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Behind the Scenes at Indy Eleven, America’s Newest Soccer Club

A little while later, John Koluder sits in his office organizing social media for the week of the club’s launch. He’s typing instructions to his staff while explaining the climate of the office. “It’s exhilarating. It’s….frantic…” He struggles to find a few words that can sum up the past fifteen months. Outside his office someone runs down the hallway at full speed. “I’m running with scissors!” she screams as she whizzes by. “That,” John says as he points to the now-empty hallway. “That’s what the climate around here is like.”

Talk to anyone in the office and they’ll tell you Indy Eleven is seeking to do something special in not just the NASL but the United States. They want to reach a level of success that seems lofty. Their five-year goals are audacious, including filling an 18,000-seat stadium and offering the best sporting experience in Indianapolis. But they haven’t given themselves these lofty goals just to inspire their staff; they really believe they can achieve them. Of course, everything goes back to their main goal: “We want to win championships and serve the community. Everything else is an extension of that.” That mission statement is loaded. Competing for championships is straightforward enough, but how does a club adequately reach out to a community at such an early stage in its development?

“It’s hard to say how the community will respond to you,” says Koluder. He believes it’s critical that all of Indiana, not just Indianapolis, believes this is their team. “Yeah, it’s less direct competition with the other teams [Colts, Pacers, Indians] and more just creating the emotional bonds we need to build a grassroots fan base.”

Grassroots. That word may as well be on the club’s kits. Indy Eleven’s tagline is, “The World’s Game. Indiana’s Team.” To properly serve the community, this club must become the community.

“It’s the Brickyard Battalion, you know?” Says Wilt. “And the Indiana Soccer Association, and community leaders that really stepped up and supported this. It’s a bottom-up, grassroots effort, which people have taken ownership in. They feel like this is their team, and that’s the key to any successful sports franchise. It’s important that the community feels a sense of ownership, and that’s hard to do in a short time period. Normally that emotional connection comes over generations. But it’s special here because those emotional connections have been created in very short order.”

Peter’s statement is bold. That type of connection to a team can take decades. But he means it, and later that night he would prove it.

Once the staff gets to Purdue later that day they meet for a few moments to ensure everyone knows what they need to do. When they’re done, they split and each person does his or her best to stick to the schedule outlined earlier that day. As they work, everyone seems to have the same question, “Are people going to show up?” No one is sure exactly how many people will come tonight. They’ve sold plenty of tickets, but it’s an hour-and-a-half drive from Indianapolis, and the wind is uncomfortably strong, while the clouds threaten rain.

Any fears of a small turnout are quickly erased the minute the gates open, however. People pour in and before long the stands are full. Most notable among all the supporters is the Brickyard Battalion, the hardcore supporters group of the Indy Eleven. They occupy a small set of bleachers behind one of the goals and they’re so loud they drown out the announcer’s voice coming over the PA. They sing songs about Indy and beat a massive drum, making their presence felt across the small venue. It’s exactly what Peter had talked about. These fans were sold, and Indy hadn’t even played its first competitive match. This group barely knows most of the players, and they’ve only known the name of their club for just over a year, yet they cheer like they’ve been supporters all their lives.

The match starts, and wears on. Indy Eleven fall behind the Fire, but the passion on the sidelines never fades. The fans continue to sing, and Peter Wilt can be seen walking around the stadium, moving from group to group, never making it far before being surrounded by both Indy Eleven and Chicago Fire fans. He does disappear for a time, and then reappears amongst the Brickyard Battalion. He stands on the highest bleacher seat; hands raised high in the air, in full voice, with a scarf around his neck. He’s looking upon something he’s helped create, watching what his hands have made.

Emails from Indy Eleven staff continue to come in that night until well past 1:00am, more than seventeen hours since the staff arrived in the office that morning. They’ll be back in the office at 8:00 am tomorrow, too. Then they’ll do it all over again later in the week when they scrimmage Indiana University. Rest will not be in abundance in these last days before their debut. Every day will be critical. Sleep is for those who aren’t busy creating their own dreams.

Editor’s note: To learn more about Indy Eleven and to find out how to get tickets, visit the club website at www.indyeleven.com   The club’s supporters group also has its own website, which can be found at www.brickyardbattalion.com

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. hoosiergunner

    April 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Moved south from Indy just before all this happened… so jealous, I’d love to be a part of this. Looked at the information about Nashville’s new “collective” club Nashville FC, and I’m thinking about becoming a founding member. Really excited about the “grassroots” growth of soccer in the midwest and south… finally.

  2. Wigglesworth81

    April 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Pete Wilt!!!

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