The Indy Eleven soccer team, with cooperation from the city of Indianapolis, is planning to apply for one of four expansion openings in Major League Soccer, Sports Illustrated reported Monday night, citing team President Jeff Belskus as its source.
Jumping from the North American Soccer League—the second-tier professional soccer league in the United States—to the top league would require the Indy Eleven to pay a franchise expansion fee of at least $150 million and would involve construction of a downtown stadium.
Belskus told SI that the application will include a plan for a downtown stadium that would be built between Lucas Oil Stadium and the White River as part of a public-private partnership.
Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir and his partners would kick in a “significant amount of private money” to fund the stadium, said Belskus, the former CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Team officials have made several unsuccessful attempts with lawmakers over the past few years to gain support for a downtown stadium that would seat as many as 18,500 people.
Belskus told SI that Ozdemir planned to submit the application by hand to MLS headquarters in New York City on Tuesday, the deadline for applications.
The Eleven would join 11 other teams that are vying for the four available openings in the 22-year-old league. Two successful applicants would join MLS by the 2020 season as the league’s 25th and 26th teams.
Teams 27 and 28 would begin playing at a “later” but undetermined date, the league said.
The league said it expects to announce the first two winners in the second or third quarter of this year.
MLS set the fee for expansion teams 25 and 26 at $150 million and said the fee for the other two teams would be announced later.
The price for clubs 27 and 28 will be announced in conjunction with the announcement of the timeline for the selection of those clubs.
The local team faces tough competition. Other cities applying for the opening include San Diego, Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Phoenix and Cincinnati.
Also on the list are Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
MLS said it would consider three top priorities when reviewing potential franchises:
—“A committed local ownership group that has a passion for the sport, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.”
—“A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.”
—“A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.”
Until earlier this month, there was uncertainty over whether the Eleven would have a league to play in next season. On Jan. 6, the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Governors announced it would keep the NASL at the Division II level for the 2017 season but with provisional status. Fears about the league's long-term viability had risen after it lost several teams.
The federation also promoted the United Soccer League from the third to the second division, also with provisional status.
The Eleven have shown recent success on the field with a NASL title in the Spring Season and a runner-up finish in the fall. But the team has seen a 20 percent decline in attendance since its 2014 inaugural season.
Playing at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium, the Eleven’s average attendance slid from 10,465 in its first season—a sellout every game—to 9,809 in 2015 and 8,362 in 2016.