After a stressful day, it was a true pleasure to attend tonight’s Build the Brickhouse event at the Brugge Brasserie in Broad Ripple. Want to learn more about Indy Eleven and get connected to the team? You really should attend one of these events; it’s worth your time and you’ll meet good people.
I caught the first of two sessions, which was well attended by enthusiastic, interested, and happy fans. I got to know a few folks and enjoyed talking soccer with them — yes, even the Man United and Spurs fans. Everyone there was all about the Indy Eleven, and it’s pretty clear that the excitement is real.
And, you know… if I’m going to try to report on these things, I’m gonna have to learn how to take notes. Not there yet, though. I’m not really confident I got names right, in particular, so bear with me.
After introductions (by John Koluder, I believe), the first half of the event was a talk and Q&A session with Peter Wilt. It’s clear this is a serious and knowledgeable management team. The key takeaway, for me, is that the Eleven are striking a great balance between realism and ambition. Maybe it’s easy to say the right words, but I really have the sense that this group can back up the words and build a strong soccer foundation for the city.
Wilt’s general thrust was that establishing an Indy team is a three-step process: start with the rabid fan base in Indy; sink roots deep into the culture and society of the city; and then put out a great experience for serious and casual fans alike. That will include the on-field performance and the overall fan experience.
Wilt also had a lot of interesting details to share about the team.
The Eleven will play at Carroll Stadium on the IUPUI campus, at least for the first few years. It’s clear that they’re both happy with the choice but also mindful of its limits, and making that venue work is going to be a big early challenge. “It’s what keeps me up at night,” Wilt said.
The team originally leaned towards the Butler Bowl as their home, but liked the downtown presence and larger capacity of Carroll. The extra capacity seems even more important now with over 3,000 season ticket pledges; it’s clear that Indy will be at the top end of NASL attendance with numbers like those. Carroll can hold around 13,000 fans, and it seems like those numbers could be in reach, at least for a few matches per season. They’ll likely install bleachers behind the end lines, to bring fans closer to the action, and the Brickyard Battalion will have seats behind the east end. (I’m already imagining great photos of the BYB against the Indy skyline… and I’m sure Wilt, Dunmore, and Koluder are already thinking the same way.) Good parking is important, and space for tailgating is also an area of interest. The IUPUI lots north of the stadium will work well for the latter, while the garages east of the stadium will handle the rest of the parking.
Location and capacity is good, but Carroll is lacking in facilities. Restrooms, food and drink concessions, merchandise sales, and hospitality suites are all going to be challenges in the venue. Wilt shared some of the thoughts about how to address this, and the plans sound good so far, though they’re still in development. There’s a lot of work to do, but the progress at this stage — ten months before the first match — is a good sign for success.
However, Carroll is only a short-term solution, and it’s clear that a soccer-only venue is still a club priority. There are four downtown locations under consideration, including the former GM facilities west of downtown, and the former Market Square site (I assume the lot south of Market, as the north lot is currently the subject of a development RFP). Wilt seems committed to staying downtown, specifically mentioning Hamilton County as attractive for one key segment, but being a roadblock for “the rest of Indiana”. The four sites are all under active consideration, and each has plusses and minuses.
The plans are ambitious. Based on the current ticket sales, 18,500 seats was mentioned as a possibility. That’s in the realm of MLS capacities; Columbus Crew Stadium, for example, holds 20,145. Combine that with a downtown location, and the team could be well positioned to host other high-profile events. It’ll be interesting to see how sales build out, and how that plays into the timing and scope of stadium development efforts.
Wilt dropped some juicy hints about the naming of the team manager. He said that they “probably could announce in two weeks or so,” but that they would hold off the announcement until after all the 500-related excitement dies down.
It looks like the manager will have Indiana roots. Wilt said that they didn’t seriously consider any out-of-state candidates. That was mentioned as a very helpful thing — he said that the manager will need a solid understanding of US soccer and the regional talent pool. He specifically mentioned that foreign coaches aren’t appealing to him because they don’t tend to understand the American style and know almost nothing about local talent.
Players will be another interesting area to watch. He mentioned that there’s been a lot of interest — “They’ve seen the fan response and they want to come to this team.” NASL has a limit of seven non-resident players per team; Wilt started from that number to indicate that the team could end up with a balanced composition between the foreign quota, local players, and other US-based players. (Permanent residents don’t count against the limit on foreigners.) All NASL teams are essentially free agents, as there’s no collective bargaining agreement; that means no NASL draft. He indicated that the team wasn’t planning for any specific style of play just yet, though obviously signing a manager will change that.
Wilt gave a lot of credit to the efforts of the Brickyard Battalion, particularly for getting a supporters group started two years before there was even a team. The BYB was represented by VP Brett Corbit (hopeIgotthatright) who gave a short and sweet pitch to join; seriously, there is zero reason not to sign up. Do it! Wilt also introduced Peter Evans (IhopeIhope) of Slaughterhouse Nineteen, the punk/hardcore BYB affiliate; Peter’s introduction of S-19 as founded in the punk community with a social justice ethos was short and sweet and damn interesting, actually. Seeing how the supporters’ groups fit together, collaborate, and yet serve unique communities really points to a strong and broad level of support for the Eleven in Indiana. The BYB already has over a thousand members, and a dozen affiliate groups, and that’s only going to grow.
Surprisingly, the team name didn’t come up early or with any great heat. Wilt made a point to bring it up, as the selection of Eleven as the name has been met with a good bit of negative response in some quarters. Tom Dunmore spoke at length about the process and the available choices, and how there were so many problems and pitfalls. In particular, both Dunmore and Wilt spoke of trying hard to avoid “American minor league” names that are “based on mascots”. (In my head, I heard a faint litany of ‘Carolina RailHawks… Atlanta Silverbacks… Tampa Bay Rowdies….’) He also mentioned not being satisfied with traditional soccer names that don’t fit well: the blandness of ‘United’; the unsatisfying debates between ‘FC’ and ‘SC’.
Talking with fans, I think everyone is mostly just moving on from the name discussion. I didn’t hear a lot of excitement about it, but I heard a LOT of excitement about having a team.
A few other interesting tidbits of discussion:
- Broadcast possibilities — Webcasts will be available, at a minimum, though they’re working towards local TV broadcast of home matches
- An announcement is coming next week about the major friendly match Indy will host in August! Two Champions League teams — Serie A against mumbleEPLmumble? Seriously cool possibilities.
- The possibility of hosting a friendly tournament for the Eleven, something like the Emirates Cup; Wilt mentioned a dream lineup would include a MLS team, a big Mexican team, and possibly an English team, playing against the Eleven.
All in all, an entertaining and educational night. I highly recommend you attend a Build the Brickhouse event if you can. And I am PUMPED to see what’s going to happen over the coming months. It’s going to be some huge stuff!