Indy Eleven crashes top five in USL attendance

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The Indy Eleven soccer team has scored a nearly 25 percent increase in attendance since moving this season to the larger United Soccer League, where it ranks fourth in attendance.

Eleven and USL officials said the team is averaging 10,341 attendees per home game, better than all but three other franchises in the 33-team league. That's a 24.9 percent increase from its 8,281 attendee-per-game average at this time in 2017, according to USL data. The Eleven moved this year from the eight-team North American Soccer League.

Four months into the season, the Eleven is outpaced only by Nashville SC at No. 3, Sacramento at No. 2 and FC Cincinnati in the lead. Two of the teams—Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati—are slated to become Major Soccer League teams in 2019 and 2020.

indy eleven in Lucas Oil 2018In cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indy Eleven have boosted home attendance to 10,341 spectators per game. (Image courtesy Indy Eleven/Matt Schlotzhauer)

Walk-up sales for games have nearly doubled this season, according to Joshua Mason, the Eleven's vice president of sales and marketing. Digital engagement is also gaining momentum, Mason said. After broadcasting on YouTube in previous seasons, this year the Eleven joined the ESPN+ network through a USL partnership, a move that officials believe is giving the team more exposure.

Mason said franchise executives are optimistic about next season and believe the Eleven are capable of drawing between 12,000 and 15,000 fans per game.

Andy Piggush, director of operations for the Eleven, said working within the USL's framework has provided more stability—and more options—for players and fans alike.

"The biggest benefit is the certainty it gives us going forward," he said in a phone call. "We get to play a lot more teams … we have a league that is more stable in general, so we can sign players to longer contracts."

More games at home and away he added, provide more opportunities for themed events and for the Eleven's fan base to travel for road games—though he couldn't say that there's been an increase in traveling fans.

"We have some of the best traveling fans in general," Piggush said. "Our last Thursday game was at 11:30 a.m. in Pennsylvania, and we still had a small crowd … in the middle of the work week. We've had that even prior to the move to the new league."

In any case, the team's on-field performance on the road is improving. So far it's won a franchise record five away games this season. Overall the team is in sixth place in the USL's 16-team Eastern Conference.

The Eleven started in the NASL after its founding in 2014. By 2017, they led the league in average attendance with 9,170 fans per game.

The switch to the USL warranted a venue upgrade. During their home opener on March 31, the Eleven put cleat to turf on Lucas Oil Stadium's artificial field after a four-year run at IUPUI's Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium on West New York Street.

At the opener, the team broke its franchise record with 17,535 fans. The second best-attended game this season was a July 4 contest with the Ottawa Fury FC, which drew 11,023 fans.

The "Boys in Blue" play their next home game August 15 against North Carolina FC. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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