For years, the Austin area has played host to minor league teams like the Round Rock Express and the Texas Stars. Now, Austin might score its first major league sports team: a Major League Soccer franchise currently located in Columbus, Ohio.
The owner of Columbus Crew SC, one of 22 teams in MLS, says it’s considering relocating the team to Austin if Columbus doesn’t come through with a new downtown soccer stadium. If the new stadium fails to materialize in Columbus, the team is aiming to move to Austin in 2019.
Officials say the Columbus franchise suffers from dismal attendance, poor financial performance, and an outdated venue, even while MLS as a whole is enjoying record-setting crowds at more modern stadiums. “Despite our investments and efforts, the current course is not sustainable,” Anthony Precourt, CEO of Precourt Sports Ventures and chairman of the Crew, says in a release. “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.” Austin is the largest U.S. city without a major league sports team.
In the release, MLS Commissioner Don Garber says that while the league is reluctant to let a team relocate to another city, MLS supports Precourt Sports Ventures’ exploration of Austin as its new home if a “suitable stadium location” is found here. “The stadium site itself is of paramount importance,” says Precourt. “We recognize that private funding will be key in any stadium solution.” However, Precourt most certainly would seek some public funding for the stadium — a proposition that likely would face stiff competition from the Austin City Council.
Indeed, a statement from Austin Mayor Steve Adler foreshadows the possible opposition. While Adler says the Crew would be “a huge success” in Austin and attract “tons of fan support," he also adds: “There is a lot of benefit that being in Austin would give a team, too, though not public funding of a stadium.”
A potential site for a permanent MLS stadium in Austin hasn’t been identified, although the Crew reportedly could play at Myers Stadium on the University of Texas at Austin campus during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. “We are aware of MLS interest in Austin and have no opposition to exploring possible collaborative opportunities,” UT Athletic Director Mike Perrin says in a statement provided to Austin TV station KVUE.
A 5,000-seat stadium is under construction at the Circuit of the Americas, but it’ll be the new home of the minor league soccer team formerly known as the Austin Aztex. Besides, that venue would be too small to accommodate an MLS team. If the Austin plan falls into place, the Crew would likely debut a new soccer stadium here in 2021.
If the Crew does stay in Columbus, the chances of getting an MLS team in the Capital City are slim. Currently, Austin is not on the list of 12 U.S. cities in the running for MLS expansion teams, though that list does include San Antonio. Dallas and Houston already have MLS franchises.