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Soccer MLS

Austin MLS Expansion Franchise Talks Rapidly Picking Up Steam

Major League Soccer Expansion to Austin

Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY SPORTS

There’s one thing missing from the nation’s fastest-growing city: a professional sports franchise.

The sports landscape in Austin, Texas is dominated by the Texas Longhorns, who for decades have been the de facto “franchise” in the Texas capital, not actively keeping professional teams from occupying space in the market, but also not making any effort whatsoever at helping them get their feet on the ground. There’s a litany of professional teams that dipped their toes into the water in Austin, but never survived for any length of time.

Regardless, a group incorporated as Austin FC, LLC — led by local commercial developer Michael Wilt and rumored to also contain AC Roma partial owner Mark Pannes — is in serious discussions with the City of Austin and Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Cole about the potential of a soccer-only facility, and in tandem, a feasability study to determine if bringing professional soccer to Austin makes sense from a financial and logistical perspective. According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman, the finances required to back the LLC’s efforts — which would be substantial — would be driven by private investment rather than bond packages or any means of traditional public funding.

Austin currently has professional soccer, albeit in the form of the Austin Aztex, a USL Premier League Development League side, playing in what amounts to the fourth-division of the American soccer hierarchy. The Aztex play their games at House Park, a multi-purpose facility in the city’s center, but consistently draw strong crowds and have a solid fan base in a city with a multitude of entertainment options at its disposal.

The aging Frank Erwin Special Events Center on the Texas campus is set to be demolished in short order to make way for a new medical school in its place, requiring the need for a new facility to be built to house the Longhorns’ major events as well as the concerts and other entertainment which utilize it on a daily basis. Some are suggesting this new facility for Texas could be planned, and perhaps even built, with soccer in mind as one of its users along with teams from UT.

The timing is rather interesting given the MLS’ stated desire to have a third franchise in Texas and the formation and operation of a similar group in San Antonio, pushing for the Alamo City to be the next to get an expansion team. San Antonio’s demographics and growth are similar enough to Austin’s that this could well turn into a two horse race from the perspective of the MLS who is no doubt looking to capitalize on the success both on the field and off the field, of the league’s current two Texas teams, the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas. San Antonio, as well, has an existing professional squad, the San Antonio Scorpions, who play in the nascent rebirth of the North American Soccer League and have enjoyed consistent and growing fan support.

The demographic reality of Texas as time passes is that the state will soon be of Hispanic majority. Soccer’s popularity, along these lines, has exploded, and you can rest assured there will be a third MLS franchise in Texas sooner than later.

Can Austin FC, LLC make Austin that destination?

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Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer and the Hiring Manager for Rant Sports.

You can follow Kris on TwitterGoogle Plus or Facebook.