If only a little bit of FC Barcelona’s reputation rubs off on Austin, the city’s soccer profile could receive a much-needed jolt.
A Spanish delegation from the fútbol superpower laid out a plan Wednesday for a new year-round training academy set to open at Circuit of the Americas in August and spoke, too, about Austin eventually becoming a major player in the sport.
“We’re excited to call Austin our home for the Southwest,” said Marc Segarra, co-founder of ISL Fútbol, a global sports management company based in Barcelona. “Our mission is to turn this community into a soccer hotbed.”
And if they sell more Lionel Messi jerseys and uncover some American talent through their aggressive outreach, everybody will be happy, excluding Real Madrid fans.
To get an idea about the reach of FC Barcelona, Forbes magazine estimates it is the third-wealthiest sports franchise in the world, worth $3.55 billion, meaning it trails only Real Madrid and the Dallas Cowboys. Barca has more than 43 million followers on Facebook.
FCB Escola, Barca’s flagship training program, has academies in Miami and Charlotte, along with four locations in Canada, but club officials said they aim to make Austin the North American headquarters.
“Austin meets all our expectations, and you have many things you need to one day bring major league soccer here,” said Segarra, ticking off a long list that included nods to demographics, wealth, entertainment, lifestyle and even “good food trucks.”
“I know there have been little signs of bringing an MLS team to the city,” he added. “Perhaps we can help that along.”
In the short term, FCB Escola desires to develop young players and will start the process with a tryout camp April 30 at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex. For a $35 fee, players ages 6 to 16 may register online at www.schools.fcbarcelona.us/austin.
“We’ve already gotten more than 200 (registrations) and expect at least 500-600,” said Alex Isern, ISL Fútbol CEO. “From there, an undetermined amount will be selected for the academy and enter into a 10-month program.”
Isern said that a technical director from FC Barcelona will move to Austin and run the academy and that groups of international coaches and former Barcelona players will be involved.
FCB Escola is hoping to have former Barca star Ronaldinho at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies in August. For now, Isern said, academy participants won’t live on site.
“It’s an opportunity for kids to learn the methodologies, values and playing style of Barca,” he said. “We’re trying to replicate the model from Barcelona.”
Added Segarra: “Not everybody who comes to our academy will become a professional player, but we can assure you it will help you become a good player.”
Barca officials said the best players from the academy could be selected for the “FCB Experience,” a trip to Barcelona to practice and play.
Lance Aldridge, executive director of the Austin Sports Commission, said FC Barcelona contacted city officials six months ago to get the ball rolling. COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein, majority investor in Austin’s United Soccer League team that’s been sidelined for two years because of financial woes, quickly became involved.
“Bobby is putting his money into building a venue to help Escola,” Aldridge said.
Epstein made it clear Wednesday that the academy facility, which will be in the Grand Plaza area of the racetrack, is not intended for use by a USL team.
“There will be stands, but it won’t hold thousands,” he said. “It will be for Escola’s training camp and games involving local clubs and youth tournaments. Austin still needs a soccer stadium to get a pro team off the ground.”