Hogsett says city to pursue Major League Soccer franchise

  • Comments
  • Print
Listen to this story

Subscriber Benefit

As a subscriber you can listen to articles at work, in the car, or while you work out. Subscribe Now
This audio file is brought to you by
Loading audio file, please wait.
  • 0.25
  • 0.50
  • 0.75
  • 1.00
  • 1.25
  • 1.50
  • 1.75
  • 2.00

Mayor Joe Hogsett said Thursday that Indianapolis will pursue a Major League Soccer team—a surprise announcement that comes a few days after he says he visited New York City to talk with MLS officials.

In what the city described as a “significant announcement about the future of sports in Indiana,” Hogsett said the city plans to work with an undisclosed ownership group to develop a stadium using a funding mechanism approved by the Legislature in 2019.

Hogsett said he had a “productive meeting” with MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Monday.

“Every great achievement in our city’s history has begun where opportunity was met with action,” Hogsett said at Thursday’s announcement. “Today we enter our pursuit of the world’s game.”

Hogsett said the city has two options for a stadium site.

The City-County Council has already started the financing process for a soccer stadium by establishing a professional sports development area for a stadium location at the former Diamond Chain manufacturing site on the west side of downtown. The designation—if approved by the state—would capture tax revenue collected within the zone and use it to pay off bonds for a stadium.

In addition, Hogsett said his administration will begin the work of establishing a PSDA that could be used to locate a stadium at the site of the Downtown Heliport. The Indianapolis International Airport Authority owns that site and has taken steps to decommission it and make it available for development, although that process has proven controversial among some who want to maintain a heliport.

The work on the PSDA for the Diamond Chain site is well underway and was meant to develop a stadium for the Indy Eleven, a team that plays in the USL Championship league, which is in a second tier of professional soccer. That land is owned by Keystone Group, whose owner, Ersal Ozdemir, is also the majority owner of Indy Eleven. Hogsett—who attended the groundbreaking last year for Eleven Park, the district that would include the stadium—said on Thursday that the city has determined the PSDA would not generate enough money to pay for the Indy Eleven stadium.

Still, on Thursday, the mayor told reporters that the Diamond Chain site and the existing PSDA remain options for a stadium to be used by the MLS team a new ownership group would bid for. Hogsett did not take questions from reporters at his announcement, and he did not say whether Keystone Group would be willing to sell the land for a stadium or whether Ozdemir would have a role in the ownership group.

Hogsett said at either site, the stadium project would be contingent upon the city and the ownership group securing an MLS franchise. The mayor declined to share the names of the potential investors, but he said the group is “led by an experienced and well-respected sports executive, who has held leadership roles in MLS and global soccer.”

He said the group hopes to submit a formal bid to the league by the end of this year.

MLS is the highest level of men’s professional soccer in North America, with 29 teams in the United States and Canada. In a statement after the announcement Thursday, MLS issued a statement saying that, “It was exciting to hear Mayor Hogsett’s vision for a new soccer-specific stadium in Indianapolis.”

News of the city’s move to forgo its relationship with the Keystone Group comes after the development company told IBJ earlier Thursday that the city had been quietly marketing itself for potential MLS suitors after walking away from a deal on its proposed $1.5 billion Eleven Park stadium district.

Details of the new ownership group are expected to emerge in the coming weeks, city officials said, although the group is not expected to include Ozdemir.

The Indianapolis Colts told IBJ that owner Jim Irsay is not involved in the ownership group. When asked if the Simon family was involved in the group, the Indiana Pacers did not answer directly, instead saying the organization had “always been supportive of initiatives to make our city a more vibrant place to live.”

A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told IBJ that longtime soccer executive Tom Glick is among those involved in the project. The source characterized Glick’s role as that of a “broker” rather than as one of the major investors in the proposed franchise, adding that the city had been in talks with the longtime soccer and sports executive since January to potentially orchestrate a run at MLS.

Glick previously was president of Tepper Sports & Entertainment, which owns MLS club Charlotte FC and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. He most recently worked for Chelsea FC in the United Kingdom. Prior to his time at Tepper, Glick was president of New York City FC and chief commercial officer of Manchester City.

Sports outlet The Athletic separately reported on Glick’s involvement in the city’s efforts. Glick did not return a call requesting comment Thursday evening.

The city’s move would effectively quash the 11-year-old Indy Eleven’s hopes of going after an MLS designation of its own, something Ozdemir has long said he wanted, as well as his hopes of developing the stadium district that broke ground last May.

