Community first in Austin FC-Q2 deal


Austin FC naming rights Image: Austin FC

Austin FC, the first professional sports team in one of the country’s fastest-growing large cities, has kept the club’s major sponsorship deals close to home, including a long-term stadium naming rights agreement with financial solutions provider Q2 Holdings for the soon-to-open Q2 Stadium.

Austin FC is a professional soccer franchise based in Austin, Texas (US). The club joined the Major League Soccer (MLS) fold in 2021, and will open a new stadium in North Central Austin this year.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is a men’s professional soccer league sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, which represents the sport’s highest level in the United States and Canada. The league comprises 27 teams – 24 in the US and 3 in Canada – and will expand to 30 teams by the 2023 season.

Q2 Stadium remains on schedule to be completed in Spring 2021 and will welcome athletes, artistes and audiences from around the globe soon after. The 20,500-capacity Q2 Stadium is a soccer-specific stadium under construction in the North Burnet section of North Austin, Texas. It will serve as the home venue of Austin FC, a Major League Soccer team expected to start play in 2021.

Remarked Andy Loughnane, Austin FC President, “Identifying a naming rights partner consistent with all your club priorities is extraordinarily important. We wanted a stadium naming rights partner that believed in Austin. This is a landmark agreement.”

The Q2 Stadium is likely to stage its first events in early June, and will thus provide the Austin-based company a new sort of presence on the global stage and in the MLS map, and will also provide a platform to give back to the community, observed Matt Flake, the Q2 President and CEO.

Along with the name on the building, Q2 will sponsor a Dream Starter Competition in conjunction with Austin FC with $100,000 allotted to start or accelerate a business plan of a local company and will allow fans to vote on Q2 nonprofit donations of $150,000.

Added Flake, “As a mission-based company, this provides a deeper purpose for what we want to do in our community. I think our employees are going to be so proud of this. The community aspect was important to both of us and isn’t just lip service.”

Austin FC joins MLS for the 2021 season, also opening the spiffy Q2 Stadium designed by Gensler. The process for agreeing to a sponsorship deal for the venue – Austin FC already announced Austin-based Yeti as the club’s jersey sponsor – started long back with the club working with Excel Sports Management on sponsorship acquisitions, but it was patience that made this deal work for the club.

Stated Loughnane, “We did have the opportunity to evaluate very strong, very fair offers on a few different occasions in 2019 and even in early 2020. Our patience was ultimately rewarded.”

Starting from scratch for the expansion team, and in a market of 2.3 million people, the largest in the country void of a professional sports teams, meant that Excel and Austin FC had a blank canvas.

“We were bullish on making sure brands integrated into this building were ones appealing to people attending games and fans of the club while being authentically Austin,” maintained Jason Miller, Excel Senior Vice-President and Head of Properties.

Miller added, “They wanted to do deals with like-minded organizations with shared values. That is what got the Q2 deal done. It is a dream scenario because Q2 cares about the partnership and making a true impact in the community instead of just logo recognition.”

Austin FC’s patience paid off – as the MLS team waited on the stadium deal – a relationship between Q2 and Austin FC owners led the two parties to discuss opportunities.

Loughnane continued, “We wanted to identify a stadium naming rights partner we knew firmly believed in giving back to Austin. We felt that a company that called Austin its headquartered home would in all likelihood be inclined to reflect that philosophy.”

Being the first naming rights partner on a building also provides an iconic moment, making it an easier sell. And getting in at the beginning, when attention around the inaugural season is at its zenith, further helps to make the whole process a smooth affair.

The discussion between Austin FC and 17-year-old Q2 started in June 2020 and six weeks later a formal proposal was in front of everyone. The deal was agreed to in principle in the Fall and signed on New Year’s Eve, all-in-all a typical, if not quick, timeline for a deal of this size.

Flake informed that the agreement represents less than 1 percent of Q2’s annual revenue and they were able to shift marketing dollars during the pandemic – there will be no large client conference until at least 2023, for example – to make it work, giving a company with over 1,600 employees and nine offices around the world a true global presence, but it shows the 1,000 Austin-based employees that Q2 wants to invest locally.

To drive home his point, he added, “Austin is diverse and becoming more diverse. We are in this battle for talent and trying to attract people and keep people. Brand matters. To have Q2 associated not just with Austin FC, but with music, arts and community events, we are super excited about what this is going to mean.”

During the process, Miller says the pandemic did condense the pool of companies both with the financial wherewithal and the confidence to take on an investment of the stadium deal. But with the excitement around Austin and its lack of competition in the sports landscape – the University of Texas is based there, but that is a different type of property – he says “it was a great story to tell and demand for both Austin FC and soccer in general is high – the lack of competition gave us a leg-up”.

Flake says about a structure that includes provisions in case of an empty building due to COVID-19 restrictions in place, “We were both immensely reasonable. This deal felt like it was meant to be, from them and from us. They began to understand that we may be a B2B business, but we care about this community, this City, our employees. We are locally born and bred, founded here and different than XYZ company that moved headquarters here.”

Q2 Stadium construction will likely wrap up by early April, but Loughnane says additional punch list items, training of staff and additional development of infrastructure around the stadium site may push the first event hosted in the venue into early June. Though the Austin FC has not officially released a 2021 schedule yet, but the MLS announced recently that the season would start on April 3rd. The $260 million Q2 Stadium, one of 20 soccer-specific venues in the MLS as of 2021, enjoys a shade canopy, four climate-controlled bar and club lounges and eight acres of open green space around the building.

With the stadium and jersey sponsorships locked down, Austin FC is still working on partnerships across different categories, such as an automobile partner and entitlements to various club spaces within Q2 Stadium. Even still, Austin FC continues to achieve top-five performances within critical MLS business categories.

Loughnane asserted, “Austin FC has performed very well, including during the most difficult market conditions. We are in a real good spot with our Yeti jersey rights partner, stadium rights partner and a couple of other founding partnership announcements we will be able to make, demonstrating Austin as an extremely viable MLS market.”

The Austin FC President added, “This is a perfect combination of pent-up demand hits untapped potential. There is great opportunity ahead of us as the first and only major league property in our market.”

Q2 was designated as the official financial experience partner and official technology sponsor of Austin FC and the company landed the Q2 Field Club entitlement, a premium experience adjacent to the players’ benches and locker rooms. The deal includes a signature interior signage position above the supporters section in the South end of the building and rooftop signage above both the East and West canopy.

Added Flake, “It is a beautiful stadium, very Austinish, whether restaurants, music or drink. It is going to be an amazing and eclectic environment and I believe that once we get out of this pandemic, the energy in live events is going to be off the charts and we will be able to cheer together.”

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