Texas Longhorn Football is the big dog when it comes to sports events in Austin.
In 2018, average home game attendance was over 97,000 at DKR stadium. And that was a down year for fan turnout.
The University of Texas athletic program has long been speculated to be the reason a major professional sports franchise has never landed in the ATX.
Until now. Enter Austin FC.
You may have seen the club’s “FIRST & ONLY” billboard around town touting the breakthrough—a reference to being the first major league sports team in Austin.
Before Austin FC ever takes the pitch in 2021, there are a few things the club could learn from its burnt orange neighbor to be successful in this city.
Luckily, we have just the man to teach this subject—professor Matthew McConaughey. As co-owner and “Minister of Culture” (MoC) of Austin FC, McConaughey aims to build the ultimate fan experience on match day.
Here are three big things McConaughey could bring to Austin FC that he knows as a Texas Longhorn superfan.
1. Build Tradition
Tradition is defined as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way”.
In sports, traditions create an unbreakable connectedness among the fans and the team.
Texas Longhorns have many rich traditions.
- Bevo (the school mascot)
- Big Bertha (the world’s largest drum)
- Burnt Orange and White (the school colors)
- Hook ‘em Horns (the school hand sign)
- “Texas Fight” and “Eyes of Texas” (the school songs)
- UT Tower lighting (lit burnt orange for victories)
Some traditions were intentionally developed by The University, like the UT Tower lighting, but others evolved through creativity of fans. “Hook ‘em Horns” hand sign was first flashed by a student in the 1950s.
A lesson for Austin FC is to build elements of tradition into its stadium, while also supporting traditions that arise from its supporters.
2. Get a Rival (or two)
A rivalry amps up the competition level between two teams and intensifies the experience for supporters. Rivalry games create an electric atmosphere for fans. On the club side, it improves fan attendance and TV viewership. Players involved in a rivalry match typically try harder. And the victory is sweeter.
Austin FC is well on its way in this category.
Thanks to the Columbus Crew saga in 2018, there has been no shortage of Austin FC haters from the get-go. USA Today’s headline “Austin FC immediately became MLS’ most hated team” sums up the outside perception of the club when it officially launched in January 2019.
It helps that two other MLS teams, Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas, are located in the state for a geographic rivalry—a Texas derby.
In fact, we made a video highlighting the likely rivals of Austin FC.
Texas Longhorn Football has turned rivalry into an art form. Love ’em or hate ’em—no college fans are on the fence about the Longhorns.
Their intrastate rivalry with Texas A&M is legendary. Even though the two teams no longer play each other—Texas legislators try every two years to pass a law to make them play each other.
Then there’s conference rival Oklahoma Sooners. The annual Red River Rivalry game played in Dallas (roughly equal distance from both team’s cities) is one of the most recognized rivalries in American sports.
3. Invest in Talent
At the end of the day, talent wins games and brings the fans to the stadium.
Good players and good teams are exciting to watch. Talented players can be pivotal in bringing local and national attention to the team. It also does wonders for ticket sales.
Unlike pro sports, Texas Longhorns can’t use dollars to obtain players. Instead they must sell players on things like team culture, playing opportunities, coaching, facilities, teammates, and Austin, the #1 city in the U.S.
And year in, year out the Longhorns recruit a top class nationally.
Call me naive, but Austin FC has the same opportunity to entice top notch players to its club using more than money: things like Austin’s culture, lifestyle, new facilities, a sold-out stadium, and a chance to create history.
The club cannot be a bottom feeder when it builds its first roster.
Luckily, Austin FC appears to be on the same page.
Team CEO Anthony Precourt has gone so far as to publicly name Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez as the type of player that can fill this role. With the Beckham Rule in the MLS, The club can get up to three big money, high profile players—it’s just a matter of having the dollars to spend.
Matthew McConaughey has an opportunity to play a big part in building the culture of the club before it ever takes the pitch in 2021. We can expect he’ll bring the same passion he’s shown for Texas Football to Austin FC.