City officials said Thursday that negotiations with Keystone faltered after they determined there was a “substantial gap”—they declined to share a specific figure—in tax revenue that would be generated by the proposed district.

The city had been in negotiations with Keystone about incentives for Eleven Park, which was to include the 20,000-seat soccer stadium, a 4,000-seat entertainment venue, 600 apartments, a hotel, office space, retail and other amenities.

According to a source familiar with the situation, the city told Keystone last week about its decision to move forward with an alternative route and another ownership group but had not been in regular contact with the company about its tax incentives request since January.

Ozdemir and the Indy Eleven lobbied the Legislature for several years for passage of the law that authorized the professional sports development area specifically for a soccer stadium. The bill, initially passed in 2019 and updated in 2021, required the developer or team owner to contribute at least 20% to the project. The law allows for up to 80% of the funding for the stadium to come from the revenue generated by tax revenue within the district.

The City-County Council approved the PSDA map for the Eleven Park project in December. But Keystone Group said in its statement on Thursday that the Hogsett administration never forwarded that map on to the State Budget Committee, a requirement for the financing to move forward.

On Thursday, Hogsett said the second option for a stadium site—the existing parking lot west of the heliport structure at 355 E. Pearl St.—would likely incorporate several neighboring parking lots, including a large lot directly east of the heliport operated by Denison.

In a lengthy statement, Indianapolis Airport Authority officials told IBJ they are still working to decommission the heliport—a process that began in December 2020—but that the airport authority has a formal agreement with the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development to eventually redevelop the heliport site in a manner that “will promote physical revitalization of the site and financial reinvestment into the downtown area.”

As part of the PSDA process, the DMD on Wednesday submitted a new map to the Metropolitan Development Commission that will be considered by the commission at 1 p.m. May 1 in the City-County Building Public Assembly Room.

That map, which will be made public Friday, could potentially capture several nearby areas prime for redevelopment and city projects—a feature that city officials said make it a viable option.

If the proposal is approved by the eight-member board, it will move on to the Indianapolis City-County Council, before returning to the MDC for a final certification. Under the 2019 legislation that created the PSDA’s framework, the city must have those legislative approvals by June 30.

Hogsett administration officials will work over that period with the ownership group to determine which site to submit to the state budget committee. The state law allows for only one PSDA for the future soccer stadium and requires a feasibility study to be conducted on that property for consideration by the State Budget Committee.

The city’s Capital Improvement Board, which has been working on a study tied to the Eleven Park proposal, said earlier Thursday that the analysis has not been completed. The CIB has been working with Chicago-based Hunden Partners to complete the study, but it has been put on hold until a site is selected by the new ownership group.

The city said it will be able to submit the proposal to the MLS after securing support and approval from the state, and it plans to complete that application by the end of this year.

If Indianapolis is considered for an MLS expansion club, the new ownership group will likely have to pay a hefty sum to get the ball rolling and could face an uphill battle in the Midwest. Over the last several years, St. Louis, Nashville and Cincinnati have been approved for expansion, as have Charlotte and Miami.

In San Diego, officials paid a franchise fee of $500 million for an MLS expansion team set to begin play in 2025.

City officials said if Indianapolis fails in its expansion bid, development on a stadium, which does not have a projected development cost, will not proceed.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

74 thoughts on “Hogsett says city to pursue Major League Soccer franchise

  1. Cowardly and very poor business decision by Hogsett. And now, all of the fans that have stayed with the Eleven will likely NEVER support the MLS team out of spite

    1. Keystone is a sloppy developer and has never built anything sustainable or successful.

      Right decision IMO

  2. This deserves a focused investigation. Mr. Ozdemir has worked for years with the Indiana General Assembly and the City County Council to advance an exciting and doable plan for a blighted part of Indianapolis. He has spent millions toward this dream as a minority leader in our city. The citizens need more information.

    1. 355 East Pearl is also likely too small to accommodate a stadium that would meet the MLS requirements.

  3. Seems the better play would have been for the city to partner with Indy Eleven and have our “AAA” team grow into MLS status. As mentioned earlier, Hogsett has handled this really poorly.

    1. really?? they are cutting out the Keystone and Ozdemir group?? absolutely awful!! why weren’t they a part of this since it’s all theyve talked about

  4. Given the time, effort and money that has already been spend by Mr. Ozdemir there has to be a HUGE wallet behind this. I’m all for the growth of Indianapolis and I’m sure as time goes by there will be more that comes out but this seems extremely risky and very unprofessional by the city on the surface.

