Eleven to play rent free at Lucas Oil Stadium, bigger crowds expected

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The Indy Eleven will play its home games rent free at Lucas Oil Stadium and the city and team will each pay part of the operating expenses at the city-owned venue.

The details of the one-year deal are still being worked out, said Capital Improvement Board President Melina Kennedy after a Monday press conference.

It’s not clear yet, Kennedy told IBJ, what share of the operating expenses the city will pay versus what the team will pay to play most of its games at Lucas Oil, rather than IUPUI's Carroll Stadium, which has been its home. Kennedy said the deal will be finalized “soon.”

“We’re still working through the cost-sharing agreement,” Kennedy said. “We think the exposure that the Indy Eleven bring to Lucas Oil Stadium will be good not only for the venue but the city as well.”

The Eleven may still play one or two of its games at its old home on the IUPUI campus due to scheduling conflicts at Lucas Oil. IU officials were present at Monday’s press conference.

Eleven President Jeff Belskus told IBJ he expects the team's cost to play in Lucas Oil will be similar to that of playing in the antiquated Carroll Stadium. The Eleven were paying a high five-figure to low six-figure sum per game to play at Carroll, Belskus said. And he noted that in Carroll Stadium, the team had to rent things like grandstands and the sound system for each game. 

“The cost to rent the grandstands alone was $10,000 a game. Those are obviously in place at Lucas Oil Stadium,” Belskus said. “But utilities were very cheap [at Carroll Stadium]. Obviously utilities will be much, much more expensive at Lucas Oil Stadium.”

To keep costs down, The Eleven will only use two entries—north and south end—and likely curtain off the top sections of the stadium.

The Eleven plan to use about 12,000 seats in the venue’s lowest level and possibly 4,000 seats in the next level up, Belskus said. Overall, the stadium has 67,000 seats.

“We expect 16,000 for our home opener March 31 against Cincinnati,” Belskus said. “We think our fan base is going to be very excited and FC Cincinnati drew 22,000 per game last year—and they travel—so we expect a number of them will be coming here.”

That crowd size never would have been possible at Carroll Stadium, which can accommodate fewer than 11,000 for soccer. 

The Eleven have played its home games at Carroll Stadium since its first season in 2014 and have been in the top two in attendance in the North American Soccer League each season. Last year, the team averaged about 8,500 fans per home game—tops in the NASL. But team officials complained that lack of amenities—including permanent restrooms and concession stands and a covered concourse—hurt the team’s drawing power. Several times during their time at IUPUI, the venue had to be evacuated due to thunder storms.

That won’t be a problem at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“This is a first-class venue that our fans will really embrace,” said Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir. He said the venue’s amenities from concession stands to locker rooms are among the best in the Eleven’s new league, the United Soccer League.

USL Chief Operating Officer Justin Papadakis, who was in attendance for Monday’s press conference, agreed.

“Obviously, this is a premiere venue,” Papadakis said. “It takes the team’s game experience to the next level. This venue has tremendous sightlines and we think the environment can be made intimate.”

The Indy Eleven will be the second team in the 33-team USL to play its home games at an NFL stadium. The Nashville SC plays its home games at the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. FC Cincinnati plays its home games at the University of Cincinnati’s home football field.

The Eleven are eager to play in the stadium with the roof open. Belskus noted that the USL has no rules concerning roof openings and closings, meaning the Eleven could start a game with the roof open, and if bad weather blows in, it could be closed mid-game.

Belskus doesn’t expect ticket prices to change much from the team’s games at IUPUI.

“Some ticket prices could be a little more and some could be a little less,” Belskus said. “General admission—what we charge the Brickyard Battalion—in Carroll was $15 and that will stay the same.”

The Eleven, Belskus said, are working on a deal with the Indianapolis Colts to utilize the suites. Colts suite holders often retain the rights to use their suites during non-Colts events. 

City officials said they’d like to see the Eleven play at Lucas Oil Stadium for multiple years, but Eleven officials made it clear that they are still seeking to build a soccer-specific stadium.

“Our long-term goal of having a soccer-specific stadium has not changed,” Belskus said. “How long this deal lasts remains to be seen.” 

The deal to play in Lucas Oil Stadium is an outgrowth of officials from the city and Eleven working together, Belskus said, noting that there was only so much the city could do for the team while it played in the state-owned stadium at IUPUI.

“We’re very grateful to the city and the Colts and all the other parties who made this possible,” Belskus said. “What this really is about is offering a far superior fan experience.”

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