The Indy Eleven professional soccer team is hoping to prove it has staying power during its second season, and from a business perspective, it’s off to a solid start.
For its April 11 home opener against New York, the Eleven had attendance of 10,524. That’s higher than last year’s season average, but below the 2014 home opener of 11,048.
Last year the team led the North American Soccer League with average attendance of 10,465. That actually exceeded the capacity of the Eleven’s 10,285-seat home venue on the IUPUI campus.
After reconfiguring the east grandstand and expanding seating by a few hundred during the off-season, team officials are hopeful they can break last year’s attendance mark.
With the team lobbying for a stadium that seats around 18,000, lots of people have an eye on attendance as the team kicks off its second season.
Eleven General Manager Peter Wilt is optimistic. He told IBJ on Tuesday that the team has sold more than 6,000 season tickets and “is pacing to get where we were last year or a little bit higher.”
Last year, the team capped season ticket sales at 7,000. The season ticket renewal rate, Wilt said, is between 80 percent and 90 percent.
Wilt said group ticket sales are up this year with an increased demand from youth soccer organizations.
In terms of overall attendance for this year’s 15-game home schedule, Wilt isn’t counting his goals before they’re scored.
“You don’t know what overall attendance will be until you get [to the end of the season],” Wilt said. “A lot of it depends on the weather. Last year, we had really good weather. There’s no doubt, we see the interest in the team growing.”
The increased interest is also showing up in sponsorship sales. Several new sponsors have been signed and the team “is closing in on a 50-percent increase in corporate support from last year,” Wilt said.
The team has 36 corporate sponsors including Honda, Community Health Network, Flaherty & Collins Properties, Monarch Beverage Co. and Finish Line.
With considerable investments made to its home venue, the team did not make a profit last year, team officials said. It’s not yet certain if the team will generate enough revenue this year to cover its expenses.
“First quarter financials are not enough to forecast year end accurately, but we are pleased with year-two revenue to this point,” Wilt said.
Wilt thinks two major changes to the team’s home venue will be big draws this year. The elimination of a walkway in front of the east stands brings fans about five feet closer to the field as well as moves them lower.
“I don’t know that there are any seats in professional soccer closer to the field,” Wilt said. “It makes fans more a part of the action. We’re telling our fans in those seats to make sure they keep their eyes on the ball, it could be coming their way. They’re that close.”
The other major change is the installation of a 19-foot-by-34-foot video board on the west end of the stadium that Wilt says is twice as large as the one it replaced in that same location.
“We think that’s really going to enhance the fan experience,” Wilt said.
Eleven officials also have instituted some new special benefits for season ticket holders including exclusive concession items and merchandise specials for each game.
Additionally, the team has upgraded the Club Hospitality Lounge—now the Fieldside Lounge—for premium-level season ticket holders. New additions include a full bar; in-seat dining service; and new, more comfortable seating.
Wilt is confident the team on the field will be better this year, helping increase interest in the team.
“We brought back the core of the team we wanted to bring back and added seven new, talented players,” Wilt said. “I think fans will see a difference.”