    1. Agree with Joe B. Have never really trusted Ozdemir. Has always put off a used-car-salesman vibe.

  5. Until more information comes out, I’m going to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt and say his actions are out of incompetence and not something nefarious.

  6. This comes totally out of left field. As an Indy Eleven season ticket holder and supporter from the beginning, I am appalled, shocked, and chagrined. It is a personal affront to all of us who support Indy Eleven!

    1. Been a season ticket holder too. Still support the Eleven but the time has come. Ersal has had chances. He doesn’t have the wealth, acumen, or connections needed. He’s been trying for years. To be honest, when 11 left playing at Lucas oil, the numbers dropped and it felt like a step back. Let’s be honest the 11 would be ROCKED if they made a jump to MLS. Improve our on field game and big game can come

  7. Everyone seems to blinded by their political bias and blind hatred for Hogsett and overlooking that if Indy does secure an MLS franchise it would be a gigantic win for the city and he will have the last laugh. As for the notion that the Indy Eleven fans will be upset, I can assure you they will be the first in line to buy season tickets to an MLS team.

    1. I absolutely HOPE you are right and all the people like me are proven to be idiots.

    2. It’s more likely Hogsett is being played for a fool by MLS. MLS loves to take digs at the USL through the press. This fits that mode perfectly. ( see Sacramento). There is a large segment of the population that will never buy into MLS for a whole list of reasons. (Research it). I strongly suspect a large number of 11 fans won’t line up for MLS tickets.

    1. I will first stand up for Ersal and say that he is a good man. Those of you poking at him in this forum are pathetic.
      Secondly, if the mayor has a bird in the hand it would be tough to say no. There was no guarantee we would get an MLS team otherwise. People in leadership need to make tough decisions. If this works out it is a big win for Indy.
      Thirdly, investing in a minor league soccer team was always a risky proposition!

  8. I still think everyone needs to withhold judgement until we get more information. It’s possible this ownership group could already have a team essentially guaranteed. If that’s the case, this move will be great for Indy.

    I don’t see how Keystone’s plans were ever truly viable. Investing that much money on a minor league stadium is risky, especially at a time when other cities are turning against funding sports arenas. It’s still risky for an MLS team, but chances of long term success are better.

    1. What a shocking attitude to find in the comments section… to withhold judgment until we actually know what we are talking about. A far too levelheaded mindset to mix in with all the anti-Hogsett vitriol that usually lives here.

    2. Agreed, it will be interesting to see the full investigation. In the end, an mls team would be a big win for the city. I hope this confusion does not hamper progress, but time will tell

  9. I agree we should wait until all the facts and plans are available. If you’re trying to influence the outcome of this confusing situation, the comment section is probably not the best place but I do fully understand the need and value of giving space for blowing off steam when these things happen.

    1. Doug and Steve, you are right in stating that until all this plays out, we don’t really know what will happen and this is all may be anti-Hogsett vitriol. But after 8.5 years of Hogsett, we do have a pretty good idea, don’t we?

  10. The only thing that made less sense than how Eleven Park would make fiscal sense … is how paying north of a half billion dollars for an MLS franchise will ever make sense.

    And the MLS already has franchises in Columbus, St Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago.

    Indianapolis missed the MLS boat. We might have to settle for an NFL team that might get good as soon as the owner passes the reins on and an NBA franchise that punches above its weight… lots of cities would love to have either.

    Heck, wait a few years and buy an MLS team that fails elsewhere. Maybe we won’t have to send Mayflower vans, even.

    1. Maybe St. Louis team ownership is regretting establishing in St. Louis and that franchise is coming here.

  11. Allow for the possibility that MLS suggested to the City that any future MLS award would need to be through a different ownership group than the Eleven.

  12. Hard to give Hogsett the benefit of any doubt. He has destroyed what five mayors before him (both sides of the aisle) have built. All you have to do is walk downtown in the middle of the day and see how many ground level spaces are empty. He was re-elected in a county that consist predominantly of straight-ticket voters. It is sad to see Indy now compared to what it was five years ago. Our great city will be vibrant and a midwest jewel again, just not under this administration.

    1. Well said, Jack B. Hadnut, Lugar, Goldsmith, Peterson, Ballard. They all did a respectable if not extraordinary job making Indy a gem. Sleepy Joe has ruined it all in 8 years. Sad

    2. Where do you people get your impressions of downtown Indianapolis? And where do you live? Little House on the Prairie? I actually LIVE and WORK in the downtown area and what you describe is absolutely not true. There is TONS of development going on in downtown Indy. Those “empty spaces” you mention were an effect of COVID, not any fault of Joe’s and they occurred EVERYWHERE. Also, there aren’t nearly as many “empty spaces as you seem to think there are. And the ones that do exist are being filled by new businesses being announced weekly. Your comment shows that you are out of touch with the reality of what is really going on downtown.

