Drivers passing by in the Burnet Road and Braker Lane area can see the canopy for the stadium that is mostly finished. Team President Andy Loughnane said Nov. 10 that work on the stadium seats and the canopy should be finished in the next few weeks, leaving the interior spaces as the last remaining projects to finish before the stadium opens.
"We are about 75% complete on the construction of the stadium. Importantly, we are on schedule," Loughane said.
The team will host 17 home games during its inaugural Major League Soccer season in 2021—that is certain. However other details are unclear. The MLS, along with other major professional sports leagues, suspended its season in March after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, then returned in the summer with a tournament held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Now, the MLS is preparing for postseason play to begin; the playoffs are scheduled from Nov. 20 to Dec. 12. That delay in the 2020 season could push back the 2021 start date.
"We generally start in March, but I'm not sure that will happen this year," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, according to the Sports Business Journal. "As the other leagues have talked about starting later, we're thinking about the same thing."
Loughnane said no matter when the season starts, Austin FC will host some smaller events following construction finishing on the stadium before its first game, such as a watch party for an away match, a first responders appreciation event or a gathering of season ticketholders.
"We know we're joining the league in 2021, and we know we'll play a full slate of home games in 2021. Irrespective of when the schedule begins, it's important to make sure that we're finished at the stadium, and then we're able to make sure that after it's finished, it's in a really good working condition," Loughnane said.
How many fans will be in attendance at that first game also remains an open question. Earlier this fall, new NFL stadiums in Los Angeles and Las Vegas opened with no fans in attendance due to COVID-19 safety precautions.
MLS teams are operating according to local government restrictions during the upcoming playoffs, and their decisions vary as to how many fans are allowed. For example, the New England Revolution, who play just outside of Boston, will have no fans for their game against the Montreal Impact, while Sporting Kansas City's Children's Mercy Park in Kansas will allow 18% capacity, or about 3,300 fans.
Loughnane said Austin FC is moving ahead with plans for 100% fan capacity while remaining flexible in case that capacity ultimately is scaled back. About 60% of the stadium's roughly 25,000 seats are spoken for by season ticketholders, and once the MLS schedule is released, the club plans to release the remaining single-game tickets on sale to the public. However, Austin FC is monitoring news of the virus and watching the MLS and other sports leagues and remains poised to adjust, Loughnane said.
"We have to plan for the largest possible crowd, and then we'll scale as needed. Right now our mindset is focused on 100% capacity in 2021," he said.