Austin may get its first professional sports team by 2020, as the City Council began discussing a possible Major League Soccer team Thursday.
Mayor pro tem Sheryl Cole sponsored a resolution, which passed 6-0, that states the city will work with the University, the Austin Aztex — the city’s United Soccer Leagues (USL) semi-professional team — and other stakeholders to determine whether an MLS team is possible. By 2020, MLS plans to expand from 20 to 24 operating teams, two of which have not yet been determined. Austin and San Antonio are two major contenders for a professional team in Texas, MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
“Expanding — that’s likely going to happen,” Garber said in a press conference. “Where that happens, when that happens, is something that remains to be seen.”
According to Garber, the league will conduct research to evaluate whether Austin has the fan demographics, soccer interests, potential ownership groups and stadium plan to successfully support an MLS team. Garber said ideally, a stadium should be located within the urban core of the city.
Aztex marketing director Jeffrey Burns said Austin’s high urban density makes the city a favorable candidate.
“We know that the MLS, and basically all soccer leagues, feel that having a stadium tied to an urban core is a very important part,” Burns said. “We know that basically you can get to any part of the city [in] 10, 15 miles. For a city of that size, that’s very reasonable, especially as road improvement projects and light rail improvement projects increase.”
James Morgan, a UT alumnus who spoke at the council meeting, said San Antonio may not be the best market for an MLS team because the location of its soccer stadium may not attract enough fans.
“The issue with San Antonio is that their stadium is an hour north of San Antonio,” Morgan said. “[Garber] has stated initially that he wants stadiums centrally located in the city. He’s found that there has been significantly higher success with teams.”
Morgan said Austin’s fan base is concerned with the city’s available facilities.
“[House Park, where Aztex plays,] is a multi-sport complex, and fans really like to be close to the action,” Morgan said. “They will gladly use the stadium that’s available, but I don’t know that’s necessarily what they want long-term.”
Burns said although Aztex will support the creation of a professional team in any capacity, he’s confident the team’s strong fan base and player competitiveness would make it a good MLS team. According to Burns, Aztex sent eight players to the MLS and was in the top-5 list of USL teams with highest game attendance in the team’s first two years.
“The fans are already here,” Burns said. “We’re just working with the tier and the stadiums that we have, and we’re doing a really good job with that.”
Burns said it’s too early to tell if a new soccer stadium should be built and where it should go. He also said the team has not yet begun conversations with the University.
“We know that the city of Austin has named [the University] as a stakeholder, and we look forward to talking to all parties that share a similar mission and vision,” Burns said.