Anthony Precourt's Moment Has Come

Austin FC's founder reflects on the road to the major league

Anthony Precourt (Courtesy of Austin FC)

The roadway from Central Ohio to Central Texas is smooth and mostly direct, if you stick to the interstates. You can bang the drive out in a pair of nine-hour shifts split by an overnight in Memphis, or back-load the mileage on day two if you prefer Nashville’s Broadway to Beale Street.

Anthony Precourt did not stick to the interstates. The private equity CEO and son of an oil executive took, as he puts it, “the long, dusty road” to Austin from Columbus, where from 2013 to 2018 he was the principal owner and executive of Major League Soccer’s oldest franchise, Columbus Crew SC.

The journey down that road began, at least publicly, in 2017 when Precourt announced his intentions to relocate the Crew to Austin. Ultimately, that did not happen. The Crew remains in Columbus under new ownership, but Precourt, by way of MLS’s desire for expansion, brought the league to Austin anyway. Some bad blood remains in the Buckeye State, to put it mildly, but it’s mostly dried by now.

“We’ve had our eyes on Austin as the most attractive untapped market in the United States, and we worked really hard to position ourselves to bring a team to Austin.”

Down south, however, the good vibes are reaching fever pitch. Precourt’s vision of hosting major league sports in Austin will fully take shape for the first time ever this Saturday, June 19. Austin FC, a club that is Precourt’s own in so many ways that the Crew could never be, plays its inaugural home match against the San Jose Earthquakes at brand-new Q2 Stadium. A 100% capacity crowd of over 20,000 Central Texans will watch it happen, and each will feel like a small part of history doing so.

“It’s going to be incredible. I am so fired up,” Precourt told the Chronicle in the days leading up to the match. “We obviously feel it from the city. There’s so much anticipation from everybody and resounding support from everybody.”

It might not go as far as a “Thank you, Anthony!” chant from the crowd Saturday, even though the occasion would not be taking place if not for him. Perhaps that’s appropriate. Precourt is, after all, to use the league’s preferred term, an investor-operator. He’s here to run a business. Austinites are his customers, and from them he hopes to profit, as all sports team owners do. But Austin FC, and Austin itself, are plenty personal for Precourt. His courtship of the Texas capital – or rather, its courtship of him – began like it has for so many: as a twentysomething in search of a good time.

“I took my first job out of college in Houston but I was spending a lot of my time in Austin, as it turned out. Really fell in love with Austin in the early Nineties,” Precourt said. Evidently that love never faded, even when Ohio entered the picture.

A Denver native who played soccer growing up through high school, Precourt got serious about investing in an MLS franchise nine years ago when he was in his early 40s. Columbus came available, and Precourt’s investment firm pounced. He purchased 100% of the 17-year-old club for a then-MLS record $68 million. Included in the terms of the sale was a clause stating that Precourt would not – indeed, could not – move the Crew to any other city ... except Austin. That last part did not become public knowledge until 2017.

“Obviously we’ve had our eyes on Austin as the most attractive untapped market in the United States, and we worked really hard to position ourselves to bring a team to Austin,” Precourt said. “Never any hesitation. Bullish from day one.”

Personal affections aside, the data, Precourt said, was off the charts. Austin was the nation’s largest city without a major league sports franchise and offered the youthful, ethnically diverse market that makes those in the business of soccer salivate. He assembled a team of partners with ties to Austin, starting with Mexico-born international investor Eddie Margain, to help see the project through. You may have heard of one of the other five members of Austin FC’s ownership group, the actor Matthew McConaughey, though in these parts he’s maybe more famous these days as Austin’s “Minister of Culture.”

While the road to January 2019 – when Austin FC was officially unveiled as MLS’s 27th franchise – was slow and tense, the journey from then to the club’s first season and first home game has been a furious sprint. “Sunup to sundown is easily how to describe it,” Precourt said of the last two years of effort, made ever more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic. “You know, this club, Austin FC, is my principal priority, and I’m spending all my energy on it being successful.”

So far, from a business standpoint, it has been. Over 35,000 people have already either purchased season tickets or made deposits in hopes of obtaining them in the future. Austin-based corporations Yeti and Q2, among others, are locked into multiyear sponsorship deals. Precourt, importantly, believes the Austin FC project is sustainable for many years to come. That is significant, because he had public doubts about the long-term viability of the Columbus franchise during his stewardship there.

On the field, Austin FC has offered reason for optimism, earning 8 points (two wins and two draws) through eight games, all on the road. For now, the club is operating with the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Precourt says he intends for that to change as Austin FC grows into itself in year one.

“We have high ambitions for the club. We intend to be a top professional soccer club in North America, and we’re going to make the investment in our roster [to do that],” Precourt said. “We’re just working on signing the right players and seeing how the pieces all come together and being patient. But if we don’t have success on the soccer pitch, you know, what are we doing?”

Precourt witnessed Austin FC’s first-ever victory in person in his hometown of Denver. Not much can top that, but one thing that certainly could? A win in Austin on Saturday. The one thing that’s made the last several years of effort worth it? “June 19th and seeing kids playing in the Austin FC kits,” Precourt said. “We’re just getting started.”

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