The Major League Soccer ownership group eyeing a move from Columbus, Ohio to Austin is seeking a stadium site in the city’s urban core and does not aim to finance it with tax dollars.
Officials with Precourt Sports Ventures LLC, which owns MLS club Columbus Crew SC, spoke with Community Impact Newspaper on Wednesday to discuss their exploration of a move to Austin. Having lived in Houston for eight years and having visited Austin over the past 25 years, CEO Anthony Precourt said he has a “personal affinity” for the capital city, which is among the largest metropolitan areas without a professional sports team.
“We are, sincerely, really excited about the opportunity of relocating our franchise to Austin,” Precourt said.
Popular with millennials and multicultural demographics, MLS has an established preference for downtown or centrally located stadiums. Finding the right stadium location will be the linchpin for the club’s potential future in Austin, Precourt said.
“I would characterize the decision, theoretically, where our stadium would be located as the most important decision we’ll make over the next 25 years,” he said. “That’s going to set the club up for success.”
“We need to make sure there’s a good return on investment, and the stadium is in a market where we can succeed for the long term and be sustainable and vibrant.”
- Anthony Precourt, Precourt Sports Ventures CEO
Precourt said the facility would need to be “in a vibrant part of town” that is a cultural destination.
Josh Babetski, who founded the MLS in Austin Supporters Group, said not only is there untapped potential in Austin for a professional soccer team, but there will also be a need for a centrally located venue now that the Frank Erwin Center is slated to be demolished.
“If you care nothing about soccer, the Erwin Center is going away,” Babetski said. “That is our largest in-town facility. Where does your Lady Gaga or Adele come to play? [If] we have a venue capable of holding 20 or 30,000 people in a downtown area, that’s going to help our economic growth and attract the kind of acts that Austin deserves in town.”
Although PSV continues its search for a downtown Columbus stadium, President Dave Greeley said the exploration of Austin is “not a leverage play” and that the viability of Austin as an MLS market “could be off the charts.”
“The underlying ingredient that’s driving us forward here is our club’s ambition,” Precourt said. “We don’t want to be a club that fights to survive; we want to be a club that thrives. We want to be a club that’s going after trophies and championships year-in and year-out. In order to do that we have to have a strong and vibrant business to create resources to invest in a really attractive, exciting soccer club.”
He said the ownership group must also be confident that its future market can make room for and sustain a world-class stadium.
“Those are not inexpensive these days,” Precourt said. “We need to make sure there’s a good return on investment, and the stadium is in a market where we can succeed for the long term and be sustainable and vibrant.”
Here are some other takeaways from the interview:
Precourt said there is no deadline by which a decision must be made. The timing of their potential move will hinge on how soon PSV can find a suitable stadium site, he said.
PSV has initiated conversations with The University of Texas at Austin for MLS games to be played at Mike A. Myers Stadium, the university’s 20,000-capacity facility at 707 Clyde Littlefield Drive, Austin. The stadium is home to UT’s soccer and track and field programs. However, a deal has not been finalized, Precourt said.
“We think that Mike Myers Stadium would be a very attractive temporary home for MLS, but it would be premature to discuss actual plans,” he said.
PSV said it is up to MLS leadership on whether it expands to San Antonio, which submitted a bid to become one of two new franchises in the league earlier this year. San Antonio leadership is seeking clarification from the league on what the possibility of a club operating in Austin means to its bid.
Minor league team
It remains to be seen how having an MLS team in Austin could affect plans to bring a minor league team to the city. A team was slated to begin play in the United Soccer League, which is a division below MLS, in the 2019 season.
PSV said it welcomes suggestions for a team name. Earlier this year, MLS registered trademarks for “Austin Athletic” and “Austin FC.” Precourt said the league took those steps as part of its own research into Austin as a potential expansion city. Team name suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Austin City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria made his own pitch on Twitter on Tuesday:
— Sabino Pio Renteria (@CM_Renteria) October 17, 2017
How to get involved
Fans can stay up-to-date on the effort to bring an MLS club to Austin by registering at http://mls2atx.com.
The MLS in Austin Supporters Group will meet Sunday at Haymaker, 2310 Manor Road, Austin, to rally behind the effort to bring MLS to Austin. The rally will take place at 7:30 p.m. The group also plans to follow Columbus Crew games in the 2018 season.