Earlier tonight at precisely 9:51 p.m. Central Standard Time, Grant Wahl broke news of the Columbus Crew franchise potentially moving its operations to Austin, Texas. This lone tweet sent the soccer community and soccer twitter into an absolute frenzy, and allowed speculations to arise from every nook and cranny. As I sat eating my cookies and milk at my dinner table, I, myself, became caught up in the speculations.
So, let's dive in, starting with a bit of backstory.
The Austin Aztecs were the city's United Soccer League (USL) club located in near downtown Austin. In 2010 the club relocated to Orlando and became what is today's Orlando City FC. The Aztecs were reincarnated in 2012, competing in the Premier Development League (PDL). Their home field was located just West of downtown Austin, but was moved to Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex due to flooding caused by the 2015 Memorial Day floods. The Aztecs soon affiliated with Major League Soccer (MLS) club, Columbus Crew, providing a pipeline for players in their development. The Aztecs soon ceased operations due to not having a suitable stadium to play in.
Fast forward back to tonight.
The Columbus Crew owner, Anthony Precourt, has stated that if the club cannot erect a new stadium in downtown Columbus, Ohio, the entire club will move to Austin, Texas.
That's right, the ENTIRE club. All of its operations. Moved. I'm pretty sure there's a Bowling For Soup joke in here somewhere. (THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH OHIIIIOOOOOO)
A keyword many people overlooked in their antics is the word "if". IF Precourt doesn't get his new downtown stadium, THEN he'll seek to move to Austin. This could be a power play move. Professional sports are a business, and you have to be able to look at things rationally and without emotion attached. Professional sports are also political, and have been for centuries. By voicing that Precourt could potentially move if he doesn't get what he wants, he puts pressure on the local government to cooperate, and manipulates the people (fans) into supporting said decision and providing additional pressure on the local government to satisfy its constituents and not take away from the local economy. According to the Columbus dispatch, Precourt is not enjoying a declining revenue stream and attendance from his club, which is another potential factor for a move. However there are different ways to solve these two problems without moving to an entirely different state.
Anyways, the leading question here is what venue will they use to play in if the move happens?
There are a couple options here. They could build a stadium or set up an agreement with the University of Texas to use their facilities, which, according to the Columbus Dispatch, is a deal that's nearly done. If they were to build their own stadium, I propose either building out in Round Rock or Cedar Hills (a stretch). Round Rock has a bustling youth soccer community and is close enough to Austin to draw that crowd, but also provides access to the youth soccer communities in Georgetown, Leander, Belton, and Waco. Central Texas is an under the radar hotbed for youth soccer, and having access to an MLS franchise closer than Dallas or Houston would benefit the growth of the game. Personally, I have played majority of my club career Austin tournaments in Round Rock, with the exception of guest playing in Buda once. Another building option was presented by Bobby Epstein at the Circuit of the Americas. The official USL website published an article on August 9, 2017 about the venue being approved by the league, as well as USL returning to Austin in 2019. I've heard some people voice their opinions about this being a bit far fetched for a soccer venue, but little do people know is that Barcelona is holding a training academy 2017 to 2018 at said venue. If it's good enough for Barcelona, surely it's good enough for the American league. These plans could be taken over by the MLS franchise, leaving USL out in the cold.
Some questions to ask and have answered are:
Would Don Garber really let this happen?
How would Austin gaining an MLS franchise via relocation affect San Antonio's efforts? Would it set them back in their MLS expansion quest? Would they be permanently stuck at the USL level?
This is all I've got for you tonight. I hope I've covered addressed a lot of the things covered in tweets and if not, feel free to leave me a comment or tweet me @Kaustinsoccer for more.
Peace, love, and puppies,