How To Survive As An Austin Rock Club For Four Decades

The band Fastball is best known for their 1998 mid-tempo hit “The Way,” but last month in Austin, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the University of Texas-area rock club Hole in the Wall, they slammed through several frenzied rockers from their 1996 debut, Make Your Mama Proud, which the group hadn’t played in 15 years. “No wonder we were so skinny back then,” frontman Miles Zuniga joked.

The NFL-Style Developmental Football League Launching This Fall Will Base Its Texas Team in Austin

A couple of weeks ago, we noted that the FXFL, the developmental football league that hoped to launch in the fall, was targeting San Antonio for one of its home cities. As with many such arrangements, things changed quickly—and as of today, the official announcement has come down that the Texas home for the FXFL will be Austin.

A press release announced that the team will be owned by Tommie Harris and Eric Bassey—two former NFL players with Texas roots—and that the six-game season will take place in six cities throughout the US. 

The Fall Experimental Football League, which has no affiliation with the NFL, plans to play six games in October and November in six U.S. cities. Harris and Bassey will own the Austin franchise, with other teams to be located in the New York and Boston areas; Omaha, Nebraska; Portland, Oregon; and a city in Florida yet to be determined.

The Austin franchise may end up being a bit of a misnomer—according to Harris and league commissioner Brian Woods, who talked to Texas Monthly about the plans for the league yesterday, the yet-to-be-determined stadium for the team will be in “the greater Austin area,” which could mean Cedar Park, Round Rock, or another suburb with more accessible venues. But regardless of the TBAs, the team—which will be called the Texas Outlaws—has big plans for what it might be able to accomplish here. 

“We want to be a developmental league in every sense of the world,” Woods explains, stressing that the success of the league won’t be determined by the number of tickets that it sells, but by the number of players it manages to send to the NFL during the course of its season. “We’re not a commercial league operating under the guise of a developmental league, but a true developmental league. A league that’s going to develop players, coaches, prospective NFL officials, given that we’re going to be utilizing NFL rules, and also maybe serve as a testing ground for potential rule revisions.”

All of that will come after the team manages to recruit its players, but that’s not something that Woods or Harris are concerned about. “There’s more football talent and qualified coaches than there are positions to put these guys to work right now,” Woods says, stressing that the bulk of the rosters are going to be assembled close to the start of league play, as they plan to recruit NFL roster cuts made after the September 1 deadline. 

Austin and El Paso Would Both Like to Have Major League Soccer Teams

As happens for a brief window of time every four years, America has soccer fever! More people tuned in to watch USA play Ghana on ESPN on Monday evening than watched the Spurs topple the Heat on Sunday night on ABC—and that doesn’t include the 3.8 million who tuned in to Univision to watch the game. That means that millions of Americans saw Clint Dempsey, who is in the midst of his once-every-four-year run as Nacogdoches’ favorite son (briefly displacing former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and author Joe R. Lansdale), score the fastest goal in US World Cup history, with a quick point 32 seconds into the match. 

Of course, outside of the weeks-long window that occurs during the World Cup, America’s interest in soccer is, to say the least, tame. Nonetheless, there continue to be attempts to grow the game in the US—and there are two Texas cities who have just announced that they have their eye on the MLS prize. 

Those cities, unsurprisingly, are Austin and El Paso, the state’s two largest cities without major league professional sports franchises to call their own—El Paso and Austin.

Major League Soccer will be expanding in coming years. The league currently has nineteen teams, with three confirmed expansion teams on the docket—in New York City, Orlando, Florida, and Atlanta—between now and 2017, and officials say that the vision is to have 24 teams by 2020. For the past several years, San Antonio has been the frontrunner among Texas cities to claim an MLS team, but recent moves by Austin and El Paso make it clear that if Texas is going to factor into MLS’ plans, it may end up being a three-way race. 

Austin took its steps to make it into MLS last week, when the Austin Aztex of the Premier Development League—roughly analogous to Minor League Baseball’s single-A ball—announced that, for the 2015 season, they’d be moving up to the USL Pro league. That means that the players will be getting paid, the competition will get stiffer, and the team will be further on the MLS radar. That includes inking an affiliate deal with an existing MLS franchise, where Aztex could serve as a feeder team to, presumably, FC Dallas or the Houston Dynamo. 

“Our ambition is to turn the Austin Aztex into a ‘house of excellence’ geared towards nurturing and developing the best professional players on and off the field.”

Austin, the former home of 2015 MLS expansion club Orlando City SC before their relocation to central Florida, is one of several markets around the country which have made clear their desire for MLS membership in the future. And the Aztex ownership group made no secret of those hopes this week.

“This is a proven path to the MLS,” Aztez CEO David Markley told those present at Tuesday’s announcement. Aztex officials also said they plan to craft an affiliate partnership with an MLS club in time for their USL PRO debut campaign.

Ascending through the semi-pro leagues is a path to joining the MLS, and Austin knows that better than most cities—as the release notes, the previous incarnation of the Aztex relocated to Orlando from Austin, and that city will be entering the big league in 2015. That’s got to be bittersweet for Austin soccer fans, but it’s a step toward landing a pro sports franchise in the nation’s largest city without one.

Still, Austin also faces a serious obstacle in its quest for an MLS team—namely, there’s nowhere for the team to play.

Sticking the Landing

Last Tuesday Chase Hawk sat at a wooden table at the Buzzmill bar and coffee house, nursing an amber-hued IPA. “Ten years ago, I’d drink you under the table, stay up all night, and then ride all of the following day,” the 27-year-old professional freestyle BMXer told me.

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