Indy Eleven’s stadium amendments headed to House

The stadium bill for Indy Eleven moves out of the Senate, into the House.

If Indy Eleven were participating in it, they would be just over the first three or four hurdles racing against the clock. On Tuesday, the team found out that Senate Bill Seven, which grants the Capital Improvement Board the right to work on expansions of the convention center as well as renewing their deal with the Indiana Pacers, as well as the amendments that would grant Indy Eleven the right to build a soccer-specific stadium, has left the State Senate and moved onto the House of Representatives for Indiana. There, it’s safe to expect, is where more radical changes could come about.

Where the bill sits currently

Following the second reading in the Senate, only one amendment was added which extended a key portion of Amendment seven to a larger window. The original amendment read that following the bill signing (or a predetermined date) that Indy Eleven would have two years to be granted an expansion spot with Major League Soccer. Amendment One, which was added Monday during the second reading, granted Indy Eleven an additional year making it three years to make it to the top division in the United States in order to be eligible to active the state’s portion of the deal. In addition to joining MLS in three years, it’s likely that Indy Eleven would have to reach a 25-year lease agreement with CIB which is fairly standard with both the Pacers/Bankers Life Fieldhouse as well as the Colts/Lucas Oil Stadium.

One question that has popped up on twitter is by definition, what it means that a team has to be playing in Major League Soccer in order to be “gifted” the stadium. By definition, it reads that the team wouldn’t hypothetically have to play at Lucas Oil Stadium for a season in MLS before they could work on the stadium but rather after they were given an expansion spot they could have the discussion of the lease agreement.

Besides the change to the window of when they would need to join MLS, everything was retained in the original bill that left the Senate Appropriations committee. Indy Eleven owners would be responsible for AT LEAST 20% of the total costs of construction of the stadium. The full bill and details involving Indy Eleven can be read here. I would highly recommend using the search feature to help find things you are interested in.

One interesting note inside the bill is the fiscal notes involved with the study behind what the taxing district that the amendments tied to Eleven Park would create. These notes better describe what most of the lawmakers will reference when they talk about the deal itself.

Besides the previously mentioned many of the key points in the amendments were retained as the bill itself was passed Tuesday by a vote of 49-1. The only nay vote was from Mike Young of Indianapolis.

Onto the House:

Have you ever watched a boxing or MMA event? They do their events with an undercard, typically fights not billed or presented with as much glitz and glamor as the main event. For Indy Eleven, the fight in the Senate was their undercard. It was still going to be a challenge but you still have to get passed by after the bill left the Appropriations committee with the MLS tag attached to it it was difficult to see a way the bill in its entirety didn’t make it past the State Senate.

Now it’s onto the House where the real fight comes into play. It’s easy to expect that this bill will get a close examination by the House and get more amendments attached to it affecting Indy Eleven and their stadium. The biggest shield that the team can hold onto is the MLS tag. While it’s a pain and a massive inconvenience for them in the long run without more than 20% committed up front for the stadium that MLS tag is acting as a down payment.

Major League Soccer or Bust

Soccer fans, die-hards, those who spend hours on Twitter every day reviewing news just as any other sports fan would, knows the line between Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League. While we can sit here and explain the differences to those on the outside that aren’t knee deep with the news every day, Major League Soccer is seen as the NBA/NFL/MLB/NHL of the soccer world. One of the reasons for this massive level of debate and why it’s difficult for lawmakers who are going from hearing about NBA arenas and NFL stadiums to MLS stadiums now being the high trend is MLS isn’t the top league in the world.

In the United States, we are gifted with many things for sports fans. We have the highest level of professional football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. Soccer is the only sport that doesn’t have the largest league in the world. You can even make the argument that MLS isn’t even the largest league in North America with the likes of Liga MX making strides TV ratings wise in the states.

We can shout at the clouds every day that USL can be seen as the same profitable and stable as MLS but for those who handle write the laws for Indiana, MLS is the biggest guarantee the team can make. It’s the downpayment on the leased vehicle you are purchasing. It would definitely be easy to see, as one of the pressing issues in the House, that increasing that 20% that would be contributed by the team would put less risk on the state to bail out the financing if the taxes collected over 25 years fall short of the projections.

It wouldn’t be difficult to see Indy Eleven in MLS. The problem is, once coveted and desired, with the retention of the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, Nashville SC coming into the league in 2020 and FC Cincinnati beginning league play this season, Indy Eleven would have a tough time making the case that MLS would find it useful to have another midwest team. However, this is getting ahead of the entire process. For the immediate, Indy Eleven has to stay focused on maintaining not only their own stability but the stability of this bill. Unless a few extra zeroes would get added to a check for the cost of the stadium the fight to join MLS comes after passing of the bill with the amendments.

Let’s talk about this op-ed

Recently run on IndyStar, which is the largest publication in the State of Indiana, was an Op-Ed by John C. Mozena. Mozena is Michigan resident and president of the Center for Economic Accountability which, by definition, advocates on accountability of governmental accountability of economics. The piece can be found here and makes extremely valid points.

