We continue to break down each bid for expansion submitted to MLS by the January 31 deadline. Up next is Indianapolis. Indianapolis’ bid is an extension of the extremely successful Indy Eleven franchise, attempting to get them into MLS. Take a look as we break down their bid and chances at a bid overall.
MLS Expansion Profile: Indianapolis
Ownership Group and Stadium Plan
The Indianapolis ownership group is a lot of small investors, and then one man with a whole lot of clout, financially and politically. That man is Ersal Ozdemir, owner of the Keystone Group, a significant real estate development development firm in the Indianapolis area. The big thing about Ersal in charge is he likely has the ability to work out land for the stadium, as well as bring in the construction company (his own), AND has a good rapport with the Republican party in Indiana. The political maneuvering within the city, the planning commission, and if they move for state money will be left up to him. He just may prove to be a key asset for them, especially with the bid and stadium deal hinging on this.
The stadium plan has been unveiled, and is going through the approval for funds. The plan is to mainly finance it privately, and then repay the public money through tax on food, tickets, merchandise and a bunch of other things. The stadium is planned to go downtown, adjacent to Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts. Overall the stadium plan is pretty sound. The issue is getting the taxpayer funds if they go that route. They plan on keeping the majority of the project privately funded, but asking for some help from taxpayers isn’t a terrible idea.
Current Soccer Environment
The current soccer environment in Indianapolis is an interesting one. You have to take it for what it is, a smaller market, midwest town, where football dominates the sports scene. The big thing is, what bid that has an NFL team doesn’t have that issue? The majority of the markets involved in the bidding process are outside of the top 20 TV markets in the U.S, and plenty include market saturation with NFL, NBA, and MLB. MLS has dealt with that before, and will continue to deal with it. That’s just how it goes. The thing about Indianapolis is there is a very good grassroots soccer movement.
The team started with a group of soccer advocates taking donations to start a team, and finding local investors. Thus, the birth of Indy Eleven. Indy Eleven has been incredibly successful in that market for the first few years, and was a good example of a successful NASL franchise. In 2016, they were second in the league in attendance, only behind Minnesota United by 3,000 for the whole season.
Indiana itself has a good youth soccer scene, with the University of Indiana and Notre Dame having a couple of the best college soccer programs in the country. The grassroots movement is there, but, like most people in an NFL dominated market, the Indy pro-soccer movement won’t be at the forefront of their minds until it is big time. The addition of an Indianapolis MLS team, and the addition of an academy behind it would really help boost, and mine the talent field from Indiana, which as of now is funneled to the Chicago Fire for the most part.
Other Contributing Factors
For Indianapolis there are a few more contributing factors. The first one is whether or not they get the stadium deal done. That is something MLS has stated as a “must-have.” They at least have a proposal for it up which is more than a chunk of the bids that have been there. The stadium plan is passed the dream phase which is huge.
There are a decent amount of companies that can partner with Ersal for sponsorship and others. The big one, is Fortune 500 company, Anthem, which is a health insurance company. Based in Indianapolis, Ersal would be extremely wise to try and work them into a sponsorship or even part of the investment team. Even then, there are plenty of local companies that the bid team would be smart to work on board.
Television market is another one, coupled with the market saturation. It only has the Colts and the Pacers to deal with as competition. That is pretty nice. Some markets in here have an MLB Team, an NFL Team, and a few others. The NFL isn’t that big of an issue, as there really aren’t big “local TV” broadcast deals for NFL. That means their only local competitor for regional broadcast time is the Pacers, which is primarily night games on the weekend. The NBA has not proved to cause local TV issues. Take a look at Salt Lake City and Orlando as examples. Both of those markets deal with NBA and are still successful. They also have roughly similar TV market sizes as Indianapolis.
I think that Indianapolis’ bid took a mini boost thanks to Sacramento’s issues. They’re also a real dark-horse. Outside of Sacramento, they’re the only bid with a comprehensive soccer specific stadium plan that is in the works within the local government. St. Louis honestly seems to be a lock for an expansion spot. Whether or not they become the Eastern Conference team, or a Western conference team basically depends on whether or not the league chooses Sacramento or Indianapolis.
The big thing here is that MLS seems to have strung Sacramento along for a significant amount of time, and would probably jump at the chance to leave them out. I am not sure why, but that’s the vibe I’ve gotten. They have fixed things it looks like, but does that fix the big question within the league of whether or not they get one of the spots?
Honestly I think it’s a coin-toss between Sacramento and Indianapolis for the other spot. So who will likely join St. Louis? I personally think that the league will jump at this opportunity and leave Sacramento out. So I think they have a good chance.