Tom Dunmore talks to the founding members of Indy Pro Soccer supporters group the Brickyard Battalion, exploring how their dream became a reality
“It is amazing we have a team,” Brickyard Battalion (BYB) President Derek Richey says. “I still pinch myself.”
The Battalion, Indy Pro Soccer’s first supporters group, boasts a membership of more than 600 fans and members such as Richey are anticipating Indianapolis’ first home game in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in spring 2014 with unbridled enthusiasm. “A good supporters group creates that amazing atmosphere at the games,” Richey says, “and hopefully turns watching a sport event into a magical experience.”
Only a few years ago, hopes for such a magical experience were nothing but dreams. The Battalion didn’t have 600 members and Indianapolis didn’t have a professional soccer team. That didn’t stop Richey and a few others from crafting big plans and helping to lay the foundations for Indy Pro Soccer’s ownership and management to launch a team that has garnered over 1,500 season ticket deposits in the two weeks since the NASL granted an expansion team to the city.
Back in 2010, Richey and two friends, Jared Skinner and Brett Corbit, created a team of their own to build a supporter culture around – one that initially only existed on a Facebook page. Tapping into Indy’s auto sports heritage, they called their team “Racing Indy F.C.” and it soon had many of the elements a team needs, including fans and a logo.
Via their imaginary team, the trio soon found that many other soccer fans in Indianapolis similarly dreamed of having a local team of their own to support. Daniel Eccles, for example, started another Facebook page called “Bring a Major League Soccer Team to Indianapolis” and was soon collaborating with Richey, Skinner and Corbit.
The internet and social media allowed the idea to blossom with fans across the state of Indiana in a way that simply would not have been possible even five years earlier. Momentum soon built up. “Within those groups a handful of vocal members decided to start the “Brickyard Battalion” page as an official supporters group of the future (and at the time, imaginary) team,” Brett Corbit says. “The admins of all three pages decided to host a conference call and start to plan how we want to push forward with the groups.”
From this, the Brickyard Battalion was formed out of a desire to coordinate outreach efforts, with the group given a name that Richey says aimed to “pay homage to our Indianapolis history.”
The challenge for the Battalion and the “Brickers,” as its members called themselves, was now to reach out beyond social media, with word on the street built through a campaign tapping into Indy’s growing soccer culture found in the city’s bars and on its soccer fields. Soon, the Facebook pages had a combined following of more than 3,000 fans. The Battalion was tapping into a young, soccer-savvy fanbase reared on playing the game and watching the Premier League or La Liga on television, now hungry to watch professional soccer in person.
“From the very start it was nothing but big time support,” Richey says. “There were the occasional folks who looked at us like we were crazy – “Pro soccer in Indy? Yeah, right” – but mostly it was young soccer fans who thought it would be fantastic to have our own team to cheer for.”
Things really took off for the Battalion when veteran soccer executive Peter Wilt appeared on the scene, hired as a consultant by Indy Pro Soccer owner Ersal Ozdemir to examine the viability of launching an NASL team in Indianapolis.
Suddenly, the Brickers realized, they could help show Ozdemir and the NASL that Indy had the necessary hunger for pro soccer.
“Things have really taken off since Peter Wilt was hired as a consultant,” Corbit notes. “We became even more organized and set goals for the future such as merchandise, non-profit status and group outings.”
For Richey, it was affirmation that all the work building an imaginary team had been worthwhile. “There were times I think all of us thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen,” he recalls. “I remember telling my wife “Honey, I don’t know if anything is going to come out of this soccer thing.” Two days later I’m having a beer with Peter Wilt and we’re talking about making it a reality. I thought to myself, “isn’t that just how life works sometimes?”
Reality came with the announcement on Wednesday, 16 January 2013 that Indianapolis had been granted an expansion NASL team for the 2014 season, and it was supported by dozens of Battalion members on stage at the press conference held in the JW Marriott. “Every time I think about us on that stage chanting “I BELIEVE IN BYB!” I get the chills and then start frantically jumping around my house chanting it,” Battalion member Gabe Peters writes in his post on “What A Pro Soccer Team In Indy Means To Me.”
Battalion board member John Stiffy Baker discusses the launch of Indy Pro Soccer
The Battalion created an 11-person board to oversee its operations from among its unpaid volunteers, with Richey elected as President and Corbit as Vice-President. Unlike in the 1990s, when American supporters groups first started to form with few examples to follow, there was no need for the Battalion to re-invent the wheel.
“From the beginning we’ve been in contact with various supporters groups and members from Section 8, Sons of Ben and the Crocketteers,” Corbit says of fan organizations from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Antonio respectively. “James Hope with the Crocketteers has been absolutely essential to our development whether giving advice or lending their membership code of conduct to alter.”
The task for the Battalion now is no longer getting a team, but developing support for Indy Pro Soccer ahead of kick-off in 2014.
Josh Mason, a Battalion leader, believes organizing seriously now is key. “This is no longer a hobby, but a commitment to the new team and our Battalion, as they deserve good leadership and we may only get one shot at this in our lifetime,” he states. “We need to be organized, professional, and active. That’s how this team stays in Indy for years to come, and we all have a team to support.”
The vision is for the Battalion to be an inclusive umbrella, with affiliate groups across the city and state, outreach to ethnic groups planned, and even a long-term goal of adding a youth division.
“We have a unique opportunity to be creative and start a brand new soccer culture. How cool is that?” asks Mason, concluding that there’s a “blank canvas of endlessly fun possibilities” for the Battalion’s growth.
That enthusiasm is best seen in Battalion member John Stiffy Baker, the group’s charismatic beating heart. Describing himself as a “blue collar Scots-Irish firefighter,” Baker states proudly that the Battalion will be “loud, proud and together.”
The group’s rallying cry, “I believe in BYB,” has already become a passionate touchstone for Baker. Baker recalls the vibrant atmosphere at the Chatham Tap after the team’s launch announcement, saying “To stand on a table and start a chant, and hear everyone sing “I believe in BYB” was amazing – we are a city of believers.”
For Baker, being a “Bricker” is now less about the origins of the imaginary team’s name or the city’s racing culture, but about building soccer in Indianapolis for the support of its new professional team, one fan – one brick – at a time. “People are fired up,” he asserts proudly. “I’m a Bricker, that’s who we are, building on each other – like a brick wall.”
Heading towards 2014 and Indy Pro Soccer’s inaugural NASL season, the Battalion’s challenge is to funnel that energy into support for the team in the stands. “As with most groups, we want to travel to away games, hoist grand tifo exhibits and ultimately chant and sing for our team,” Corbit explains. “The atmosphere and energy that supporter groups create will encourage families, single game attendees or soccer fans who aren’t season ticket holders to come back to more games.”
For the Battalion, it’s now all about turning a dream into reality for Indianapolis’ soccer fans, one brick at a time.