43 years after the San Antonio Spurs joined the National Basketball Association, the central part of Texas now has a second team in a high level national professional sports league.
Austin FC was introduced as the 27th team in Major League Soccer (MLS), the top soccer league in the United States, during an unveiling ceremony on Tuesday afternoon. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Austin FC Chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler hosted the official launch in front of hundreds of passionate club supporters at a 6th Street Austin location.
“We think about us (MLS) as a league for a new America. That new America lives here in Austin,” Garber shared in his comments during the ceremony, citing the diversity, energy and local pride of residents in the city and region. “Austin is a perfect fit for Major League Soccer and Major League Soccer is a perfect fit for the City of Austin.”
The team will begin play at a new 20,000 seat soccer specific stadium a few miles north of Downtown Austin (McKalla Place in the Domain area) in the spring of 2021. The stadium will be privately financed by team ownership, with infrastructure contributions from local governmental agencies. Stadium groundbreaking is planned for later this year and opening in time for the 2021 MLS season. The facility is being designed to fit seamlessly into the community with green spaces and other amenities on site. When the new stadium opens it will also host concerts and other community and school events, in addition to sports.
Precourt promised a first-rate effort to build out all elements of Austin FC’s business, soccer and community operations. “We intend to build a perennial MLS contender. We will build a stadium at McKalla place that rivals the best in North America and cultivate the culture that brings people together.” He then unveiled a series of community benefits that will begin immediately, including youth soccer clinics, camp registrations, scholarships and establishment of a community soccer foundation.
The launch of Austin FC arrives at the end of a contentious period that began in October 2017 when Precourt announced his intent to consider relocation of his previous MLS team in Columbus, Ohio to Austin. Most of the final issues were resolved over the last month when an investment group, including the owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, agreed to take control of the Columbus MLS team and a lawsuit by the State of Ohio was dropped, clearing the way for Precourt to transfer his MLS franchise operating rights to Austin. A local community group in Austin is still attempting to force a public vote on the stadium, but team and city officials do not believe this will be a barrier to the start of construction.
In his address, Austin’s Mayor Adler complimented club ownership on their ability to do what no other team has been able to accomplish though the years, bring major league sports into the City. He also spoke at length about how the new team will help the rapidly growing city unite around a shared vision.
Austin FC’s President Andy Loughnane took the concept of community one step further, stating that the team intends to reach out to cities beyond Austin’s city limits, including New Braunfels, as they prepare for the 2021 opening. “We are Austin by name, but we are the Central Texas region and will be the MLS club for this region.” He continued, “South Austin [and the surrounding cities and counties] are very important to us from youth soccer, Academy development and marketing perspectives. We want to be a club for all of Austin and the parts [of the region] that are outside of the traditional metro Austin area. We are going to be Central Texas’s Major League Soccer team.”
Austin FC will now become part of an intrastate MLS rivalry with FC Dallas, an original founding club of the league in 1996, and Houston Dynamo, who relocated to the state in 2006. There has been considerable growth in Texas professional soccer in the last 25 years. Seven teams have been added statewide to the national first and second division soccer leagues and, when it opens in two years, McKalla Place will be the sixth new soccer specific stadium opened in Texas since 2005.