Austin Isn’t Going to MLS. MLS Will be Coming to Austin.

MLS in Austin
Oct 17, 2017 · 7 min read
…MLS Will be Coming to Austin.

A message from MLS in Austin Supporters Group founder Josh Babetski:

The announcement that MLS’ Columbus Crew SC could be moving to Austin, Texas is a huge step forward for our effort and validation of everything the leadership team and members of the MLS in Austin Supporters Group have been doing — much of it on faith and believing in the small bits of data, rumors, analysis, and resulting possible narratives how it might happen.

So let’s talk a bit about what this all means by walking through the announcement itself. Here’s our annotated thoughts and opinions on some key parts of the announcement from the perspective of our supporter group that has been pushing for an MLS team for over four years…

Announcement Analysis

Precourt Sports Ventures Considering Relocation of Columbus Crew Soccer Club
Securing Stadium Location Is Key to Decision

Securing a stadium location in Austin is key to decision.

Precourt Sports Ventures, LLC (PSV), owner of Columbus Crew SC since 2013, announced today that it is exploring strategic options to ensure the long-term viability of the Club, including remaining in Columbus at a new stadium or potentially relocating the Club to the city of Austin, Texas.

While it certainly reads as if Crew SC could stay in Columbus and that Austin could just be a bargaining chip to force some kind of action in Ohio, it’s highly doubtful if it’s come to this and Austin’s been specifically mentioned as where the club would go. A cheaper bluff would have been “…or we’ll look at options in other markets.”

“…Via Columbus, Ohio” Our 2/21/17 article speculating a Columbus move to Austin

We were the first to call Columbus’ potential move to Austin way back in February and not much has fundamentally changed since then. Therefore, there’s not much reason to believe that this announcement will force any new action.

  • Ohio isn’t likely to incentivize Columbus staying. They’ve already spent almost two years trying to come up with a viable Columbus stadium option.
  • Cincinnati is still a highly viable candidate for an expansion team — even if they wind up with their stadium across the river — technically in Kentucky. If Commissioner Garber is serious about stopping at 28 teams under his tenure, moving existing teams is the only other way to get the geographic footprint they want and in no scenario does that include two MLS teams in Ohio.
  • Attendance continues to fall in Columbus, averaging about 15k this season.
  • Austin is at or near the top of every desirable stat a team could want or dream of, as well as at or near the top of numerous “Best of…” lists countrywide.

If PSV gets a stadium location deal done, Austin, Texas will become home to the first team in MLS. Full stop. This isn’t a “honey, we can work it out” announcement, it’s a “I think we should see other people” announcement. Austin is the new girlfriend.

Columbus Crew SC has recognized its growing disparity in attendance and corporate support compared to its MLS peers and other midsize markets, such as Kansas City, Orlando, Portland and Salt Lake City.

It’s not just about the stadium. Also, interesting to see the MLS comparable cities — good company to be in.

“…This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise. Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit.”

We couldn’t agree more. This is key to what’s kept Austin in the expansion conversation all this time even without a bid, ownership group, or stadium plan — until now! We’ve gone from “zero” to almost-“hero” with one box left to check.

“…Columbus Crew SC is near the bottom of the League in all business metrics and the Club’s stadium is no longer competitive with other venues across MLS. The League is very reluctant to allow teams to relocate, but based on these factors, we support PSV’s efforts to explore options outside of Columbus, including Austin, provided they find a suitable stadium location.”

There’s no reason to doubt that the league really is very hesitant to move a club. That it’s even being considered should be another clue to the severity and seriousness of the situation and thus a move is basically going to happen if Austin gets a stadium-deal approved.

Precourt Sports Ventures has been in communication with city and community leaders in Columbus regarding its concerns since early 2016.

The soccer landscape has changed significantly over the past 22 year and MLS is in a very different time and place today. This isn’t an overnight thing and looks like PSV has tried to make it work in good faith before taking this action.

In evaluating Austin, as with any new MLS market, a critical component is the stadium plan. Without an MLS-approved site, Precourt said the Austin move would not be viable.

The equation is simple: Austin Stadium Deal = Austin MLS team.
Helping to make this happen is our top priority, although if they’ve gone this far, it’s fair to say that there may already be the start of an agreement in principle around a stadium deal and possibly a specific location.

Studies and league data show that MLS clubs are most relevant and successful when playing at a downtown stadium location or at a site that is a destination for the entire community.

Translation: We’re not putting this stadium out in Elroy or up near Dell Diamond.

Speaking of Elroy, with this news, odds of Austin USL 2019 actually ever stepping foot onto the pitch at CotA themselves may have dropped significantly. We were excited to see some movement on the USL front, but Austin is ready to have a big league team and not settle for another minor league one. It’s unfortunate, but hard to be sympathetic. Versions of that club have had a half-decade head-start to lock up this market and were not able to capitalize on it.

“The stadium site itself is of paramount importance and we recognize that private funding will be key in any stadium solution,” Precourt said.

We don’t expect Austin taxpayers to pay for it, and we don’t expect the city to build it for us.

A Moment to Celebrate, Then Back to Work

To all of our MLS in Austin members and followers, my sincerest thanks for helping us get this far. Our efforts have now leveled up. There is no doubt that Austin is now on the cusp of getting a team and there’s a clear path to how we’ll get it. We need a large and coordinated effort to seal the deal and need the support of soccer fans from all over Austin and Central Texas to do it. MLS coming to Austin all hinges on getting a stadium deal done! That’s at the top of our to do list. Recruit a friend to help!

Supporter Social & Meetup with Supporters Union & MLS in Austin SG

However, we should definitely take a moment to celebrate! Conveniently, we had a “Supporter Social & Meetup with Supporters Union & MLS in Austin” already scheduled for this weekend: Sunday, October 22nd, 2017, 7:30pm at Haymaker. It’s also going to be the first of many MLS in Austin SG rallies! We hope to see you there in full-blown supporter mode!

What Else We’ll Be Doing

  • We’ll be working on a branding campaign for a permanent, Austin-centric name for our Supporters Group. The name “MLS in Austin” was on-point, but now that the actual league is almost here, we’ll start the process of giving ourselves a brand for all Austin MLS supporters.
  • Working with the front-office on supporter engagement and relations, stadium features, and hopefully influence the branding of the new club.
  • Supporting the front office with any informational, transitional, or local support they need.
  • Doing whatever we need to to get a stadium deal done! (We’re going to bang this drum constantly.)

Our Story Begins Again…

If you’ve been with us from the beginning or just heard about us from the big news today: Everything up until now has been prologue. Our real work begins now and it’s the perfect time for you to get involved. Don’t you want to be able to say “I was there at the beginning. I helped bring an MLS team to Austin.”

Trust me, it feels great!

Join us in supporting together!

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