Starting this week, select Austin FC fans are being invited to the club’s current headquarters in a North Austin office park to get a glimpse of the future.
Specifically, the Austin FC Experience Center — located less than a mile from where the new team’s stadium will be built for the team’s 2021 launch — is giving them a greater idea of what the stadium experience will be like.
The club, working with a third-party vendor secured through stadium architects Gensler, created a 360-degree VR experience allowing fans to better perceive how the stadium will look and feel. The show starts by putting the viewer at the center circle, giving a full circle view of what the 20,500-seat stadium will look like from the vantage point of a forward waiting for the opening whistle.
It then walks through a sample suite and various other vantage points of the stadium, including seats and public spaces. The show, in a particularly neat bit of innovation, has a time-lapse mode component toward the end. It shows how sunlight will filter through—and, perhaps more importantly, be shielded by—the stadium and its expansive canopy roof during the midday, throughout the afternoon, and into the evening hours when club officials anticipate most matches will start.
“As we near the launch of the construction process, and as we eagerly look ahead to the stadium opening in Spring of 2021, we can now provide Austin FC supporters with the opportunity to step foot onto the center of the pitch and view the stadium through our virtual reality touring platform that is now available at Austin FC’s Experience Center,” Austin FC president Andy Loughnane said. “This is an important next step in providing a three-dimensional preview into the stadium we are proudly building for all of Austin.”
Club spokesperson Tom Webb, leading Austin media members through individual tours on Tuesday, noted that the Austin FC Experience Center allows the club “to make the theoretical into the practical.”
For several months now, the stadium has only existed in renderings and architectural blueprints. The Experience Center, and its VR show in particular, allows prospective season ticket holders a more complete vision of the stadium as the club moves closer to its groundbreaking. A date for the groundbreaking hasn’t been officially announced yet, but could come as soon as next month, using the club’s past hints on a start date as a reference point.
The Northeast corner of Austin FC stadium is shown in a virtual reality experience launched by the club. (Phil West/Pro Soccer USA)
The Austin FC Experience Center will initially be open to prospective suite buyers, but will soon be open to those who put down seat deposits for premium tickets. More than 35,000 season ticket deposits have been placed so far at premium, general and supporter section levels; 30,000 of those were claimed at an MLS-record-setting level shortly after they were made available by the club in June.
While the stadium shows vantage points of the field from several different stadium sections, it also shows a suite and some of the clubs available to premium ticket buyers. One part of the tour highlights a bar on the stadium’s west side, at field level, that will bring fans up close and personal to both players and media members. That bar will adjoin the media room where new head coach Josh Wolff and visiting coaches will give post-match press conferences, and will also front the pathway from the locker room to the field where players will make their entrance.
Players will emerge from the stadium at the center line for pre-match ceremonies; the VR tour takes viewers on a direct beeline from bar to field to give a sense of its proximity. (See the video below for a taste of the VR show.)
While VR is the centerpiece of the Austin FC Experience Center, there are elements that help realize the stadium, the brand, and even MLS’s solvency for prospective season ticket buyers. A wall-sized display near the entrance boasts of MLS’s 2018 average season attendance mark of 21,873 as “beating the NBA and NHL,” and showcases a TV audience that, through 17 broadcast partners, reach 170 nations in 90 different languages.
There’s also a tabletop model of the stadium that has proven popular to those who have made the tour so far, even though it’s far more low-tech than what’s available through VR. The model includes two nearby arterials familiar to Austin drivers, Burnet Road and Braker Lane, helping situate Austinites to how the stadium will look in the Domain neighborhood.
The outside of the circular VR room is covered with graphics that speak to Austinites at their levels, including a cartoon image of the iconic Willie Nelson, nods to local murals that proclaim “I Love You So Much” and “You’re My Butter Half,” and the grackle that Austin FC supporters group Austin Anthem has adopted as its mascot.
The branding launched nearly a year ago, when Austin FC unveiled its logo at an August 2018 event with local design team The Butler Bros, is on display throughout the space. Sharp-eyed fans studying each new round of renderings may notice slogans like “Standing Tall Together” and “Bleed Verde” displayed in the imagined stadium. Those slogans, prominently showcased in wall displays on the space, derive from the “bright verde” shade of green the team has adopted and the oak that dominates the logo.
“It’s always verde, never green,” notes Webb, speaking to not only the specific branding language they’ve created, but also to the bilingual approach they’ve been conscious about taking as they develop the identity they’ll take into the 2021 season. It’s an inclusivity they hope they’ll capture in what the Experience Center’s ultimately designed to do: Convert those who pledged to be season ticket holders into being actual season ticket holders.
“The stadium is going to be a mirror to the whole community,” Webb beamed, “reflected in the cross-section that will be our supporters.”