  13. What a joke. Indy was too late to the party when cities like Cincinnati and Nashville were pursuing MLS. By the time Indy would potentially get a franchise, the fee will be over $1 billion. And Indy continues to get absolutely smoked by Nashville in every way. Why didn’t Hogsett spend his time pursuing Oracle’s headquarters? The days of strong leadership in Indy are over.

    1. This really isn’t a good look when plans were already in motion with Indy Eleven. Not a Hogsett fan, but I would guess there’s a lot of background info that we don’t know yet. I think the heliport site would be less than ideal compared to keystone’s site. Hope there can be a deal made with Ozdemir and the new ownership group to keep the Indy Eleven alive for a MLS expansion team. Maybe Irsay or Simon is involved?

    2. Oracle didn’t spend 1.3 billion on a company based in Indy? They bought a company in Nashville…

    3. Absolutely smoked? Indy does more than hold it’s own compared to peer cities. And development in Nashville is an absolute MESS. The infrastructure in Nashville is a joke. Indy take’s its sweet time, yes, but it’s generally done well. Much better than a lot of what is being developed in Nashville.

    4. Indy also does terrible compared to Tampa when it comes to spring break beach traffic. They should do something about that.

      Indy does fine compared to most peer cities. Nashville is having a moment, yes. Eventually, people will tire of going to Broadway and getting hammered.

      And, reminder, Salesforce bought ExactTarget a decade ago. We promptly pissed off their leadership with RFRA and they bailed for Chicago. Let’s see how long before Tennessee makes the same mistake…

  14. “All you have to do is walk downtown in the middle of the day…empty”, could be said about basically any city in the country after COVID. Just pointing out facts.

    1. Not true. Many downtown areas have survived COVID. Was in Minneapolis recently and it was thriving.

    2. Was also in Minneapolis recently and I’d hardly describe it as thriving. You think Indy has a homeless problem? Minneapolis says “Hold my beer!”.

      Indianapolis continues to recover very well from the effects of COVID when compared to other cities.

      And I don’t know what part of Indy you’re walking in the middle of the day, but I can assure you that many areas of downtown are buzzing both night and day.

  15. ATTENTION: MLS is bringing in 8 new developmental player locations in the next 3 years. NOBLESVILLE, yes Noblesville, will begin its official MLS developmental team THIS FALL. It’s Hoosier Elite.
    Keep in mind MLS already told Ozdemir no. I suspect city felt 11 weren’t getting anywhere, and likely lacked the financial juice to get MLS interested. City likely told Indy 11 that ‘additional investors and $ would be needed’. Ozdemir likely wanted to go solo. Well, he now is. Otherwise he and others would have been at the podium. I was curious as to who would be with Hogsett today, regardless of what he was going to announce. NHL, MLS, MLB. Nada, considering one can throw a rock from 338 Pearl Street to Gainbridge Fieldhouse,….I suspect Simon is one of the principals.

    1. Well if it’s Simon we can expect a substandard product. Simon had been selling were a small market team.. what do expect for decades now. Despite the fact there are smalls market successful teams (smaller than Indy) all over the league. But, you drink that BS all you want.

    2. Pat B: not sure where you’re getting your information. By any reasonable standard, the Simons are among the elite pro franchise owners. Very respected in the industry, and by now, probably the longest-lasting NBA ownership group.

    3. Rick S. My info is we’ve had a substandard product on the court for almost the entire Simon ownership. We have been told for decades we can’t compete because we are a small market. Yet, there are numerous small markets around the league that manage to put together good teams and even contenders year in and year out. Some even smaller markets than Indy. I could care less how long they’ve owned the team or if they are respected. No owner has gained more value for a team while spending less than Simon. It’s s big bag of BS and it looks like you bought it hook line and sinker.

  16. Indy does a sh$% job of thoroughly planning there strategies. It keeps on happening here.
    Let’s see if the city compensates Indy Eleven for time and money and hardship on the project.
    Maybe the Mayor’s mind is diverted.

  17. This is all hilarious. Ozdemir gets the shaft after years of being a shoddy fly by nighter, and I get to hear Indy 11 fans cry. Rare win by the Hogg.

