INDIANAPOLIS – It’s the star treatment you might expect from the first player on an inauguaral team.
With three fans preceding his entrance with banners-including one featuring a head shot of the goalkeeper-Kristian Nicht rode into the beer garden at the Rathskeller in Downtown Indianapolis in a Honda sedan. When he got out, a number of cheers and camera shutters greeted him as he made his way to the stage.
Indy Eleven has its first player to start the 2014 season, completing a courting process that lasted a few weeks. But its what Nicht saw in front of him at the team’s jersey, player rally on Tuesday that was the main reason he made the jump to the circle city.
“I can’t get over that point,” said Nicht-who heard some interesting news before he was introduced to the crowd.
Just hours before his introduction as the team’s first player and the reveal of the jersey, the Eleven sold their 6,000th season ticket. It’s a tremendous milestone for the franchise that has yet to play a game and is still nearly a half-a-year away from taking the field at Carroll Soccer Stadium at IUPUI for their home opener.
“That’s impressive,” admitted Nicht-who said the fan support was a big reason he joined the club. “Just when you see the season ticket number we already sold and see that event today, that crowd is just overwhelming.”
But to those selling the tickets, it’s been part of a simple strategy by the team since it was announced that a North American Soccer League franchise was coming to Indianapolis. Tuesday’s event came on the one year anniversary of President and General Manager Peter Wilt coming on board with the franchise and since then he instigated a grass roots effort to get the word out on the team.
“It’s become really organic,” said Wilt of the building of the Eleven’s fanbase. “Those 6,000 season ticket holders have grown by word of mouth really. It hasn’t been necessarily a big advertising blitz or marketing campaign. It’s been viral. It’s really exciting to watch.”
Especially for owner Ersal Ozdemir, who appreciates Wilt and the entire Indy Eleven staff for broadening this grass roots effort over the past year to get the word out about the team.
“They’ve been all over the festivals from Irish, Italian, Greek to Mexican,” said Ozdemir. “From Fort Wayne to Evansville, so the key for us is to get out in the community, to get them to understand that we’re going to be playing next year. They’ve done a great job.
“Season tickets are a big indication but in a few months, we’ve already got 21,000 Facebook friends.”
As the staff at Indy Eleven has gotten the word out and sold tickets, it’s made the job of head coach Juegen Sommer a bit easier. It’s up to him to build the rest of the Eleven’s roster around Nicht and as he commences a worldwide search, a strong early fan base is a critical selling point.
“People are really getting behind this team and making it special so we just hope we can keep improving everyday, every week and we come out beginning of next season and try to get better as a team game-by-game,” said Sommer-who figures to have a strong fan base behind him step-by-step.