fill in our roads and schools.
In the same regard that need is a strong word to use, want is also not a proper word. Indy Eleven doesn’t need a soccer-specific stadium built for them. They need something to change for the positive for the sport to continue to grow even to modest levels of interest in the city. Teams like Indy Eleven have faced similar battles and lost, with Chicago Fire being an example of the result of pushes for stadiums. While the word need might not be correct for the stadium, Indy Eleven are in need of proper facilities and better things when it comes to hosting games. The “football lines”, the atmospheric quality, as well as general infrastructure volume of seating, locker rooms and other things, can be brought up for reasons the team has a desire to play in their own building.
Of course, many would argue that there is no reason. “We paid for a multi-use facility, you have to stick with it” is the go-to line for many opponents of the soccer-specific stadium, and for the most part, they aren’t wrong. The city, state, and surround counties DID pay for a multi-use facility. Its multi-uses include monster truck rallies, basketball championships, obviously football, concerts, and a handful of other events and conventions… but soccer has never been granted the full use of the word “use” as other events have been.
Is it purposeful? No. Likely not. It’s tough because, of the sporting events hosted there, soccer is really the only one that doesn’t require a whole new surface put in and the work involved in removing, covering, or making the surface more friendly to the soccer ball being pushed up the field can make anyone’s head spin. But, it’s that argument of “it’s a multi-use facility” that often gets overlooked when the same efforts (publicly, anyway) aren’t put in for every event held there. Whether it’s due to the Colt’s being a primary tenant of the venue or other aspects is difficult to see, but it has led us to this point and the push to find a place for the sport of soccer in downtown Indianapolis/Marion County.
Indy Eleven wants to plant their flag, build their future, and have done so with their work in youth soccer and their academy signings last season. However, they still seem to keep reaching for the Colts-colored goals in terms of a stadium rather than sticking to their lane and managing realistic expectations.
Scaling it back
Keeping up with the Jones’ used to be a phrase used involving keeping up with your neighbors. In this case, it’s become a difficult task to ask Indy Eleven to keep their expectations modest and goals involving their stadium and the 550 million dollar entertainment/shopping district modest when everyone around them seems to be getting the things they want.
It’s clearly unforeseen as the club is generally very tight-lipped on most things involving the stadium, contracts, or anything else involving the day to day of the team, but the goals of MLS still shine brightly across the Circle City. It’s hard to ask for any professional team, taking the second division designation out. It’s hard to ask for any professional team to lower their expectations when their neighbors are clearly beating them to the punch.
It’s not fair
For Indy Eleven, the Charlotte MLS bid and their owner, David Tepper, having a chance of getting a check cut for over 100 million dollars in tax money being put into a publicly owned facility to be renovated to meet expectations by the league. You can’t really blame a guy like Ersal Ozdemir, who owns a professional soccer team playing in a publicly owned facility, for wanting something even remotely similar. It’s this ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality that has begun to plague not only sports, but also local politics and, locally, hurt the public perception of soccer.
That being said, Ersal clearly has a call to action where he can point over to the guy next door who just got his HOA to buy him a pool, Indy Eleven can’t be asking for a 20,000 seat stadium. While the goals are fair and it’s nice to shoot your shot, MLS is not a solid enough end goal for the security of the team. In a city owned by the Irsay family, you need to take him and the money out of it and see the big picture.
Modesty doesn’t go unnoticed in this sport and for the level Indy Eleven is at, tailoring their potential stadium after a Lynn Stadium in Louisville rather than trying to reach for an MLS-level stadium when they might not get MLS-level attendance would, in the long run, pay off more. It could potentially ease the discussion of finances, cool the hostility many have involving tax-tied money going to more sports ventures while, if built properly, leaving you with a window open for expansion if and when you need it.
It’s not lessening what Indy Eleven would play in. Indy Eleven’s diehards would watch in a grocery carted pitch at Walmart if they had to. It’s not admitting you are less than an MLS-quality stadium, but for the city of Indianapolis, it’s showcasing that the owners whose pockets aren’t as deep as the pockets of the guy sitting on West 56th street have a realistic approach. Realistic ideas about a stadium and the team’s future allows you to break from the chains and stigma of wearing your big brother’s suit and finally putting on your own clothing and who knows, maybe, just maybe, you might eventually get a blue Armani suit instead of a jacket and pants you bought together at Kohl’s.