Amid obstacles that include players’ union contracts, delayed start dates, and a pandemic, Austin FC is fully prepared for its inaugural season in Major League Soccer (MLS), poised to start April 17th. Season ticket memberships at Q2 Stadium sold out nearly a year before the team starts competing and Texas Monthly just declared Austin FC “Texas’ most popular soccer team”.
As Austin FC ramps up for the start of its first season, the University of Texas College of Education’s sport management program has been working closely with Chris Quinn, Vice President, Business Development and Strategy, and other members of Austin FC, from staffing and interns to classroom partnerships and projects.
Students in the program have been working on projects with Austin FC for more than three years. These projects give students exposure to the corporate sponsorship aspect of professional sports. They have had opportunities to create COVID-19-era partner experiences to build a fanbase and community, as well as work on corporate sponsor pitches for Austin FC jerseys.
During Fall 2020, representatives from these companies connected with students in class to listen to and provide feedback for their pitches. Among these sponsors were companies such as YETI and Netspend, which are now both official jersey sponsors, as well as H-E-B.
Members of Austin FC Academy, the club’s elite youth development arm, will speak during the Spring 2021 semester with Associate Professor Matt Bowers’ graduate sport development course to discuss ways to create systems for developing athletes within a local community. The academy is the developmental pathway for the most talented youth soccer players in Central Texas. It plays an important role in the community, connecting professional athletes and sports professionals with youth athletes to build a thriving youth soccer network.
In February, the College of Education hosted Growing the Legend: The Austin FC and College of Education Partnership, which connected incoming and current undergraduate students with members of the Austin FC staff. The event was hosted by Richard Reddick, the college’s associate dean for equity, community engagement, and outreach, and featured Bowers and Associate Professor Tolga Ozyurtcu. From Austin FC, the event was joined by Xavi Acosta, B.S. ‘19, Austin FC membership service executive, a graduate of the college’s sport management program, and Raquel Garcia, Austin FC vice president of marketing. Acosta first joined Austin FC as a volunteer and has since worked his way up the organization to his current full-time position. Garcia is a graduate of UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication.
The event gave students a glimpse into the developmental stages in a professional sport management career. By connecting current students with alumni in the field, the event delivered a model for navigating a professional career. Students had the opportunity to ask questions and gain valuable insight into their future career paths.
Events like this demonstrate that a professional sports team brings positive changes to a city in more ways than just the game itself. It creates new career opportunities, and the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education is grateful to have developed a partnership that places its students in a position to take advantage of these developing professions.
“Sports teams are their own microcosms of industry–they have a little bit of every kind of professional role,” Bowers says. “From the locker room to the owner’s suite and the practice field to game day, anything that you see happening at a sporting event requires some kind of sport management professional behind the scenes making it happen.”
The partnership provides benefits to both the College of Education students and Austin FC. As the team continues to grow, they will require more talented individuals to run their programs. The college serves as a talent pool for Austin FC to tap into as new opportunities arise.
Adds Susana Wolfe, the club’s senior director of human resources, “Austin FC is proud to work with the College of Education to create opportunities for students to learn, develop, and grow their skillsets and experience within a major league team. Austin FC also benefits from the passion, creativity and spirit that UT students bring to our organization, helping us achieve our goals.”