Indy Eleven’s Winning Strategy
Writer / Kara Kavensky
What a run. What a game. What a team.
The Indy Eleven wrapped up its third season by remaining unbeaten at home and making it to the championship game, where they lost on penalty kicks to their North American Soccer League rival, the New York Cosmos. Within three short years, the Indy Eleven has accomplished what seemed nearly impossible, but team owner Ersal Ozdemir is used to achieving the impossible.
“Growing up in Turkey, soccer is more than a sport, it is part of the culture,” explained Ozdemir, CEO of Keystone Group LLC. “Like in so many other countries around the world, in Turkey you are kicking a soccer ball as soon as you can walk, and you are outside playing soccer until the sun goes down – and maybe even later. That’s how my passion for soccer developed, and I brought that with me when I arrived in Indiana to attend Purdue University, where I continued to play on the school’s club team.”
Ozdemir’s quest to bring professional soccer to Indianapolis began as a grassroots effort. He was relentless in his marketing efforts to the soccer moms and millennials. With so many area youth playing the sport, and with soccer’s increasing popularity across the U.S., Ozdemir knew Indianapolis was ripe for a team.
“With a world-class city, sports and entertainment are part of the package,” says Indy Eleven President Jeff Belskus. Belskus spent most of his professional career with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so he knows a thing or two about sporting events in our city. Ozdemir pulled Belskus from early retirement in January of 2016 to lead the Indy Eleven.
“I’ve been in the Indianapolis area for almost 20 years and have seen it become the best city in the country in regards to using sports as a cultural and economic driver,” Ozdemir says. At the same time, Indianapolis is becoming more globally-focused and diverse, with all of these factors making soccer a natural fit.”
He continues, “The idea to bring soccer back to Indianapolis at the professional level was something I wanted to do for the city for a while, but I also know there were several factors that had to fall into place to make it something that would last. The passion with which the community and our supporters have embraced Indy Eleven in such a short amount of time gives me hope and proves that the club has done a lot of things the right way and will be around for generations to enjoy.”
With the state legislature heading into a budget year, it’s a safe bet the Indy Eleven will have a strong presence in the statehouse as they push for the necessary legislation to build their own stadium southwest of Lucas Oil.
“Mike Carroll Stadium is less than ideal for us because of its age and temporary nature,” says Belskus. “To continue our trend of improving fan experience, we feel it’s vital to have a high quality venue.
“The new stadium could be built in Carmel or Fishers, but the vision is for Indianapolis. The excitement and support we have witnessed only continues to grow.”
“The games are fun; there’s a bit of nostalgia in attending them. Perhaps it feels like college in a way, but with beer,” says Tony Bonacuse, Senior Vice President of Insurance Management Group, Indy Eleven season-ticket holder and close friend to Ozdemir. “The games are fun, family events, and the quality
of the play has improved dramatically this year.”