Austin's new MLS franchise leaves bad feelings in San Antonio


    Former soccer team owner Gordon Hartman said Austin was more aggressive than San Antonio in pursuing an MLS franchise. (SBG photo)

    SAN ANTONIO -Gordon Hartman has a simple explanation about why Austin landed an MLS franchise at San Antonio's expense. But it's not something local soccer fans will want to hear.

    On Tuesday, San Antonio's multi-year pursuit of an MLS team ended when the league announced Austin would get an expansion franchise in 2021.

    "With Austin getting an expansion team, the chances of San Antonio being able to also receive one has basically gone to zero.," Hartman said.

    The city and county spent $18 million to buy Toyota Field from former owner Hartman three years ago. The Spurs, who now own the local United Soccer League team, also contributed $3 million toward a 20-year lease. But with Austin landing the new team Tuesday, that purchase is ripe for second guessing.

    Hartman says the local advocates failed to match Austin's aggression.

    "What basically happened here is San Antonio was pursuing it. Austin decided that they wanted to pursue it, became very aggressive in that decision and worked very hard to bring the elements together to bring out a stadium," he said.

    "We spent many years working to try to bring MLS to San Antonio and felt there was a real opportunity in that respect. But Austin became very aggressive, wanted to make it happen and proved that their hard work has definitely paid off.

    Frustration is apparent across the city.

    "it's heartbreaking for many fans and supporters in San Antonio the way this process has played out," said Steve Arters, co-founder of MLS in SA. "If MLS decides not to follow it’s own protocol, that’s a reflection on MLS.

    In this process, San Antonio has proven itself as a major league market."

    While San Antonio pushed for an expansion team, Austin initially thought it had lured an existing team, the Columbus Crew, to Central Texas. But when that deal collapsed, Austin officials were jump to the head of the expansion line.

    The Austin City Council is going forward with plans to build a new soccer stadium, shown here, in the hopes of securing a Major League Soccer franchise. (Courtesy photo)


    "i think we had the opportunity and unfortunately we lost it," Hartman said,. "That's not good for San Antonio. That's not good for the soccer fans. I don't think it's good for the community because to have another pro sport of the magnitude of MLS would have been good for this community.."

    Officials from the Spurs, as well as County Judge Nelson Wolff were either unavailable or declined to comment. Two years ago, Wolff famously said of the Toyota Field purchase: "The only reason we did this deal was to get to MLS."

    Anyone looking for a silver lining will be hard-pressed to find one.

    "It is a definite unfortunate day as I think the prospects of MLS in San Antonio have basically vanished unless for some reason something happens in Austin and that deal falls apart. i have a feeling that pretty much has been put together at this point., Hartman said. "Our job now is to continue to support what we do have and I think San Antonio will. But we will always have to do it unfortunately (in a) second league vs. a top league being MLS."

    Austin FC will join Major League Soccer in 2021. (Courtesy photo)


    The good news for San Antonio? In two years, fans can watch MLS action in a brand new stadium. They'll just have to drive to Austin to do so.

    --

    SAN ANTONIO MLS TIMELINE

    Jan. 15, 2019: MLS announces expansion team in Austin, becoming the league's 27th franchise in 2021 and ending San Antonio's hopes of joining the league.

    May 29, 2018: MLS announces expansion team in Cincinnati.

    Dec. 20, 2017: MLS announces expansion team in Nashville.

    Oct. 27, 2017: Letter from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to MLS commissioner Don Garber made public asking why San Antonio was misled after Columbus Crew appear headed to Austin.

    Feb. 2017: San Antonio is named as one of a dozen MLS expansion candidates.

    Jan. 7, 2016: Spurs announce San Antonio FC will replace the Scorpions and play in the United Soccer League.

    Dec. 22, 2015, San Antonio City Council approves joint purchase by city and county of Toyota Field for $18 million from Gordon Hartman. Spurs add another $3 million for 20-year lease and have 10 years to bring an MLS team to San Antonio or pay $5 million to city and county.

    Nov. 2, 2015: MLS president Mark Abbott meets with Wolff and county manager David Smith. Proposed plan to purchase Toyota Field is discussed. Wolff, Smith are encouraged to submit a bid and are told both San Antonio and Austin would not get franchises.

    2015: San Antonio Scorpions play their final NASL season and miss the playoffs.

    2014: San Antonio Scorpions win the NASL championship in their third season..

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