Jack Williams is a freshman journalism major and writes "Gist with Jack" for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org
Indiana may be better known for basketball, but Hoosiers sure love their soccer.
Indianapolis’ North American Soccer League team, the Indy Eleven, applied for one of four Major League Soccer expansion spots just before the deadline Jan. 31. The team's biggest advantage is the appetite for soccer in the region.
In 2015, the Indiana University men's soccer team was eleventh in the country, with an average attendance of 1,994 people per game, and in 2016 it averaged 2,223 fans per game. Notre Dame and Butler also cracked the top 50 in average attendance in 2015 as the Irish averaged 1,092 per game (1,374 in 2016) and the Bulldogs averaged 932 (731 in 2016).
The Indy Eleven had the second-best attendance in the NASL with 8,570 people per game, behind only Minnesota United FC, which will play in the MLS in 2017. The Eleven have also been successful in their respected league, winning the 2016 spring season and finishing second to the New York Cosmos in the NASL Championship.
Indianapolis is also a major Midwest city. According to City Mayors Statistics, Indy is the 32nd-fastest growing city in the U.S. and is the 13th-largest U.S. city. Indy has also hosted major sporting events such as the 2012 Super Bowl and the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, and will host the Final Four again in 2021. The city has also supported both the Colts and Pacers for more than 30 years.
Indianapolis also doesn't face some of the problems the other 11 applicants have to deal with.
San Diego, for example, would have to compete with two Los Angeles-based MLS teams, the Galaxy and Los Angeles FC, plus Club Tijuana, which lies just over the border. The Galaxy may also be considered the team of the MLS due to their record MLS cups, the influence of legend David Beckham once playing for the organization and their many appearances in the Champions league.
San Diego also just lost its professional football team, the Chargers, and is down to one major league team in town. Neither of its local college men's soccer teams receive much support — both the University of San Diego (748 avg. attendance) and San Diego State (726) are outside the top 50 in NCAA soccer attendance. Even combined, those 1,474 fans are still far fewer than IU's attendance.
The capital of North Carolina, Raleigh, is in the mix too, which is really hard to understand. The city is currently trying (and failing) to keep the its hockey team, the Carolina Hurricanes, in town. The team sits dead last in attendance in the league, averaging 12,000 per game. Raleigh is also home to North Carolina State, which only averaged 814 fans per game in 2016.
The nail in the coffin for Raleigh’s MLS hopes should be its discriminative laws against transgender individuals using public bathrooms. The law has already had an effect in other sports — the 2017 NBA All-Star game was originally going to be played in nearby Charlotte, but was moved to New Orleans following the passage of the bill. When surveying where to land a new professional sports team, a state that had one of the biggest sporting events of the year taken away is not that appealing.
While two spots have been taken by the Los Angeles FC and a club from Miami, Indianapolis still has a chance of grabbing one of the last two spots. If soccer attendance keeps up, we could — and should — see Indy add its third major league sport.