Precourt Sports Ventures and Austin City Council are set to continue their discussions on the possible relocation of MLS club Columbus Crew SC to Austin over the next few weeks.
The potential for a move became public mid-October 2017, but one local group has been pushing for MLS to come to Austin long before that.
When Josh Babetski moved to Austin in 2013, one of the first things he found was that a soccer culture already existed in his new home.
Working to help bring supporters of different clubs together and showcase the thriving fan culture of the city, Babetski created Supporters Union, a directory of multiple fan groups based in Austin. While this group fit the need of uniting fans of top clubs abroad, Austin was, and still is, without a top division club of it’s own.
“Hearing that there was interest in [Major League Soccer] but that no one was doing anything with it, in December of 2013 I started the MLSinAustin twitter account,” Babetski recalls in an interview with Called Offside conducted with two other members of the supporters group. Today, Babetski serves as the group’s President and Founder.
Josh Jackson, the group’s Director of Supporters Group Relations, recalls in the same interview that the 2014 World Cup bump helped with interest as well, but that Austin’s soccer history goes back further than even MLS.
One piece of Austin soccer history he points to is the 1995 Disney movie “The Big Green,” set in Austin and filmed partially in Zilker Park, as an inspiration to him as a child. While a movie that some might see as a “Mighty Ducks knockoff” might seem trivial, a generation of soccer fans in their early 20’s to mid 30’s grew up wearing out the VHS from repeat viewings – the very same demographic MLS looks to engage in every new market to which the league expands.
After the interest increase around the 2014 World Cup, Babetski says things really took off for the group in 2016. After Austin failed to submit an expansion bid to Major League Soccer by the most recent cutoff date in January 2017, rumors arose of a possible relocation of Columbus Crew SC.
On October 16, 2017, multiple outlets reported that team investor / operator Anthony Precourt would consider a move to Austin.
Since the announcement, MLS in Austin SG expanded their efforts from social media and quarterly meetings to regular meetups in local bars, engaging in a “fan tour” to help spread the word of the potential team, an expanded online presence, and more.
The expanded online presence includes Spanish language content and The Assist, a podcast hosted by Jackson, the group’s Director of Media Zach Christodoulides, and the group’s Vice President / Director of Philanthropy, Legal, and Finance Andrew Urban.
August 21, 2017, almost two months before reports surfaced of the potential move, the twitter account MLS2ATX was created by a group unaffiliated with MLS in Austin SG.
While the account’s twitter bio reads, “MLS2ATX is a community of supporters working together to bring Major League Soccer to Austin, TX,” the group is backed by Columbus Crew SC investor / operators Precourt Sports Ventures, who are credited on the MLS2ATX website.
Babetski and others have repeatedly made clear that their supporters group is independent of PSV and MLS2ATX.
“We’re a completely independent operation,” Babetski reiterated. He said the MLS2ATX group has reached out to make sure MLS in Austin Supporters Group is aware of community meetings and other events, but that the SG isn’t surprised too often. Both groups also plan events independently of each other, though the similarity in names can be confusing to some.
“It gets a lot of confusion,” Jackson says of the similar names. Jackson recalls the Supporters Group being labeled an “astroturf group” by some. “No, we’re the guys who have wanted this forever.”
A new name is coming for the Supporters Group. “We’re not going to be ‘MLS in Austin’ forever,” Jackson says, adding the new, permanent name will be something Austin-centric.
The supporters group is preparing for an influx of new members when an official relocation announcement is made.
“I think when it comes to Austin, we’re so used to being disappointed with big developments,” confesses Kollin Brandenburg, a Director at Large for the SG.
Brandenburg points to both AAA Baseball and AHL Hockey being proposed for downtown, but eventually landing in Round Rock and Cedar Park respectively, as reasons some Austin residents have been skeptical of the potential MLS team.
“It’s not like the fans aren’t there. They’ve just been hurt before and they want to make sure it’s there before they put in all the work,” Brandenburg continues.
The SG is already in the trenches of a very busy month for Austin soccer.
The City and PSV released documents Friday detailing the analysis and potential plans for the McKalla Place site. The two are set to meet again multiple times this month before City Council breaks for five weeks.
In between city council meetings the group, like almost every soccer fan around the world, will be up early watching to see how the 2018 World Cup plays out in Russia.
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