AUSTIN, TX. – Despite now being situated in Austin, there won’t be too many opportunities yet for me to provide updates on the fledgling Austin FC. The team is still over a year and a half away from kicking a ball competitively. Today, though, was one such opportunity, as I was able to see Austin FC break ground.
Austin FC Break Ground on new Stadium
This morning, Austin FC broke ground on its new stadium in a ceremony attended by several hundred people, among them the city Mayor, city council representatives, team ownership, sponsors, the Austin Anthem Supporters Group, and other VIP’s. A little celebrity glitz was also provided by Austin’s favorite Oscar-winning son, Matthew McConaughey.
The central message throughout the event was one of togetherness, and many of the speakers honed-in on the soccer clubs’ ability to further unify the city of Austin, with the stadium being a central touchstone.
Mayor Steve Adler spoke directly to this theme. ‘With so many good things happening in this city, we’re still a city more segregated than it should be. This team, this sport, this culture, really has the opportunity to bring this community together.’
Club co-owner Anthony Precourt echoed those sentiments. ‘We’re building this (stadium) for the city of Austin, for the fans, for the youth. It’ll become a city asset and will be available 365 days a year’. Expanding upon that idea, Precourt said other entertainment events will be hosted at the stadium, concerts and such, as well as there being extensive community-use opportunities.
That there will be another built-for-soccer stadium in the MLS was clearly a source of pride, not least of all to the MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott. Abbott, standing in for Commissioner Don Garber who was unable to attend due to scheduling conflict, spoke briefly but eloquently regarding the development of the competition and its latest entry.
‘When we launched the league in 1996, there were no soccer stadiums in MLS. When this stadium opens, it’ll be the twenty-first’.
Co-owner Eddie Margain, and Alba Mendoza, one of the administrators of the largest youth soccer club in Austin, Lonestar FC with whom the MLS recently announced a partnership affiliation, also spoke. Lonestar representation at the event further feeds into what appears to be a sincere desire to connect with the city as a whole, and the soccer-loving youth in particular.
As she concluded her speech, it was left to Mendoza with a smile on her face to admit, ‘And now, here’s a few words I never thought I’d be saying’, as she introduced movie star and club investor Matthew McConaughey.
McConaughey seems to have already formed a genuine bond with the supporter’s group, the Austin Anthem. His first act at the podium was to lead them in a rousing rendition of their Austin FC chant, before suggesting some additional lyrics.
Prior to the ceremony, I had the chance to visit with one of the Anthem leadership, Dan Conrad. The Anthem has had a remarkable few months with over 850 paid members already, and over 4,000 subscribers to their mailing list. I asked Conrad what today meant to the fans:
‘This is huge for us! It’s been such a process the past 18 months. The fact we’re getting the city’s first major professional sports team is amazing.’ Consistent with the theme of the morning, Conrad went on to say, ‘This is such a great chance to bring everyone in Austin together’.
McConaughey had the last, rallying word. ‘It’s on all of us to make sure this stadium and the experience in and around it is quintessentially Austin, that it’s representative of our village, our values’.