There are a lot of great things about living in Austin. We could make our list of the top 10 things to do in the City of the Violet Crown, which would certainly be different from yours. You might choose the music scene, Spamarama, SXSW, Eeyore’s birthday party, or hiking and biking along the miles of trails in our green belts. However, supporting a local professional soccer team couldn’t be on either of our lists; we don’t have a team.
Those of you that have followed the ebb and flow of Austin’s professional soccer history know that in the last ten years there have been more low points than highs. You also know that our last two professional teams didn’t leave Austin because fans failed to support them. You might have even been in the stands at House Park, Nelson Field or the Palace on Parmer. You were there to support local soccer, hoping it would catch lightning in a bottle and that the thousands would become tens of thousands. Unfortunately, Austin never had a chance to build that kind of success in professional soccer.
It should be acknowledged that the Austin Aztex won the 2013 USL PDL National Championship. That squad didn’t play at the professional level, but they sure were fun to watch.
The pro versions of Aztex 1.0 and 2.0 were simply not around long enough to build any momentum. The 1.0 version played in two different stadiums in their two years of existence here. The majority owner of that franchise decided to move it, in the middle of the night, to a new state and city where he thought there was an easier route to MLS expansion. And though that effort did result in a new MLS team, that doesn’t mean that Austin failed to support the team.
The history for the 2.0 version is drastically different, yet similarly disappointing. The club operated as a pro team for just one season, in 2015. From the information we’ve gathered, that organization was doomed almost from the start. Their business model was not sustainable, and hosting the “ATX Pro Challenge” drained their pocket book without boosting regular game attendance as much as hoped. Then their stadium was submerged by historic flooding, and midway through their inaugural season they were displaced to a suburban stadium. The organization went dormant at season’s end. Once again, that result doesn’t mean that Austin failed to support the team.
Fast forward to this year, and the talk of the local soccer community was the return to USL play, with a dedicated stadium and a business model that sounds more sustainable. While the stadium would not be in the urban core, hopes were high that there would again be professional soccer in Austin for 2019.
Then on October 16, Grant Wahl dropped a capitol-sized bomb on the American soccer landscape: Anthony Precourt and his Columbus Crew are considering relocation to Austin. What? Really? No way! Initially there was shock, not celebration. Many in the Austin soccer community have responded and asked the same questions as soccer supporters across the country.
Just weeks after the announcement, PSV is starting to answer the long list of questions. Precourt, Dave Greeley and their local MLS2ATX campaign are making the case for what would be a historic move. We don’t have inside details on the infamous “out clause” Precourt has to move to Austin, but it seems clear PSV no longer consider the situation in Columbus tenable. At an event that we attended earlier this week, Dave Greeley acknowledged the passionate core of support in Columbus, but added that they don’t feel they have the broader community support necessary to be successful in the league MLS is becoming.
On the surface it sure sounds like the Crew are eventually moving out of Columbus, unless Precourt changes course and decides to sell the club. However, that does not mean that Austin will be their next home. Many things have to happen for this relocation to be executed. PSV has to gain the support from the greater Austin community and businesses, not just a core group of passionate fans. PSV must find our City Hall to be friendly and welcoming. While progress and growth are happening in Austin at a record-breaking pace, and many that live in the city’s core might want a soccer team, they might not want it in their backyard.
If these details don’t unfold in favor of PSV, they may well find another community to court. It’s a business, after all, and PSV is looking to maximize their investment. We as fans and supporters like to think about our clubs from a different perspective. Yet owners across this country move their franchises when it increases the value of their asset. This is nothing new. In 1962, even Lamar Hunt made a business decision and moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City, renaming them the Chiefs. And that move happened immediately after the Texans won the American Football League Championship.
If the Crew are relocated to Texas, let’s be clear: Austin is not stealing anything from Columbus. In the same way that Kansas City did not steal anything from Dallas 55 years ago, that narrative is simply not accurate.
We have not had the opportunity to hear what the impacts of PSV’s announcement on Bobby Epstein’s intentions for USL 2019 effort might be. It is hard to imagine that he is moving forward with his plans, at least until the dust has settled somewhat after Precourt’s announcement. While we could wake up in 2019 with two professional soccer teams, that seems like an unlikely outcome. It’s also conceivable that Precourt and Epstein could work together, but we’ve heard nothing about a relationship between the two businessmen. Lastly, we have to hope that if MLS doesn’t end up in Austin after all, that PSV hasn’t damaged the chances for success for the 2019 USL organization.
Would we prefer MLS over USL? Of course. If we could pick, who wouldn’t want a team on top of the American soccer pyramid? Regardless, once season tickets go on sale – for whichever team eventually makes Austin their home – we’ll be first in line.