The Women’s World Cup has come to an end and the United States has been crowned champions for the third time. Now that the fever for the games has cooled I believe it is time to discuss the possibility of Indianapolis starting a women’s professional soccer team. Indiana has a strong tradition of impacting and influencing women’s soccer around the world. Lauren Holiday who just played for the United States in this summer’s World Cup is from Indianapolis. FC Indiana, located in South Bend, is coached by Shek Borkowski. Along with his duties at FC Indiana, Borkowski is the Head Coach of the Haiti Women’s National Team. In addition, FC Indiana has produced some tremendously talented soccer players. Most notably, Mizuho Sakaguchi and Lauren Sesselmann who played in this year’s Women’s World Cup. Another connection the state of Indiana had to this year’s Women’s World Cup was former Indiana University standout, Orianica Velasquez. She represented Colombia during this summer’s tournament. These are just a few of the many examples how the state of Indiana is impacting women’s soccer. With this, I would like to examine the various obstacles and positives Indianapolis would endure if a women’s professional soccer team would be established in the Circle City.
First, let me start by saying that in no way am I intending to disrespect or neglect what FC Indiana has done in helping women’s soccer game grow in Indiana and around the world. What they have achieved as a small club playing in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (division two) should be recognized and commended. Second, I propose a lot of what “ifs” for my argument because Indianapolis does not currently have a soccer team and the possibilities of how a team is established are endless.
In my opinion, the first and most challenging obstacle would be a stable league for an Indianapolis women’s soccer team to compete in. Women’s soccer in the United States has seen three different leagues that have been sanctioned by US Soccer at the division one level (highest professional league). After the United States won the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) was formed and teams started playing in 2001. Although the league started strong, it folded two years later. It was not until 2009 when another women’s soccer league, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), started. However, the WPS only lasted two years. Two major issues for the WUSA and WPS were financial resources, and mismanagement. In 2012, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) began. The NWSL is different from the previous two leagues because this league is supported by US Soccer, Mexican Football Federation, and the Canadian Soccer Association. Currently, the NWSL has nine teams in the league and two of the teams are owned by Major League Soccer club.
The second obstacle a professional women’s soccer team in Indianapolis would face is attendance. With the NWSL playing in the spring and summer the team would have to compete with the Indianapolis Indians, Indy Eleven, Indiana Fever, and Indiana Pacers. The Fever bring up an interesting point as well. Can two women’s professional sports franchises survive in Indianapolis? In my opinion, the answer is yes but there is a fine line because both teams would be attracting the same demographic fan base, time on air through radio and television, and sponsorship.
The third and fourth obstacles are, an owner and stadium. Will the current owner of Indy Eleven create and financially support a professional women’s soccer team or will a new ownership group start a team? A new soccer stadium for Indy Eleven has been in the works for some time and has gone to the Indiana State Legislation but the Eleven have not been granted the opportunity to break ground on the new project. I do suggest in one of my arguments in the positive category that a new stadium would be good for Indy Eleven and the women’s professional team. However, the current situation is an obstacle because it would be difficult for a women’s pro team to be established without a new stadium. If a new women’s pro team comes to reality the best place to play their home games would be at Michael A. Carroll Stadium until a new stadium is built. It would be feasible to play both men’s and women’s professional soccer at Carroll Stadium along with IUPUI’s soccer teams. But scheduling four teams that play the same sport, in one stadium would be a nightmare. If a women’s professional franchise has ambitions of playing at a downtown location different than Carroll Stadium, then Kuntz Stadium or Victory Field could be possibilities. Other options around the city of Indianapolis could include University of Indianapolis, Marion University, or a high school stadium. Grand Park on the north side of Indianapolis may be an alternative but the location would make it difficult to attract fans.
The most important and influential impact a women’s professional soccer team will have on Indianapolis is giving aspiring young females the ability to watch their heroes play at the highest level in the United States. With the game of soccer growing at a rapid pace with over 60,000 youth soccer players in Indiana, it is time girls had the opportunity to witness some of the best in the world compete in Indianapolis. In addition, this will help grow the number of female soccer coaches in Indiana. There have only been two female soccer coaches that have won a high school state championship in Indiana. Currently, four Division I women’s soccer programs in Indiana are led by female coaches; Indiana University, Indiana State University, Evansville University, and Notre Dame.
Since Indy Eleven has established themselves in the community in just their second year of existence now would be a great opportunity for a women’s professional soccer team to form. Indy Eleven has been averaging between nine to ten thousand fans each game. If the women’s team is to play at Carroll Stadium, I believe a realistic attendance would be five to seven thousand on the weekend and two to three thousand on a weeknight match. I am not sure what the attendance numbers would be if the women’s pro team was to play at a different location. Having a women’s pro team at Carroll Stadium would allow the possibility for four soccer games in one day. ‘Soccer Saturday’s’ would be more than a radio show as soccer fans would be able to spend an entire day witnessing some of the game’s best local, national, and international talent in one place. Having a new stadium that could be shared by Indy Eleven and a women’s pro soccer team would be the best option for the game of soccer, fans, and the city. It would allow Indianapolis to continue to be a city built on sports that attracts tourists, and generates revenue.
In 2013 former NWSL Executive Director, Cheryl Bailey, announced players in the league would make $6,000- $30,000 per year. In my opinion, this is alarming because the United States has won three Women’s World Cups yet the league theses players’ play in pays so low. Currently, NWSL teams set up host families for the players to stay in if they do not have or cannot afford an apartment or house in that city. If Indianapolis and other cities join the NWSL it will create and add more sponsorship which will in turn create higher salaries for the players. This is another positive reason for Indianapolis to have a women’s professional soccer team.
In conclusion, I believe having a women’s professional soccer team in Indianapolis established within the next three years is a possibility. As the state of Indiana continues to build an already great reputation for growing women’s soccer it would only make sense that Indianapolis has a women’s professional soccer team that allows young females the opportunity to watch their heroes play in their own backyard. You never know, maybe the next Lauren Holiday will be inspired to play the game of soccer because she got to watch her heroes play in Indianapolis.