Is Austin Becoming a Soccer Town?
You might have noticed strange behavior in Austin lately. Bars packed at odd hours, people dressed in unusual athletic attire. World cup fever is raging, and some people are saying it’s a turning point for Central Texas, people like Paul Nash.
Around 10:00 AM Friday Nash is at the Crown and Anchor Pub with friends, cheering on the Dutch soccer team and partaking in a newly discovered tradition: the World Cup morning beer.
He said he never really followed the game until this year’s World Cup.
“Several times a week we’d get together and watch soccer games. It became a lot more entertaining a lot more fun,” Nash Said. “I’m finding myself getting into it more. I didn’t even realize that I would just be getting up and shouting and yelling at the TV screen, which I never did before for a sport other than football.”
Nash said a lot of his friends in Central Texas have caught the soccer bug, and thinks this year is the beginning of big changes for fans of the sport. But not everyone agrees.
Down the street Todd Conshafter and his Brazilian wife Valeria were at Sao Paulo restaurant routing for Brazil.
The Conshafters don’t think Americans are ready to fully embrace the game.
“I mean if the US team did better they would probably get more and more people behind them,” said Todd seconds before Brazil gave up a goal to the Dutch.
So, who’s right?
I asked someone in Austin whose job it is to know.
Phil Rawlins is the president and owner of the Austin Aztex, Austin’s only professional level soccer club. He says lately more people have been coming to watch them play.
“We’re seeing about a ten to fifteen percent increase just prior to the World Cup,” said Rawlins, “and then post the World Cup we’re definitely seeing a spike in interest.”
And next door at Soccer USA, the manager Bill Tripplet said business is booming. The store sold out of USA jerseys and has been doing a brisk business in Dutch jersey’s since that team’s victory against Brazil.
But is that enthusiasm sustainable? Rawlins said national trends point to yes.
“We’ve got a really strong bedrock of support and interest in the county,” said Rawlins. “That get’s piqued by things like the World Cup. So our job is to get people out to the games and carry on that enthusiasm that people are seeing in South Africa into the local community here in Austin.”
Back at Sao Paulo restaurant Valeria Conshafter was dubious.
“[Brazilians] are born cheering for Brazilian soccer and the local teams. It’s always a big deal,” she said.
According to Conshafter, the US has a long way to run before it can catch Brazil.