You see, that's the day that Ersal Ozdemir and his Keystone Construction Group decided to bring the beautiful game to our fair city. Whether Ozdemir is crazy, brilliant, or an exciting combination of both, is yet to be seen. Either way, I couldn't be more excited that someone was willing to give this unpredictable small market a chance!
At least since this cuddly little teddy bear.
I'll admit, when I first heard the news on the radio, I immediately dismissed the plan. I'd lived here for about a year, and in all that time, I'd never met another soccer fan. Sure, I'd encountered a few people who were very casual “fans.” Or, rather, “Americans that at least didn't hate the game.” But no one I could actually talk about the game with. No one who studied it. Or got up at 7 am during the weekend to watch their team play. No one who ate, drank, and slept nothing but soccer. I thought whoever these guys were that decided to bring the game to Indy were admirable, but insane. Even if there were a few pockets of fans I missed, there's no way they could get the kind of support they need to stay afloat. They'd be underwater in two years flat.
And that doesn't exactly make for ideal pitch conditions.
Because, and let's just be real here, Indianapolis is not known for its rabid or even particularly loyal fan bases. Don't get me wrong, the Colts have certainly solidified themselves in the hearts of the city, but barely over a decade ago, they were a playoff team that couldn't sell out the smallest stadium in the NFL in enough time to avoid the game being blacked out. And don't get me started on attendances for the Pacers last season, which finished 25th in the league – while the Pacers themselves finished 3rd in the conference. Attendances at the Brickyard are dwindling to near-crisis levels, and only the Indians can boast attendances in the top 5 of their league (though it should be noted that Lucas Oil Stadium's seating capacity is what holds the Colts ranking back). This is a city that may get behind its teams in spirit, but not so much at the gate.
Pictured: the unofficial mascot of every Indianapolis franchise not named the Colts.
So I allowed myself the moment of daydreaming about a club I could support in my city; a club with loud and energetic fans. I thought of chants and songs and various tifo's. And then I resigned myself to reality and decided to let it go. But every time I tried, the words of a camera-magnet British visitor kept echoing in my mind. I asked him why he'd bother watching our league when his country's league was far superior. Hell, even I watch their league instead of my own. I couldn't think of any good reason to watch the game played here. He looked me square in the eyes and said “Because, mate. You support your local club.”
And then he just stared at me like this for several minutes. It was very uncomfortable.
I thought about it a lot over the next few days, as I watched highlights of my favorite club from thousands of miles away. And as I watched Theo Walcott slot home a beauty and run to the outstretched arms of the supporters section, it finally hit me. You support your local club.
Little did I know, there were thousands in Indy who had already gotten the memo. My initial gauge of how well professional soccer would be received here was...well, off by a little bit. I was floored to find that not only was there a great fan presence here, but it had already been here for a couple of years. The Brickyard Battalion was instrumental in bringing the game to this city, and they've already played a major role in growing it, too. Within a few months, the BYB has exploded, growing to over 2000 members (and counting), with thirteen (and counting) affiliates located all over the state. So it shouldn't be surprising that Indy Eleven sold over 5000 deposits for season tickets for 2014 - in less than five months, before even signing a single player.
I still don't know if Ozdemir is crazy or brilliant, but it's sure starting to look more and more like the latter.
Except in this picture.
Whether or not this team is ultimately successful here is anyone's guess. I know that plenty of market research went into the decision well before it was made, but you can never really predict fan reception until you actually get out there and take the pitch. I really only know one thing for sure: that I will be there, rain or shine, screaming and singing at the top of my lungs. Even if I'm the only one there. Because you support your local club.