Skateboarder Bailey Lewis proudly displays his new Austin FC-themed deck from No-Comply Skateshop, complete with fresh scrapes from a skate session at House Park (Photo by Eric Goodman)
As an organization, Austin FC is deep in the trenches fighting two wars. The first is fought at Q2 stage and in hostile soccer grounds across the country as the Oaks vie for MLS supremacy. The second, less a war and more a crusade, takes place all around Austin, in places like Empire Control Room on East Seventh on nights like Tuesday the 21st.
It was there and then that the club’s community marketing brain trust staged its latest effort to convert a fresh pocket of like-minded Austinites into, if not die-hard soccer fans, at least sympathizers to the Verde and Black. They found one in Bailey Lewisa skateboarder from Temple, who rolled up to Austin FC’s National Go Skate Day celebration – in partnership with local skate shop No Comply – Riding a brand-new, bright green skateboard deck with the Austin FC crest brandished right in the center.
“You can’t get this shit anywhere else. It’s like, straight Austin local type of shit,” Lewis shouted over the trumpets of La Murga de Austin, the club’s supporters band. “I’m not even really, like, into soccer like that, but the graphic is just sick as fuck. So I’ll be reppin’ the fuck out of it. Anything Austin-related I’m going to rep the fuck out of it.”
Attracting the hearts and minds (not to mention the disposable income) of community members who could care less about how their local sports team performs on a given week is a sort of holy grail for sports marketing executives looking to maximize their club’s brand. The list of teams who have successfully made their logos pronounced with the cities they call home is a short one: Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and a handful of others. JamesRuthAustin FC vice president and head of marketing, believes the club is on its way to joining that group.
“The city has really wrapped its arms around the club. There seems to be something where the Verde and Black means a little bit more than just what’s happening on the pitch,” Ruth said. “It’s starting to mean something for people where, like, that’s how they rep Austin. It’s a great thing that they can put on and be like, ‘I’m so proud to be an Austinite.'”
Rather than model the ATXFC blueprint after other sports franchises with strong identities, Ruth said the club instead has taken inspiration from other brands that have been shown to resonate in the Texas capital. “We actually compare ourselves and think about yeti a tone. Obviously they’re one of our core partners, but the way that they have built a community around their company … we look at that in a similar way to say, like, we want this community to mean more than just soccer.”
Few people understand the challenges of building and maintaining a meaningful Austin-based brand better than Elias Bingham, co-owner of No-Comply. The skate shop by House Park on W. 12th has set the tone for the city’s skate culture since 2007 (and recently survived an attempted demolition of its storefront in 2021). Bingham has been happy to welcome Austin FC into that space, and he believes the club has gone about it the right way.
“They weren’t just coming in saying, ‘We’re this new thing and you cater to us.’ They were really trying to reach out to different parts of the community and making sure they tied in with that,” Bingham said. “They wanted to be a part of it.”
Back on the soccer front, Austin FC returns to Q2 Stadium for an MLS match for the first time in over a month, Saturday at 8pm, when the Oaks take on Copa Tejas rivals FC Dallas in a clash of top four teams in the Western Conference.