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Hogsett: Major League Soccer an ‘opportunity we cannot pass up’

Mayor Hogsett interview with supers

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thursday’s announcement that Indianapolis is pursuing a Major League Soccer team has sparked a very intense conversation about the sport’s future in the city.

Mayor Joe Hogsett said Thursday that he met with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber earlier this week about bringing an MLS franchise to the Circle City, adding that an ownership group is already in place.

The timeline for the proposed MLS team is unclear, as is how costly the expansion fee would be. There’s a bit more detail about a possible location for a new MLS-sized stadium: 335 E. Pearl St. in the heart of downtown Indy.

Indy’s pursuit of “the world’s game,” as Hogsett put it, has led to a lot of questions from soccer fans and residents alike.

Many of the questions are about the future of Indy Eleven — the pro soccer team that’s played in Indianapolis for the last decade — and its Eleven Park project, a $1 billion development that’s already under construction between West Washington Street and Kentucky Avenue.

Hogsett addressed those concerns — and a few others — in an interview with Scott Sander on Daybreak.

Q: Why now? What’s right about this move?

A: I think the time is right. I think the efforts that have been made over the last 10 years have paid dividends and we’re now at a point where we have the ability to build a soccer-specific stadium downtown.

My conversation with the MLS commissioner on Monday morning couldn’t have gone better. No guarantees, but I think we have a very good chance of being a franchise.

Q: MLS expansion fees are into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Who pays for that?

A: The ownership group. Public money would be involved in building a soccer-specific stadium, but in terms of the buy-in, that would be on the backs of the owners.

Q: You talk about a soccer-specific stadium. There’s a project already underway — Eleven Park. Is that still part of this future idea? Are we building two soccer stadiums?

A: We’re not building two soccer stadiums. We’re just gonna build one. But where that goes is largely dependent on what MLS is going to expect, what the ownership group wants to involve itself with — we’re trying to give as many opportunities to MLS as we can possibly give them.

Q: The Brickyard Battalion and other Indy Eleven fan groups are not happy with you. They’re furious. Talk to them?

A: Major League Soccer is an opportunity that we cannot, as a community, pass up. I can’t guarantee that MLS will ultimately award a franchise to Indianapolis, but at the same time, passing up the opportunity is not acceptable for a “major league city” like Indianapolis.

Q: Does this mean the Indy Eleven Park project idles? Does it move forward?

A: That’s entirely up to my friend Ersal Ozdemir (owner of Keystone Group and Indy Eleven). We’re committed to building a soccer stadium that is soccer-specific. What we’re doing is focusing on bringing a third major league franchise to the city of Indianapolis. We deserve and need an MLS franchise.

Q: What makes you think that a strong and passionate soccer base can grow to enough to fill a stadium on a random Tuesday?

A: It’s the world’s game and it’s increasing exponentially. With all do respect to baseball and basketball and football, soccer is the wave of the future and that’s why we want to be in the mix for a new franchise.

Q: Is there any way the Indy Eleven are elevated into this franchise? Can it become part of the future that you see?

A: That would be up to the Indy Eleven. Major League Soccer will welcome any and all people who are willing to participate. Working in conjunction with one another will make us more competitive.

Click on the video at the top of this story to watch the full interview.