EDITORIAL – When England’s Chelsea FC hosted their last UEFA Champions’ League game, there were three teams, not just two, on display at Stamford Bridge that evening. Austin’s perennial ‘Minister’, Matthew McConaughey, saw to that. Proudly wearing his Austin FC jacket, part-team owner McConaughey made sure everyone knew that in 2021, the city of Austin will play host to its first-ever professional sports team when MLS welcomes its 27th club. McConaughey’s appearance in London proved to be yet another shrewd PR move by the team from central Texas, indicative of an Austin FC blueprint that continues to deliver dividends.
Austin FC Blueprint: A Formula for Future MLS Clubs
In 2017, Columbus Crew SC’s then-owner Anthony Precourt was considering moving the black and yellow to Austin. An angry backlash from Ohio fans likely factored into his decision not proceed with that plan. Instead, Precourt decided to start afresh, creating a brand-new team in Austin, by Austin, for Austin.
To suggest that no decision taken since has been as significant and that every subsequent decision has benefited from it, sails dangerously close to overstatement. And yet, I don’t think it is.
The decision to build Austin FC from the ground up, establishing authentic roots mirroring those of the two intertwined oak trees on the teams’ badge was not only a masterstroke, it appears to have positively influenced every decision that’s followed. Precourt and company are on a remarkable streak of form. One could argue, that they haven’t made a single misstep since announcing they were bringing professional soccer to Austin and began engaging with the Mayor, City Council, and community at large. Consider the evidence.
The aforementioned team badge is a masterpiece of simplicity, style, and symbolism. The green, black, and white color scheme resonates with Austinites. That straightforward assuredness of design extends to the team name, also. No need for unnecessary Real’s, Athletico’s, or United’s. The city’s first and only professional sports team IS Austin. It’s not only right there in the name, it IS the name. Beautiful.
The ownership team, which Precourt promised would largely be hewn from Austin’s best and brightest, is indeed that. Successful Austin business executives Eduardo Margain, Marius Haas, and Bryan Sheffield were joined by the city’s favorite son and marketing dream-ticket, Matthew McConaughey. Their combined industry acumen and intimate knowledge of Austin has made them the perfect partners.
Not only does this leadership team understand the business of Austin, they also connect with its heart and soul. Consider how quickly each of them has been embraced by the clubs’ supporter’s group, the Austin Anthem, who routinely chant their names at events.
And speaking of events, the front office could not have executed any of them more perfectly. From the impressive stadium ground-breaking ceremony to the unveiling of USMNT legends Josh Wolff and Claudio Reyna, Head Coach and Sporting Director respectively, to the most recent shindig at the Yeti flagship store where the cooler brand was unveiled as jersey sponsors, each event was orchestrated to perfection. Pomp and ceremony blended with Texas charm and the unique quirkiness that defines Austin alone.
The unerring ability to anticipate and harness supporter excitement has enabled this fledgling team to deliver events and announcements that consistently set the city buzzing.
Austin’s new state-of-the-art-and-tech 24-acre soccer park including a 22,000-seater stadium will not only be a jewel in the team’s crown but in the city’s, too. Despite the $250-million dollar facility being privately financed, the city of Austin will essentially own the finished product, its inhabitants benefiting from it for years to come.
Wolff and Reyna are two stars of the American soccer scene long enough in their current roles for their signatures to be considered a coup, but still young enough to be relevant to fans who cheered them on during their time as USMNT players.
The Yeti announcement was a surprise but also not really. It just fits. An Austin-based company, hugely successful, massive cross-market appeal, outdoor-centric, a kindred spirit. Once they were revealed to be the inaugural jersey sponsors, you wondered if it really could’ve been anyone else?
The pressure to get each and every one of these components right has been enormous, and it’s a pressure keenly felt by all associated with the club. So far, they’ve been all but note-perfect, but the game isn’t over yet. In soccer terms, its perhaps only half-time.
The completed stadium and training facilities need to be delivered, and the identity of the partner that has secured the highly sought-after stadium naming rights revealed. And you’d better believe that when the team jerseys are released later this year, they will be scrutinized to the nth degree by eager fans.
Additionally, the first player announcement is absolutely key. In fact, make that the first several player announcements. Will there be any big-names? Legitimate superstars of the game? Local representation? Will Austin FC have a roster that will help continue to grow their supporter base?
Austin, Texas, a city not known for sports outside of UT, broke MLS’s season-ticket deposit record. Austin FC achieved that remarkable milestone by connecting with the community in every corner of the city. They promised, and have so far delivered, which is why so many have signed up for the ride. If they continue to deliver through to the ‘final whistle’, when the opening whistle of the 2021 season sounds, Austin the team will have undoubtedly and indelibly redefined Austin the city for the better.