Precourt: Austin "highly motivated" to build club, culture from ground up

AUSTIN, Texas — Now that Austin FC have been officially announced and celebrated their entry into MLS, club leaders are already back to work ramping up to what figures to be one of the most scrutinized launches in MLS history.

Austin FC chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt became an investor-operator in MLS when he purchased the rights to Columbus Crew SC in 2013, and he delivered some notable firsts in his five years overseeing one of the league’s 10 original clubs.

In Austin, he’ll face the decidedly different challenge of building a franchise from the ground up — a challenge that he asserts he and his newly-assembled front office are up to meeting.

“We’re highly motivated,” Precourt said in an interview following Tuesday’s launch event. “We went through a very complex process over the last 18 months. It was very challenging on us, and for me personally. But we did it because we believe in this league. We’re long-term investors in this league. We believe in the city of Austin. It was worth it for me to go through the pain and agony of the last 18 months to get where we are today. We’ve got a super-bright future, and we’re really committed to making this successful.”

Asked what most excited him about being in Austin, he said, “Everything. The list is too long. It’s just a wonderful city.”

Though Precourt remarked that coming into the upcoming MLS season without a team on the field will be “odd and different,” he’s mindful that “you only have one chance to make a first impression,” and is focusing initial efforts with Austin FC on the infrastructure that will get the team from concept to reality.

That includes construction of both a training facility, to be built on private land and officially announced in the near future, and the $225 million, 20,000-seat stadium that Precourt Sports Ventures will construct on a 24-acre, city-owned site. The stadium agreement between PSV and the city was finalized last month following City Council approval last August.

Earlier this month, Austin FC announced the hiring of a 15-person front office staff, including some of the key front-office people who worked with PSV in Columbus. Former MLS player Tyson Wahl was among those hired earlier this month to head up the club’s academy; Precourt says they’re looking to assemble a U-15 squad as early as this summer, pending U.S. Soccer Federation approval, with an academy coach hire on the horizon.

New team president Andy Loughnane, who previously worked under Precourt in Columbus, notes this wave of initial hires will take the club through the first of three growth stages looking beyond the team’s 2021 debut.

Precourt hinted that a head coach could arrive in 2020 or even late 2019, heading up a search that he's only had to do once so far.

“The one time we hired a coach, he was with us for five years,” he noted, referring to Gregg Berhalter, who parlayed his success with the Crew into the US men’s national team coaching job.

Precourt noted that building a culture — particularly a relationship with the fans and the city — will be crucial in the team’s success.

“We need to give back,” he said. “They’re giving so much to us. We need to be giving back to Austin.” He’s personally started that process, revealing on Tuesday that he and his wife have bought a home in the city, adding, “We’ll be here regularly.”