Fourteen matches into the 2017 season and the Indy Eleven are the runaway attendance leaders in the North American Soccer League.
Averaging nearly 8,000 fans per home game, the Eleven are drawing 1,500 more spectators per game than the No. 2 team in attendance, Miami FC.
The Eleven are seeing double the home attendance of half of the teams in the eight-team league. But the fact that four NASL teams are averaging less than 4,000 per home match is probably not a good financial sign for the league. League officials, though, say they remain intent on expansion, and took a big step in that direction late last month.
So far this season, the Eleven’s attendance is down a bit from last year’s season-ending average of 8,362 for 15 home matches. But with the team going 2-0-1 over the last three matches and the meat of the season approaching (nine more home matches), there’s reason to be optimistic that the local soccer team can match or top last year’s mark, which was good for second in the NASL behind Minnesota, which is now playing in Major League Soccer.
The Eleven have been first or second in attendance each year since joining the NASL in 2014, with attendance the first two seasons being at or above 10,000.
Earlier this year, the Eleven made a bid to join the MLS, but that bid seems to have taken a blow when the General Assembly did not approve—or really even discuss—a funding bill for a new stadium during its last session. MLS officials are requiring a stadium plan of expansion teams, and its clear Indy’s current 10,500-seat stadium on the IUPUI campus will not suffice.
The MLS plans to expand by four teams, to a total of 28, but Sacramento and St. Louis appear to have the inside track on two spots. That leaves Indianapolis among 10 cities vying for the other two openings.
MLS officials said in January they will make a decision on its expansion by year’s end.
There also have been questions about the NASL’s future, but that got a little brighter last month when the league announced an expansion franchise in the soccer-crazy San Diego market. The San Diego team will debut in spring 2018. Stinging from the NFL’s Chargers’ move to Los Angeles, San Diego officials are looking to bolster their sports landscape.
It’s a much-needed boost for a league that shrunk from 12 teams in 2016 to eight this year and has had its fair share of financial difficulties. League officials continue to look for other expansion franchises to help grow the Division II league.
In any event, if the Eleven's bid to join the MLS fails, it appears the Eleven will have a league to play in next year if team owner Ersal Ozdemir choses to keep the clulb in the NASL.
San Diego’s NASL franchise is backed by an ownership group led by four global soccer stars: Demba Ba, Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sow. The players have partnered with local business executives to field the team. Bob Watkins, a long-time San Diegan and successful businessman, will serve as the team’s president.
“San Diego is a beautiful place and the love and passion the people have for soccer made this an easy choice for us,” Hazard said in a written statement.
“The NASL is thrilled to add San Diego to the league, and we're just as excited to be doing so with such an accomplished group of professional players and businessmen,” NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal said in awritten comments. “We're confident that the success they have had on the pitch in their careers will contribute to the club's success—on and off the pitch—in San Diego.”