Friday, January 15, 2016

As Indy Eleven grow on the field - roadblocks develop off the field

Adding Lovel Palmer (and two more signings later on as of this writing) that are being built up as larger names as well have been clear indications that Indy Eleven is preparing to go the distance and (at least) qualify for their first playoffs since forming as a professional team three seasons ago.

But as the names pile up and new head coach Tim Hankinson begins to start training camp in Arizona, questions are forming off the field. Earlier this week it was announced that Peter Wilt will be moving to a consultant general manager as he begins work on launching another soccer team back in Chicago. Replacing him at the Indy Eleven throne is former CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Belskus.

Belskus comes with a load of political knowledge and networking as well as the business acumen that comes with someone involved with putting together one of the largest motor races in the country. Belskus doesn't shy away from the fact he isn't a "soccer guy."

“I’m excited about taking it all in, I’ve never run a professional soccer franchise, but I’m a soccer fan. I know about the game and I’m just excited to learn more and to continue to grow and develop. One reason Ersal separated the jobs of president and general manager is that as president I’m going to need a GM who has the soccer knowledge. That job will be a lot more soccer specific than it has been.” [source]

 He joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1987 as the corporate controller. Rising through the ranks, he was named President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation in 2009. On October 1, 2013, Belskus was appointed to serve as president and chief financial officer of Hulman & Company, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation’s parent organization [source]

Belskus has a well deserving resume regardless if the obvious lack of background in soccer brings concern to your mind. What Indy Eleven will run issue with is the idea of replacing a name rather than the ideas. Belskus mentions in his interview with Jack Ball on NASL's website that Indy Eleven will be hiring someone for general manager who does have the soccer knowledge.

But what is concerning is the idea you can simply replace what Peter Wilt has been able to do with someone else. Wilt, who helped elevate Chicago Fire and has experience with teams in Milwaukee brings a hair of experience both with dealing with a specific market but also being able to work with soccer minded people. It's been made clear that Wilt will stay to help work with Belskus integrate into the sport but when the next rung on the ladder doesn't have the same length of experience, how do you know he will be the best filter for important decisions like loans and what players to bring back at the beginning of next season?

I won't begin to speculate who could end up with the general manager tag. The only hope is that this person is brought in before Wilt departs for Chicago around the Spring of 2016 so there is a smooth enough transition from leaders.

On Stadium for Indy

The hire of Belskus is also a statement by Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir about what the main objective is business wise for Indy Eleven is in the next 2-3 years. A stadium (as well as a divisionly tied boost in attendance perhaps) are what stand between Indy Eleven and a soccer stadium.

Oh... and money.

Indy Eleven have been pushing since before even taking the field for funding to develop a stadium. The latest attempt (submitted on purpose) involved 80+ million dollars of funding that would be supported by the "if you use it, you pay for it" funding system as well as back up funding from a hotel built near the stadium by Ozdemir.

Indianapolis current funds through taxes and other public funding a professional AMERICAN football stadium that rose in cost a year or so after it was built. This, along with previous stadiums built have tax payers around the state a little... unenthusiastic to let lawmakers pass any funding. An attempt almost made it through that would see some 20 million get passed to allow for much needed renovations for the Eleven's current home on the campus of IUPUI with Michael A. Carrol stadium.

Look. I'm a fan, but I take my fanship out of this and have to be honest. There is no way right now that the state (or city of Indianapolis which the club is in talks with for more funding) gives much more than the bonds that were issued at this point. While this discussion is being taken place between two sets of people who have different views of it, when you look at the economic makeup of the stadium being constructed in Minnesota and how much of it is being publicly funded how does it look for lawmakers when a publicly funded stadium is being pushed here?

While it won't be exactly as profitable for the club, one idea that I've kicked around is playing games in Lucas Oil Stadium.

I'll let you finish your argument in your head as I say that yes, the field would be in poor condition compared to a soccer specific stadium. Yes, the seats wouldn't be as full as they would for an Indianapolis Colts game. You also have to map a schedule around the NFL which MLS already does with Seattle Sounders but it would be a home, you could probably alleviate the "minor league" stigma that sits around general fans who read about the North American Soccer League and get out of The Mike to allow yourself more leverage building up towards getting a stadium.

This is from a Facebook post about the chance sections of Indiana interstates having a toll (instead of a tax) for road repairs but it pretty much encapsulates the issues with the Indiana/polis economy has:

Regardless, as Indy Eleven grown on the field roadblocks develop off the field that will make the business side of things interesting to watch

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