Inside the op-ed, Mozena mentions, among other things, how unfriendly the Indy Eleven proposal is:

Politicians and team owners point to the fact that no specific new taxes are dedicated to the specific funding streams in this deal and call it “taxpayer-friendly.” But how friendly are you being to a taxpayer when the money’s no longer there for local police, fire or EMS first responders to show up as quickly to that taxpayer’s home as they might have in the past? How friendly are you being when an underfunded road maintenance budget results in a wheel-damaging pothole, or the swings in the local playground go just a bit too long before a safety inspection thanks to cuts in the parks and recreation budget? How friendly are you being to vulnerable community members who depend on locally-provided services such as drug addiction recovery programs, witness protection in criminal trials or assistance in collecting past-due child support?
Source

The whole piece is worth the read but the gist of his op-ed spoke on how generally speaking these deals, while not creating new taxes can eventually take away from other revenue sources that would otherwise be used to fund things like police, EMS, Fire. Mozena compared the subsidizing that has gone on in communities like Indianapolis that eventually led the issues in Ferguson, Missouri:

This might sound alarmist, but we don’t have to imagine how “unfriendly” this could look in the worst-case scenario. That’s because we’ve seen it already, in Ferguson, Missouri a few years ago. After dealing away too much in business tax breaks over the years, Ferguson turned to the police and courts to pay its bills. At one point, almost a quarter of the city’s $11 million budget was funded by fees and fines on individuals through the courts, rather than taxes on the city’s commercial and industrial property.

Source

Let’s try to eliminate everyone’s knee jerk reaction to use the talking points of this deal to rebuke what was said. There are still a ton of things left for this deal and I would hope that we see the House take the time to make sure that this isn’t going to be a deal that in the long term bites taxpayers in the behind.

No, it doesn’t create new taxes. The tax structure for this district is utilizing what’s typically referred to as “luxury taxes” which would be a tax on things like sodas, tickets for MLS games, and in this case hotels that would be collected and put towards the money the state provided for the stadium. It is extremely alarmist to even begin to suggest that shortcomings from these taxes could even lead to something like what happened in Ferguson, Missouri in Indianapolis, Indiana. More so at the stage, we currently are at it’s extremely premature to even know if the House won’t close any loopholes that would keep Ersal Ozdemir or any of the other owners from using the state as an ATM for when they can’t pay their bill.

Stop using Lucas Oil Stadium as a tool of fear

The main gist of this op-ed, while not directly, circles back to the sword that usually comes out of anti-stadium builders arguments.

Lucas Oil Stadium.

This state has been plagued and burdened with not only still paying on the RCA Dome, which housed the Colts prior to Lucas Oil Stadium, but having been held hostage by the Indianapolis Colts which generates a large amount of revenue for the state, the city of Indianapolis, as well as local businesses. This has been a tool used by those who are against any development like Eleven Park.

Instead of using this as a tool of fear, Lucas Oil Stadium should be used as a tool of motivation to do better.

There have also been plenty of people who have repeatedly mentioned that they don’t comprehend why Indy Eleven can’t continue to play in Lucas Oil Stadium since the multi-purpose stadium is… well… multi-purpose. It’s true. The team could continue to play in the stadium but for two big reasons, that’s not something that can work long term for Indy Eleven.

Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t soccer fan-friendly.

When you walk into Lucas Oil Stadium before an Indy Eleven game you are going to be greeted by a nice brush of comfortable air, the great sounds of the Brickyard Battalion and the visual realization of how difficult playing in a football stadium is for a soccer team.

This picture was taken from a suite, but the idea is plain to see. Fans are far away from the action on the field. Entire sections of the stadium are blocked off from fans. One of the biggest issues (which was previously written about by myself) is football lines. While the taxpayer who contributes to the stadium can see Lucas Oil Stadium as a multi-purpose stadium, it’s the Colts stadium. Lines were set on the field and were not only unable to be covered to allow fans and players better visuals during the game but the actual soccer field lines were barely visible both in person and on TV.

If lawmakers would grant the CIB the money allotted to properly make another purpose for this multi-purpose stadium Indy Eleven could, realistically, stay in Lucas Oil Stadium. As it stands though, right now, it won’t. Thus the need for a soccer-specific stadium that Indy Eleven can use without feeling like they are wearing their dad’s suit that’s two times bigger than it needs to be.

The other reason that Indy Eleven realistically can’t stay in Lucas Oil Stadium is due to general requirements for lengths and widths of the field. This obviously is difficult to dictate and they might be able to push this aside, but the general requirements for a soccer field are longer than the current field set up at Lucas Oil Stadium.

What’s next?

Indy Eleven won’t see their involvement in Senate Bill 7 discussed until at least Monday when the House returns. The term being used is “cross-over” for the local government. This is the period where bills from the House are being moved to the Senate and vice versa. Indy Eleven are going to be in for a fight as the House is an entirely different dog than the Senate. It will be interesting to see what things occur or what news comes out of it. For now, all we can do is wait and be thankful for when all this is all over and we can focus on the sport rather than the politics.

 

Author

Brian Cook

Brian has followed Indy Eleven as a supporter since their birth and began covering the team in a number of capacities in 2015. He can be reached at brianfrederickcook@gmail.com or @SoccerwithBrian on Twitter.