It’s incredible to look back and see how our local campaign to bring Major League Soccer to Austin grew into the city’s first full-fledged major league sports team, and one complete with pyrotechnics, famous celebrity owners and all the hoopla and fanfare that accompanies pro sports. Watching MLS2ATX grow into Austin FC has been quite the ride. It will always rank as a highlight of my career, and I’m honored to have contributed to what I know will be a staple in Austin for years to come. Taking a look back, here are the top 11 moments.
1. Team BAT and MLS2ATX
Months leading up to the reveal of Anthony Precourt’s dream and intention to bring a Major League Soccer team to Austin, a group of local Austinites came together under the “secret” name BAT or Be Austin’s Team. This group consisted of attorneys, lobbyists, engineers, land developers, public relations pros, real estate experts and more. All were intrigued and excited about the opportunity to bring something new to Austin.
On a warm day in September in the ECPR Texas conference room, a debate ensued between a small group of Team BAT members about what we should call our local campaign. It came down to MLS2ATX or MLSTOATX. As a proud advocate of MLS2ATX, I am happy to say that name was chosen and the real work to show our community what Major League Soccer could do for our city began.
2. The big reveal
While our original plans to reveal MLS2ATX were somewhat thwarted by a reporter with a scoop, we announced to the world on Oct. 17, 2017 that Anthony Precourt was exploring an opportunity to bring an MLS team to Austin. The next day, ECPR Texas introduced Anthony to Austin as he did media interviews with every outlet in Austin. This is where we got the first sneak peek of what a ride this would be.
3. Community engagement meetings
Throughout 2017 and 2018, ECPR and other Team BAT partners got to work introducing MLS2ATX to all members of the Austin community—residents in every part of the city, business leaders, nonprofits, youth and adult soccer organizations and the list goes on and on. What started as informational meetings and events at soccer-centric bars like Haymaker and Takoba–which were packed with hundreds of curious Austinites–morphed into a formal process involving the city that consisted of 11 community engagement open meetings. This process took us from community centers to affordable housing developments and clinics in every part of Austin. The input and trust-building were invaluable to the process.
4. Infinite City Council meetings…
…that lasted until 4 a.m…multiple times (but who’s counting?). Throughout the course of MLS2ATX, the Austin City Council took eight votes and even more time was spent at the dais telling our electeds about all of the tangible and intangible community benefits this effort would bring to Austin. While the big vote was certainly the decisive moment with council members and reporters, many other critical decisions played out at Austin City Hall.
5. Media, media and more media
At ECPR Texas, media relations is our bread-and-butter, and we are proud to secure consistent, prominent coverage for our clients in an array of media outlets. MLS2ATX and Austin FC was no exception. We curated a targeted list of local, national, international and soccer-centric outlets and journalists. We did media on everything from updates about the process to bring an MLS team to Austin, to what the stadium will look like, to discussing the World Cup and what fans can expect at a soccer game. All in all, we garnered more than 2,000 media hits with national outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press, as well as every local media outlet in town. The Austin American-Statesman even created a specific “soccer beat.”
6. The big vote
After more than seven official votes and a handful of additional presentations to Austin City Council, we received the validating 7-4 vote on August 15, 2018 to enter into a stadium lease agreement with the city aka to bring Major League Soccer to Austin! It was a nail-biting moment. Sometimes in PR, it can be hard to measure success. It isn’t always black and white. You can get all the news coverage in the world, but another metric may matter more to a client. But this was an example where there was no denying the win and the success.
7. The brand reveal
After the vote, it was time to party! Or, for ECPR, it was time to plan a party! The reveal of Austin FC on August 23, 2018 was a night to remember. I refer to it as watching my little MLS2ATX baby grow into a full-fledged Austin FC adult. ECPR Texas worked with the Butler Bros and PSV to create an unforgettable reveal at live music venue, The North Door, complete with confetti cannons, pyrotechnics, live music from Tomar and the FCs and the first-ever Austin FC swag.
8. It’s official!
After revealing Austin FC, we spent the fall of 2018 keeping the community and media updated on our progress, connecting Austin FC to organizations in town, as well as continuing to work with our lobbyists to ensure our agreement with the city was being upheld on both fronts. In January 2019, it was time to officially become the 27th team in Major League Soccer! On Jan. 15, ECPR Texas, Austin FC staff and Major League Soccer executed the announcement of Austin FC as an official MLS team at the Rustic Tap. Alexi Lalas emceed as hundreds of supporters cheered for Mayor Adler, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and of course Anthony Precourt and Andy Loughnane.
In addition to event planning and execution, ECPR handled all media, with assistance from Major League Soccer. We were also honored to produce one of the intro “hype” videos. There have been a lot of proud moments during this journey but watching Commissioner Garber declare Austin FC as the newest official MLS team was unforgettable. Even more unforgettable—Alexi jamming out to the crowd with his guitar.
You can’t get more Austin than that!
9. We broke the Internet!
Even though MLS had officially named us as the 27th team, we still weren’t 100% sure just how many Austinites would take the excitement for the team they show on social and around town and turn that into actual season ticket deposits, especially since the team wouldn’t be playing in town for another two years.
The day of the season ticket deposit launch started with–what else–media. ECPR Texas and Austin FC hit morning TV and radio before heading back to the Austin FC office to monitor how many people would put in their deposits.
At 10 a.m., we officially opened deposits for season tickets. Within minutes, and because of high demand, the website crashed. Luckily, ECPR is trained in crisis communications. Our team devised a plan stressing openness and transparency to the community, and we apologized for any inconvenience to our supporters.
As the IT team worked to get the website functioning, ECPR distributed statements on Austin FC’s social pages and to media explaining the situation. We also shot a quick video of Austin FC president Andy Loughnane apologizing to the community for the website crash. Soon after, the website was back up and running!
What we weren’t expecting was to not only break, but shatter all MLS ticket deposit records for most deposits secured in the first couple of days. If we needed any extra validation that the interest far exceeded people we know that wanted soccer, this groundswell of support was it and made us realize how much the whole community and region wanted it.
At each juncture above, what became Austin FC seemed “finally real” and increasingly inevitable. But one particular day was filled with joy and relief as the team seemed to finally be on its way: Groundbreaking Day! With team owners, city and state officials, sponsors, members of the media and Austin Anthem—all of us working together at this point—pronouncements were made and dirt was turned. And, it wouldn’t have been a party without some pyrotechnics as supporters and media watched around the world.
11. Alright, Alright, Alright
Of the biggest moments was also a more recent one: sharing the stage with Mr. Matthew McConaughey for Austin FC’s Investor Partner Announcement. He, wife Camila and each of the investors were gracious and ready for anything. A little soccer juggling even broke out on stage. This was a more intimate gathering (even though it was live-streamed globally) that reminded us of the very beginning when it was just a few like-minded people sitting around talking about soccer.