Despite stadium deal, don’t consider Austin FC a done deal just yet
Getting Austin a Major League Soccer team has been a dream of many Austin sports fans like me for a long time. It’s been a long history of excitement when we got a hint of Austin getting a team, followed by a period of hope, but we always ended up disappointed. Every time the MLS looked to expand, we thought that this would be the time we would get a team.
Then Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt said that he was considering Austin as a potential city to relocate his team. This excited us and gave us hope, but almost a year passed before we heard any new news of significance. Then, the biggest breakthrough for Austin getting a MLS team came on Aug. 15, as the Austin City Council voted to allow Precourt to build a stadium at McKalla Place.
The hope for Austin getting a MLS team is now the highest it has ever been. Precourt has already revealed the name of the potential team to be Austin FC and has also released the team’s logo featuring a green tree in the center. Now it seems that Austin is just a temporary stadium, a training facility, and an announcement from the MLS away from officially being home to a team in the biggest soccer league in the United States. Because of the passing of the stadium deal, it seems like the hope might end in celebration, and not disappointment, this time.
The stadium deal was a huge win for Austin, and not just because we are finally getting a professional team in the fastest growing sports league in the United States. Not only will Precourt Sports Ventures be building a $200 million stadium to be owned by the city of Austin that can be used in a variety of ways, but Austin FC will be responsible, according to the term sheet, to provide a multitude of community benefits to Austin including a donation of almost $5 million to affordable housing and over $50 million toward developing youth soccer in Austin. Not only will Austin FC be bringing professional soccer back to Austin, but they will also be helping to grow soccer’s roots in Austin’s youth.
Just how well will Austin FC do at filling up their new stadium for games? It’s a legitimate question considering Austin has never had a MLS team, or any major professional sports team, for that matter. But I don’t believe it should be too hard to fill out a majority of the 20,000 seat stadium when considering that almost 100,000 people go to Longhorn football games despite the team hovering around .500 each year.
The biggest reason to have doubt in the MLS coming to Austin is the fact that they have no place to play right now. For the first two years of the Austin FC, from when the team is supposed to enter the MLS in 2019, to when the McKalla Place Stadium is supposed to be finished in 2021, the team will have to play at a temporary stadium. Finding a temporary stadium is the biggest obstacle for the Austin FC to get through, as not finding a place to play by the 2019 MLS season would derail Austin’s chances of getting a team. Right now, it looks like the Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express, is the best bet for where Austin FC will play during in 2019 and 2020 seasons, but it is far from being a done deal.
So even though there are a lot of signs that Austin may be getting an MLS team, until they figure out where they will be playing for the next two years, I’m still going to be doubtful about the Austin FC. We’ve gotten burned by our false hope too many times.