  18. No matter what, there are people who comment here that will only see Indy as a sinkhole no matter what the reality is. I’m sure if a GOP mayor were elected miraculously in their eyes Indy would turn into a Garden of Eden over night. Nothing but blind hatred based upon politics which is the primary problem across this country. Personally, I love and believe in Indianapolis regardless of who the mayor is.

  19. Simon would make perfect sense, especially with a potential new PSDA on the heliport site. That’s quite near the site of Simon’s proposed new development, which includes a hotel tower and apartment tower. And sounds like IBJ likely nailed the identity of the seasoned soccer executive city is working with. Maybe there IS something here.

  20. This city for decades has been reactive instead of proactive. It only gets into gear when the bus has left the depot. There are about ‘600’ NHL franchises. One just got relocated because they were playing in a 4,700 seat college gym not even in the host city. Indy is still not on the NHL radar! The Pacers were bailed out by a telethon. The Colts were ‘stolen’. MLS’s hot list, prior to yesterday, had numerous cities with less population and ‘gravitas’ on their 🥵’hot list’. Louisville is going in. Louisville! All of that said, cudos to the mayor and his yet to be divulged backers.
    MLS has now adopted a Formula 1 attitude regarding membership. That’s why, with absolutely no local mention that a 4/24 press release by MLS announcing their new developmental system consisting of 8 locations is important to this whole thing. The only, all age developmental program on the international list is in Noblesville for this fall. They wouldn’t be doing this unless high level talks hadn’t already taken place a year or two ago. In spite of all the Nashvilles, Louisvilles, Cincinnati’s and St Louis’ in the region, none of them are positioned or offer as much upside as Indianapolis, America’s 17th largest city. Enough with the ‘small market’ gibberish-jabber.

    1. Louisville is not going to MLS, nor is
      Indianapolis. The mayor is being played for a fool by MLS. Lots of egg going to need removed from his face a some point.

    2. Pat–your posts are often misguided or wrong. This one is being bookmarked in case we get an MLS team.

  21. I was hoping Indy Eleven would become home of MLS Indy Eleven. There are a lot of people behind the scenes promoting professional soccer in Indianapolis and surrounding areas. I think it is a shame Ozdemir is excluded from being a part of the MLS project since he has championed Indy soccer for so long. Expect lawsuits to stop all progress for years.

    1. Ozdemir has had a long time and did not have the juice or money to get it across the line.

  22. It’s exciting to see all the interest in the topic. Just reading all the comments would suggest at the very least that people in Indy are passionate about the city and the sport scene here. Im sure the mayor has information that lead him to go a different direction. whatever was said to him behind closed doors in NYC obviously made him react publicly and risk his legacy as a mayor to do so. Somebody with HUGE pockets got into his ear and are making more sense than IndyEleven’s owner. Im not saying it looks right but its business and a city is ran like a Fortune500 company. The city is going to do what makes the best sense business wise, in most cases and what the city feels it could realistically achieve. Regardless what happens, I honestly believe the city will come out looking good. Indy is just as an attractive city for investors to invest in with sports as any of our peers that already has a MLS team. To be honest its almost questionable as to why Indy hasn’t been granted and expansion MLS team since we’re considered the amature sports capital of the world. Im optimistic in that the city will come out on top on this one for sure. Keystone probably wasn’t truly able to deliver as promised and the city realized and took control as it did with the Pan AM plaza project. I love that Indy is being BULLISH. It shows investors and developers that Indy knows exactly what it wants and only wants organizations that can deliver. I think it’s a good thing and outside investors that have a proven track record should be paying Indy some attention and come develop the city like we see in Nashville and Austin. Indy is ready to grow and open for business.

  23. Forbes now estimates the average MLS club is worth $658 million, up 14% from a year ago. Making its first-ever appearance on the list is St. Louis City SC, which ranks 11th at $680 million after joining the league for a $200 million expansion fee in 2019.Feb 2, 2024.
    Facts: When Indy tried for an MLS expansion team some years ago they were in essence told “you need an open air stadium built FIRST, as well as the high price tag for the team.” At that point, what is public knowledge is that Mr. Ozdemir then added SIX new partners with deep pockets to the ownership of the team. (They are all still an ownership group, Ersal does not own the team 100%). Then he set about trying to get a stadium built. The Simons did not pay to have Gainbridge built and the Irsays did not pay to have Lucas Oil built. Actually we are all STILL paying a tax in my donut county for the demolition of the Hoosier Dome. Yes, the old stadium. So with that said, whether you like the Mayor or not, this was a HUGE slap in the face to a local businessman who has developed many successful properties all around the city and pursued this deal for a decade.

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In