Of MLS, McConaughey says 'Austin finally has a team that allows us to root for our city'
Matthew McConaughey is the unofficial mascot for a new generation of Austinites watching the city transform away from the music oasis that crowned Willie Nelson as its leading man decades ago. The skyline expanded. The traffic worsened. And a city known for University of Texas athletics finally graduated to a professional sports town with the addition of Austin FC.
“Texas athletics is the original game in town, but now we’re no longer a little hipp government, university town, man,” McConaughey said Tuesday. “We’re a corporate town. We’re a tech town. We’re an international destination.”
McConaughey almost never made his way to Austin. His original plan was to attend SMU in Dallas to study as a future lawyer. His brother, Pat, called the younger McConaughey from Australia to pitch him on becoming a Longhorn. The reasoning was simple. Pat believed his younger brother would fall in love with Austin and the city would fall in love with him. Always trust the older brother.
“Pat told me, ‘You’ll walk into a bar and have a Texas Ranger on your left and an American Indian on your right. A lesbian will be on the other side of the Ranger and a dwarf next to the American Indian. It is your kind of town,'” McConaughey remembered. “Are we eccentric? Sure. But are we authentic? Mostly. And that is where our eccentricity is in its best form — when it is authentic.”
McConaughey was approached by local entrepreneur Eddie Margain to get involved with the movement to bring Austin a professional soccer franchise. McConaughey didn’t want to be a mascot. He’s done that for the city and for Texas athletics. He wants his “hands in the clay.” McConaughey joined Two Oak Ventures, formerly called Precourt Sports Ventures, headed up by Anthony Precourt.
“I’m making legacy choices now,” he said. “This is a 100-year war. This isn’t a fad. Let’s build something that we can hand off to our kids. Let’s build something that is in our identity.”
Sports are clearly important to McConaughey. He can be found roaming the sidelines at Texas sporting events. He grew up in Longview playing different sports, gravitating toward golf. His father was drafted by Green Bay Packers in 1953. Having two older brothers meant McConaughey was always involved in competition. The lessons learned from sports paid off in his future profession.
“I noticed that the best way to prepare as an actor or a storyteller are with traits I learned from sports. The value of being prepared and doing the work in advance to be ready for the game,” he said. “The preparedness and practice from sports has helped me immensely in preparing for my own job as an actor for the last 30 something years.”
The budding diversity in Austin lends itself perfectly to the game of soccer. A quick glance at Austin FC’s initial roster reveals a group of players from across the nation and the globe. A forward from Paraguay. A midfielder from Argentina. A defender from Kansas City. A goalie from Louisiana. All of them with the same goal. McConaughey sees Austin through that lens. He sees Austin FC as the bridge between groups.
“Austin finally has a team that allows us to root for our city,” he said. “It’s the perfect game for Austin and it is a perfect city for the game. Now, we have a place we can all hang. I hope that snapshot from the sky shows all of the little boroughs and tribes and colors and diversity that make up Austin, Texas.”
Building the club in the identity of Austin was a no-brainer for McConaughey and the ownership group.
“The team should look like the best of Austin,” he said. “The team should inspire the best of Austin. The fan experience at Q2 Stadium should be an example of the best of Austin. We’re not coming in for a blank slate. We looked to what we love about Austin and how to create that into the team we build.”
McConaughey points to the players as the people who can bridge the gap between fan and club.
“It is important to us that our players understand that Austin is not for rent. Don’t come here with a renter's attitude,” McConaughey said. “They need some ownership as an Austin FC player. We want them to reach out into the community through community service projects and being a part of the city.”
Austin FC begins the 34-game regular season Saturday in Los Angeles against Los Angeles FC. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. on Fox. LAFC is owned in part by actor Will Ferrell. McConaughey and Ferrell are friendly rivals with McConaughey taking bragging rights earlier in the century when his Longhorns knocked off USC in the Rose Bowl after Vince Young famously found the end zone late in one college's greatest championship games.
A new rivalry is now underway.
“This is the first game of what I hope is a fun rivalry for decades to come,” McConaughey said. “We’ll get on the phone soon and come up with a wager.”