Austin Aztex Likely to Announce Move to Orlando, Florida
IMS has learned that Austin Aztex owner Phil Rawlins will likely announce next week that he is moving his Austin Aztex to Orlando, Florida.
Rawlins, a native of the UK who sits on the board of directors of Stoke City in England, has actively been looking for new investors for his Austin Aztex. Rawlins has been noncommittal this past summer as to which direction his team will go next season.
The Aztex played Division 2 the last two seasons and played in USL-PDL the previous year. In 2009 they were involved with USL-1 and this past spring and summer played in the United States Soccer Federation’s D2 Pro League which US Soccer sanctioned in 2010.
Rawlins has met with United Soccer Leagues (USL) officials who announced in September that they would no longer attempt to sanction D2 soccer with the tough new financial standards imposed by the USSF. They instead decided to reorganize as a D3 league (formerly USL-2) and would be called USL Pro.
Rawlins attended a USL Pro meeting in Tampa, Florida on September 8th. USL announced at that meeting that USL Pro will attempt to create regional conferences across the United States to build natural rivalries and reduce travel-related costs. They also announced they would be giving more control of league decisions to a board of governors comprised of team owners. According to the USL, the board will make all major decisions for the league including expansion, competition format and commercial strategy.
Rawlins also met with North American Soccer League (NASL) officials who are attempting to win sanctioning of USSF Division-2 soccer in 2011. The Aztex owner met with Carolina RailHawk owner Selby Wellmen before the D2 standards meeting held August 9th in New York by US Soccer.
According to numerous sources, Rawlins has been looking for investors to cut his losses and been looking at options beside Austin for an increased fan base and reduced travel expenses. Currently the closest team to Austin is St. Louis which is 850 miles.
Austin averaged 3,733 fans this season up 25% from last season. The Aztex average attendance ranked 6th of 12 teams and had the largest increase of all teams in the league.
The Aztex were thought to be a key player in the NASL’s sanctioning of D2 with only six teams currently in the NASL bid. Those teams are: Carolina RailHawks, FC Edmonton, Miami FC, Montreal Impact, FC Tampa Bay and the Puerto Rico Islanders. The NASL bid has been submitted to the USSF but it’s now believed the situation is still liquid with US Soccer and the bid can still be modified. The sale of Jeff Cooper’s AC St. Louis to Missouri native Ryan Woods is still pending and the NSC Minnesota Stars still are attempting to find an investor or new owner for their team.
It’s likely USL will announce next week that Rawlins has found new investors from outside the US and will move to Orlando and join the USL Pro League. They will also form a relationship with Steve Donner, formerly with the Rochester Rhinos and the Orlando Titans Lacrosse team.
The Donner group were originally scheduled to be a D2 team in 2011 but the Titans have since gone out of business, but only temporarily, according to Donner.
One source told IMS that Donner would use his previous experience in running the day-to-day operations of the team and ticket sales while Rawlins would focus in on the on-field operations.
Aztex coach Adrian Heath recently inked a new contract keeping him with the organization until 2013.
If the Aztex do move they will certainly be missed in the Austin community. Rawlins and his wife Kay have made sure the team was very involved with the Austin community and took home the Austin Chamber of Commerce Community Relations Award the last two years.
Austin soccer supporters have worked hard to grow their numbers and spent considerable time promoting the team. With that growth came several successful supporters web sites that have been up and running for several years.
USL plans on announcing as many as 20 teams next week as new additions to their USL Pro League and will attempt to create multiple conferences their first year with an international footprint. Several teams in the US and Puerto Rico have already been announced including the Charleston Battery who have played in both D2 and D3 and won the 6-team USL-2 (D3) championship this past season. A Ft. Lauderdale team is also planned and is expected to be announced soon.
“There has been an overwhelmingly positive marketplace response since the time of initial unveiling of USL PRO in early September,” responded USL President Tim Holt when asked about the Aztex move. “As a result, we do anticipate additional exciting announcements regarding USL PRO in the coming days.” Holt went on to say he would not comment on rumors or speculation.