¡Dale, Austin FC! MLS Makes It Official
Austin finally is a major league town, with soccer taking the pitch in 2021
The crowd was buzzing Tuesday afternoon at Rustic Tap on West Sixth as a mass of soccer fans clad in black and green gathered to celebrate the official announcement that Austin FC would take the field in 2021 as Major League Soccer's 27th club and Austin's first major-league sports team.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was on hand to make the news legit, saying "Like everything that's worth having in life, the journey to get to Austin was not linear. ... Certainly, this was one of the most complicated projects in our league's history." (Just to remind everyone: The Columbus Crew SC is still in Ohio. This is a new team.) But with the difficult political work now over, Garber said, the next step would be for supporters of the club and the city's political leaders to make Austin FC "deeply embedded in the community."
Although groundbreaking on the club's future McKalla Place stadium is not scheduled until this spring, Austin FC Chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt said at the event that he wanted to jump-start building community support for the club by moving forward with items in the $326 million (over 25 years) benefits package he negotiated with the city of Austin in return for property tax waivers. Though the deal doesn't require Precourt to make these moves until 2021, he told the assembled crowd, "I want to start them now."
On the list, according to Austin FC President Andy Loughnane: 10 youth soccer clinics serving 500 athletes, 30 youth soccer camp registrations, and 30 youth scholarships valued at $2,500 each. All of these will be offered to both boys and girls, and they will be rolled out in 2019 and 2020. Austin FC will also launch its charitable arm, which Precourt said would rely on a local advisory board to find worthy causes to support.
Later, Mayor Steve Adler took to the podium (to cheers and chants of "Steve! Steve! Steve!" from the nascent team's supporters) to declare Jan. 15 "Austin FC Day" and thank his six Council colleagues who voted in favor of the deal with Precourt (four of whom – Greg Casar, Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan, and Kathie Tovo – were sitting in the front row, soaking up the praise and sporting official Austin FC gear along with new CM Natasha Harper-Madison). Adler again pointed to the club's potential to act as a unifying force within the city. "It's not only about sports," he said. "It's not only about economic impact. It's truly taking a city that is being stressed because it is growing so fast, and it is about having a place, a team, an event, a shared experience that brings everybody together, from all parts of this city."
After the event, Mayor Pro Tem Garza and CM Casar echoed Adler's declaration that Austin FC could act as a kind of existential unifying force throughout the city. Garza pointed to her childhood in San Antonio, where Spurs fandom stretched across class lines, and Casar recalled PTA meetings where parents urged him to help bring an MLS team to town so their children could feel the impact of living in a city with a professional sports team. But both told the Chronicle they would carefully watch Precourt to ensure he delivered on the community benefits he promised "to the entire city," as Garza put it.
For Casar, the benefits Precourt is contractually obligated to provide (such as on-site affordable housing) will only be a starting point for what Austin FC, its sponsors, and its supporters can offer the city's residents. He hoped that some of the club's deep-pocketed sponsors, who Precourt is currently recruiting, would take steps to fund youth programs or create more affordable ticket options for low-income fans. "The contract we signed is just the floor for what we can do," Casar told us. "I will be working to see how we can make the deal better ... I want to see how high we can raise the ceiling."