Taxpayers Should Not Fund Indy Eleven’s New Soccer Stadium

It’s a budget year in Indiana, which means the Indy Eleven are again making a pitch for a gleaming, expensive taxpayer-funded stadium.

The soccer team, which competes in the second-division United Soccer League, has been a fixture in Indy since 2014. Almost from the first whistle, the team has gone to the legislature with its hand out asking for public funding for a new stadium. Before the first game, the team asked for $80 million to fund a stadium. It was rejected by the state legislature, which countered with an offer of $20 million in renovations to its then-home, IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium. 

So instead of scaling back its request, Eleven owner Ersal Odzemir has increased it almost eight-fold, asking for $550 million to build a stadium and mixed-use development at a yet-to-be-named location (although Broad Ripple High School was one potential offering). Apartments, retail space and a hotel were among the ideas pushed forth for the site, but the centerpiece is the soccer stadium. 

For comparison, the request is double the inflation-adjusted cost of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and only slightly less than the $720 million price tag for Lucas Oil Stadium. A better comparison would be to look at the price of other minor-league facilities. Victory Field, where the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians play, opened in 1996. It cost $18 million to build ($30 million in today’s prices) and the Indians picked up half the cost. At 21 years of age, it remains a state-of-the-art ballpark that is considered one of the premier stadiums in minor league baseball. The Indiana Farmers Coliseum, whose interior was completely rebuilt from 2012-14, cost $63 million.

Of those teams, the Colts and Pacers are established teams in established major leagues who bring national attention to the city.

The Eleven are a second-division soccer team. While the team has fervent support among its fanbase, that alone is not a reason to hook the taxpayers of Central Indiana for a half-billion dollars. While an argument is made that a professional team induces economic activity, that’s been proven largely false over the years. One could argue a major league team like the Colts or Pacers increases civic pride and quality of life. However, minor league and second-division teams have very localized fan bases and provide inexpensive family entertainment and bring very little new money into a community.

The Eleven’s support is on par with its minor league brethren in Indianapolis. Its annual attendance has hovered between 10,465 the first year and just a shade under 8,400 fans in 2016 and 2017 – its last two seasons at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium. A move to Lucas Oil Stadium pushed attendance slightly back over 10,000. The market is similar to the attendance numbers from the Triple-A baseball Indianapolis Indians, who also play during the summer and average around 9,000 fans per game each year. 

The Eleven’s supporters speak of the stadium as being necessary for a potential move up to Major League Soccer, the top tier of soccer in the United States. But there are two problems with the argument.
First, MLS has not given Indianapolis a franchise. Even if so, a new stadium is not a necessity. Cincinnati recently received a franchise while playing in a college football stadium. And even if it does, something significantly less costly than a $550 million development would be more than adequate for the team. 

Second of all, an MLS entry would not likely have that much of an affect on attendance. Soccer fans are soccer fans and the market has already proven the existing demand is about 8-10,000 fans per game, which can be served by upgrading the existing infrastructure or building a scaled-down stadium. MLS isn’t the NFL or the NBA. Simply upgrading leagues likely won’t upgrade much except ticket prices. 

Third of all, this is a local issue, but the Eleven’s ownership repeatedly asks the state for revenue. There is no more reason for legislators in Angola, Gary, Lawrenceburg or Evansville to vote to direct their tax money to provide entertainment to a small part of Central Indiana than there is for legislators in Indianapolis to build a stadium for minor league teams in those cities.

A soccer stadium would be a benefit to Indianapolis, both intrinsically and in diverting game-night revenue from other entertainment areas to the area of town where the stadium locates.

But if the Indy Eleven’s owner wishes to build one, he should do it with his own money. He IS a real estate developer after all. If it is a profitable venture and will provide the benefit he claims it will, the development will stand on its own and be viable. There’s no reason to require the taxpayers of Indiana to shoulder the cost and the risk.

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Chris Spangle is the publisher and editor of We Are Libertarians, a news site and podcast that covers national and Indiana politics from the libertarian perspective. Spangle previously worked in marketing for the Englehart Group on behalf of the Advocates for Self-Government. He also served as the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Indiana and producer of the Abdul in the Morning Show. He now works as the web director of a nationally syndicated morning show.

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