The Indy Eleven leads the North American Soccer League in attendance in just the team’s first season—and it could go higher next year with some adjustments to its home stadium.
The Eleven are averaging 10,430 fans per game at the track and soccer stadium at IUPUI, and have more than double the attendance of seven NASL teams. The complete NASL attendance rundown is listed below..
Despite the fact that the Eleven have sold out every home game this season, General Manager Peter Wilt isn’t resting on his laurels. Instead, he’s looking for ways to increase attendance at the team’s temporary home on the west edge of downtown Indianapolis.
“Next year, we’re going to look into re-configuring some seats to see if we can improve some sight lines and traffic flow,” Wilt told IBJ this week.
And with that, Wilt hopes to add capacity for next season.
Although the atmosphere inside the stadium originally built for track and field was a concern, Wilt admits it has turned out better for soccer than originally anticipated.
A lot of that, he said, has to do with adjustments to the game-day experience after the team’s first home game, as well as full-throated cheering and chanting from the team’s charismatic support group, the Brickyard Battalion.
“The atmosphere created by the Brickyard Battalion is tremendous and that carries over to the entire crowd,” Wilt said. “The Battalion stands for the entire game. It’s unusual to see that at most NASL games, and [Major League Soccer] games too. You don’t see that sort of group enthusiasm at [MLS’] Chicago or Columbus [Ohio],” Wilt said.
And Wilt should know. He was the founding CEO of MLS’ Chicago Fire.
“You can tell the fans coming to our [Eleven] games are into the game,” he said. “They’re paying attention. They’re not just there for a social outing.”
As surprising as the Eleven’s first-year attendance and crowd enthusiasm is the team’s financial status in its first year. There were more than a few sports business experts who thought the sports landscape here was too crowded for the team to be viable as a for-profit business.
While the Indy Eleven won’t be making a profit this year, Wilt indicated much of the loss will be related to the more than $1 million team owner Ersal Ozdemir put into renovating the IUPUI stadium, including the construction of 11 suites and improvements to concession areas and rest rooms.
Asked if the Eleven will bring in enough revenue to cover its costs minus what had been put into the stadium, Wilt offered a broad smile.
“We don’t divulge financials,” he said.
Wilt made it clear that Eleven, even subtracting capital expenses, wouldn’t be anywhere near wildly profitable in the next two years, but I got the idea that the break-even point might not be too far off.
“One thing we can say: Attendance and sponsorship have exceeded our expectations when the team was first started,” Wilt said.
So what does the immediate future hold for the Eleven?
Wilt promises team officials will be back in front of the state General Assembly during its next session to discuss financing for a new stadium.
He declined to say what he and Ozdemir might ask of state lawmakers or shed light on any potential sites for a new stadium, although he said a downtown site is still preferred. Ozdemir had sought to redevelop the old GM stamping plant, but lost out on that bid.
In the meantime, Wilt is looking for ways to squeeze a bit more revenue out of the team’s operations at its current home. Eleven fans can rest easy. Wilt promises there will be no major ticket price increases next year—although, he said, demand continues to outrun supply for tickets. There’s even a waiting list for suites.
Wilt suggests the two major areas for revenue growth will come from increased sponsorship sales and participation in the team’s youth summer camps.
“We had 500 kids in our summer camp this year, and I think we can double that or more next year,” Wilt said. “I also think there are some good opportunities to add sponsors.”
Indy Eleven 10,430
Minnesota United FC 9,882
San Antonio Scorpions 6,884
Tampa Bay Rowdies 4,822
N.Y. Cosmos 4,790
Ottawa Fury 4,669
Atlanta Silverbacks 4,596
Carolina RailHawks 4,567
FC Edmonton 3,736
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3,471