AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s no secret Austin knows a thing or two about hosting professional soccer matches.
Results haven’t always gone Austin FC’s way during the club’s first ever MLS season – but as that season draws to a close with the team playing its last home game at Q2 Stadium, there have been plenty of positives.
It starts with the team’s vibrant fanbase and the electric atmosphere they’ve forged at their new home, Austin FC president Andy Loughnane said.
“We have created something special here inside of Q2 Stadium,” said Loughnane, speaking ahead of the team’s final home game of the 2021 season against Sporting Kansas City. “And when I say ‘we,’ really that is the fans.
“I think that alone stands out as the success of 2021,” he added.
Although the team has struggled on the pitch, particularly away from Q2 Stadium, the season has been a roaring success off the field.
The club has been buoyed by significant local support in Austin, which is reflected in the regular high attendances at home.
According to data from SoccerStadiumDigest.com, the stadium has the fifth-highest average attendance among the 27 teams in MLS.
That has been propelled by fan groups such as Los Verdes and Austin Anthem, while the La Murga de Austin band set the tone at the stadium with their music and chants.
The carnival atmosphere has attracted national attention. Gregg Berhalter, coach of the United States men’s national team, singled out Q2 Stadium’s atmosphere as one of the reasons why his team keeps coming back to town.
Most recently, the U.S. beat Jamaica 2-0 in front of a sellout crowd at Q2 Stadium on Oct. 7. The stadium has also attracted the national team of Mexico, who will play Chile in an exhibition match in Austin next month.
For Austin FC, the structure for success is in place. What comes next, according to Loughnane, is a “really important” offseason.
“We want to grow, and one of the ways we grow is we start to see an increase in our opportunity to make the playoffs,” he said.
“We want performance on the field to grow as the business will grow. For us, this is a really important offseason, to take stock of everything we think deserves to be improved, and we will spend a lot of time doing that in the offseason.”
Loughnane also stressed he wants to hear from his employees over the winter months about what they can improve on in 2022.
“As a business we monitor feedback, we encourage feedback, and we’ll use the offseason to make modifications,” he said.
While the club reflects on its maiden year and considers making changes, the fan groups that have played such a huge part in Austin FC’s off-field success will be doing the same.
Derek Ensign from Los Verdes said the group and La Murga de Austin, will add new songs and make changes to current songs as they work to improve the entire stadium experience.
“Maybe it’s more banners and flags all across the stadium and things like that,” Ensign said.
Supporter groups like Los Verdes hope to work with the club over the offseason to make further changes, Ensign said.
They hope to figure out how to add more visible space for banners in the supporters’ section, how to distribute song sheets throughout the stadium and how they can help people follow along with which song is playing.
With more than 20,000 soccer fans descending on part of north Austin regularly throughout the year, some businesses in the area have experienced a boom – most notably Hopsquad Brewing and Circle Brewing, located right outside the stadium on West Braker Lane.
“They are running serious events 20 times a year,” Ensign said. “We really appreciate those businesses adapting to this challenge, but it’s an opportunity for them.”
The stadium has also had an impact on public transportation.
Capital Metro said it has seen increased ridership on MetroRail and the 803 and 383 buses on Austin FC matchdays.
“We do know that on game days the Austin FC fans do increase our ridership, and we are appreciative to them and all attendees to special events for choosing transit as a safe, reliable option,” a spokesperson said.
Work is expected to begin on CapMetro’s new McKalla station, which will be located outside Q2 Stadium, next May.
It’s anticipated that the station will open for travel in the fall of 2023.