Still No Austin USL News

The Brief History of Austin’s USL Team

Back in January, we took a position that if the Austin USL ownership group announced a plan for 2018 by the end of the first quarter, odds were good on USL returning to Austin for the 2018 season.

Austin was granted a one year hiatus (the 2016 season) when the club ran into stadium issues (among other challenges) in their innaugural USL season. This was pretty cut and dry at the time: They were going to sit a year out, get the stadium situation under control, and return for 2017.

That didn’t happen.

Reports vary, but basically it was understood that the Austin USL ownership had an option for a second year of hiatus without losing the franchise rights. However, as we understood, the condition on this second year was that they had to present a very solid plan to guarantee a return in 2018. This meant not only a stadium plan, but construction timelines, permits, financial backing, etc. Basically, they had to prove that they would: Pull. It. Off.

Sadly, by the end of 2016, it was already pretty well known that the Aztex weren’t coming back for 2017, even before they made it official. The question was: Was there a plan for 2018 for this ownership group?

So based on needing to get a stadium built, new branding, a coach hired, a team recruited, and all the other things one needs to so to spin up a professional soccer club, it seemed logical to assume that by April 2017, something would need to have been announced and the wheels in motion in order to be ready for the start of the 2018 season.

Yet, here we are in April (as of this writing) with no public news.

The Brief Future of Austin’s USL Team

We discussed this at length this past week on The Throw In Radio Program. You can listen to the full conversation here.

2017–04–02: The Throw-In Ep. 90: How Can Soccer Come Back To Austin?

To summarize, a few things can potentially happen:

  • Unlikely: The current Austin ownership group announces something later this year. We don’t see this happening. With only one employee on staff for the past two years, zero public engagement, and no announced stadium plans, there’s not a lot of confidence in this.
  • Possible, but risky: The Austin franchise rights are returned to USL and will be resold to a new group looking to have a D2 USL team in Austin without MLS ambitions. More on why this is risky below.
  • Possible, but does it make business sense?: The Austin franchise rights are returned to USL and get resold to a new group with a clear MLS in Austin goal — using the next few years in USL to build local support. This is predictably a popular option. It would bring pro-soccer back sooner to Austin and is more in-line with what was expected of the Aztex 2.0 club. However, it may not create much value-add and prove a costly distraction (like it did with the Aztex) if the goal is MLS.*
  • Possible and controversial: Regardless who controls the franchise rights, ownership groups push pause on USL in Austin – waiting to see what develops with MLS. Mostly, there is the risk of an opposing ownership group coming in and setting your investment on fire with a play for an Austin Division One team. 
    Differing opinions on this in our membership are likely: It keeps the focus on MLS for now at a the cost of waiting longer for local pro-soccer, but the market could always fall back on USL D2 and stand-up a team in a few years if MLS isn’t in the cards.
  • Possible, and interesting: Some other organization places a D3 or PDL team in a nearby market. Far enough out where the market impact of a D2 and D1 club in San Antonio and Austin doesn’t pull fans away from it being successful. San Marcos would be a very interesting example of this if the market data played out in their favor.

* Some context on the value-add data point. Assuming a 2019 USL Austin team is fielded, 2 MLS expansion cities will be announced around 2020 for a potential 2022 season start. One year of USL operations probably wouldn’t tip the scales for making the case for or against MLS at that point. So the question is: Does spending 6–8 million on a pop-up stadium, plus club operations expenses make sense versus investment and marketing in the “big prize”? Conversely, the MLS question should be definitively answered in under 4 years and the 20k-capacity stadium question much sooner than that.

Writing the Future; Making History

What do you think will happen? The only thing I think we can be sure that won’t happen is that a team called the “Aztex” is very unlikely to ever take the field in Austin again. What will take it’s place, if anything between now and MLS, is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, we think the evolution of professional soccer in Austin will continue to be awkward, full of surprises, and will ultimately play out like no other soccer market’s story has. We should be okay with it, we are after all a city that likes to keep things weird.

Thanks to everyone for their support!

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