May 10, 2024

As Indy Eleven fans hope to join Major League Soccer discussion, Brickyard Battalion president weighs in

A rendering of the Eleven Park development and new stadium that was supposed to be the home of Indy Eleven. - Courtesy of Keystone Group

A rendering of the Eleven Park development and new stadium that was supposed to be the home of Indy Eleven.

Courtesy of Keystone Group

Editors note: After hearing from concerned fans, David Ziemba clarified statments about St. Louis soccer supporters to say the group does continue to thrive but the transistion from ULS to MLS wasn't as seamless as it could have in his perspective.

The future of the Indy Eleven soccer team and the Eleven Park development is uncertain after a recent announcement that the city will seek a Major League Soccer team.

Loyal Indy Eleven fans have been sidelined following the news. WFYI’s Jill Sheridan sat down with Brickyard Battalion President David Ziemba, who says he still has hope, but says it has not been an easy week.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ziemba: The last 10 days have been incredibly stressful, anxiety filled not only for myself, but also for all the fans that I represent. We, the Brickyard Battalion, represents about 3,000 or 4,000 people. And so it's a big job that I have.

I didn't expect this when I took it over in January, but here I am and I'm doing the best I possibly can. So 10 days of, really hard work of trying to figure out exactly what's going on to the best of our ability. And I think there's a way forward. We just have to see if we can get there.

Sheridan:So talk about the Brickyard Battalion for people that don't know. You know, you've created a brand and this is a real fan base for Indy Eleven.

Ziemba: Correct. So the Brickyard Battalion started in 2011. So two years before the team actually announced and came here. The Brickyard Battalion was actually formed in order to provide an atmosphere that was attractive to professional soccer. And we worked hand in hand with the City of Indianapolis during those two years to create that atmosphere.

And lo and behold, Mr. (Ersal) Ozdemir and Indy Eleven came. We've built this culture and community around the club and the crest and the colors. And so it's, it's a family at this point. And so we take this incredibly seriously because it's, it's our community and it's our thing.

You know, and generally speaking, in the world, the supporter groups feel like the club is theirs and the owners and whomever else touches it on a high level are just custodians of

Sheridan: So, you know, ultimately the goal has been for Indianapolis, for Indy 11 to become an MLS team. Can you talk a little bit about, you know how that works?

Ziemba: You bet. So, as you said, we've known for a very long time, in fact, one of the first conversations the battalion had with Mr. Ozdemir was that his goal, his dream was to make this an MLS franchise. And so we knew eventually this conversation was going to happen. And honestly, you don't build a 20,000 seat stadium without that sort of intention at heart.

And we were prepared for that when that step came. Unfortunately, the timeline has moved up expeditiously at this point. The process is, from what I understand, it takes an application just like the mayor talked about. It takes a $500 million franchise fee, application fee, which obviously is a lot of money. And again, it's the business part of this component of soccer. And we understand that.

We see Mr. Ozdemir trying to get investors with Eleven Park, and he's brought in a whole bunch of investors in order to try to make that a possibility on his own. And now we've created this atmosphere and this possibility of a 20,000 seat stadium that's attractive enough to outside investors from elsewhere.

What we hope as the battalion, and because of my unique background in the law as well with politics, my hope is that I can get everybody in a room and we can figure this out so that everybody can get on a stage and be smiling and shaking each other's hands at the end of this saying, we're going to apply as Indy Eleven and we're moving forward as an MLS franchise. Everybody's together. And this is our dream together collectively.

Sheridan: So teams have coexisted in cities before, but it doesn't usually end well. Is that correct?

Ziemba: What we've seen in the five instances that has happened here in the United States where there was a USL team and MLS decided to provide a franchise to that city, in all five of those situations the USL club actually went away. It didn't coexist.

Now there's two separate avenues. One, where there's Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Nashville. In those situations the USL club was brought along in to the ownership group. The supporter groups were brought along with the new ownership group or the investor group and then they applied for the MLS franchise and everything's hunky-dory and everybody's happy and those three franchises are doing phenomenally well.

The other two situations are the most recent MLS club, which is in St. Louis. There was a USL club and a supporter group.They were in a long, long time and they were just sort of deleted. And the supporter group has sort of come along but not come along and the atmosphere has suffered. And you can tell when you watch it on TV.

So what we don't want to have happen here in Indianapolis, if MLS is going to happen, is the former and not the latter. And we're on board with that.We just want to have conversations and be in the room when those conversations happen.

Sheridan: Because as you mentioned, I mean you are the professional soccer fans in the city. What would you like to tell city leaders now, as all these meetings are coming and as this is rolling here?

Ziemba: In order for this to work out for the betterment of Indianapolis and for the fans and for the battalion and for MLS to come here and continue to be an attractive city to come to, we need to all get in a room and hammer out some sort of conversation and deal where everybody wins.

And the only way that's going to happen is if we all do that and put our egos aside and put the money aside and figure out what's best for Indianapolis.

Sheridan: Thank you, David, so much for chatting this morning.

Ziemba: Thank you Jill.

City leaders still need to approve a new professional sports development area for a potential MLS team. There is a June 30 deadline to submit a new area map.


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