After 15 months of negotiations, neighborhood meetings, site plan presentations and back-and-forth discussions, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber is expected to officially name Austin as the next home of an MLS team on Jan. 15.
Anthony Precourt, the investor-operator of Austin FC, told Community Impact Newspaper executive editor Joe Lanane during the company’s “Coffee with Impact” series that he saw Austin as an “untapped sports market” when he chose to pursue an MLS franchise in the city.
Although Precourt and team President Andy Loughnane stopped short of officially confirming Austin FC as the next MLS franchise, both obliquely referenced the impending announcement in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Loughnane praised Austin Anthem, the local supporters group, for bolstering its ranks to 1,000 fans before the Austin franchise was officially announced.
“Tune in tomorrow,” Loughnane then said with a smile.
The construction phase for the new stadium, which is expected to seat about 20,000 fans, is scheduled to begin in fall 2019 ahead of Austin FC’s first MLS season in 2021. According to Loughnane, the stadium will include a section for the club’s supporters group of about 3,200 seats in the south end of the stadium.
Precourt and Loughnane said there is plenty of work ahead of the Austin FC staff in the next two years before the team plays its first game. That includes building the club’s staff, which Precourt said will grow to about 100 by the time the club plays its first game. That two-year time period will also include work on ticket presales, talks on stadium naming rights and negotiations on jersey sponsorships. Precourt said one crucial step to him is starting the team’s youth Academy.
“We want to get going as fast as possible connecting with the city and getting youth playing soccer. We’re hoping to launch our Academy here in the calendar year 2019 and actually have youth in the city of Austin wearing our kit,” Precourt said.
The process to bring Austin FC to the city began in October 2017, when Precourt Sports Ventures, the operating group of MLS franchise Columbus Crew SC, announced its intentions to secure a long-term stadium deal in Columbus or relocate the team to Austin.
More than a year after that initial announcement, city of Austin staff came to an agreement with PSV for the group to finance a $225 million soccer stadium on city-owned property in North Austin. Meanwhile, PSV agreed to sell the operating rights to the Crew to an group led by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, meaning Austin FC will join the league while the Crew, a member of the MLS since its inception 1996, would remain in Columbus.
As plans move ahead for the club, one local neighborhood group is aiming to block the stadium deal. Members of a neighborhood group called Friends of McKalla Place—mainly residents from the Gracywoods and North Austin Civic Association neighborhoods—filed a petition with the city clerk for a ballot initiative to give voters final say over stadium agreements.
The expected formal announcement of Austin FC as an expansion franchise will take place at 3 p.m. Jan. 15 at the Rustic Tap, located at 613 W. Sixth St., Austin. Mayor Steve Adler will join Precourt and Garber at the event, which is invitation only—all attendees must present a ticket at the door.