Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan, MLR Commissioner Dean Howes, several community business leaders and most players attended a press conference Thursday in the sprawling complex at 2001 North Kenney Fort Blvd.
“This is more proof that if you build it, they will come,” Morgan said. “We’ve got this great new facility, and now we’ve attracted Austin’s first major league sports franchise. I’m so proud of our city. Round Rock is pro-active about sports. We’ll get it done here.”
The $27 million venue, which opened in 2017, features a world rugby regulation grass field, another full-length field with synthetic turf, four multipurpose fields with natural grass, four more with synthetic turf and all 10 have lighting systems.
Major League Rugby, Elite owner Richard Osborn and his partners and the city of Round Rock signed a one-year deal for an unspecified amount. If all goes well, all parties said they’d be interested in re-upping.
The facility will have a 2,750-seating capacity for the team’s May 3 home opener against New Orleans, with the ability to accommodate at least 500 more people on corner berms.
The surprise is that the Elite are not playing in their own Stadium ATX at 4107 Nixon Lane in Southeast Austin. Osborn and his partners own 38 acres at that site, also home to the amateur Austin Huns.
“Stadium ATX is not perfectly placed. There are serious access issues,” Osborn said. “We don’t see them being resolved in the near future, so we started looking around. This Round Rock facility is well suited to hold the bigger crowds we expect.
“Our ATX field could become an academy grounds. One of the requirement in Major League Rugby is for each team to have an academy to groom up-and-coming players.”
Howes said he gave the Elite more than a gentle nudge to find a better home.
“We have standards and want our franchises in places that can handle 4,000 or 5,000 people,” he said. “The infrastracture at this Round Rock facility is so much better than on Nixon Lane. You are better set up to succeed here.”
Asked if he expects blow-back from the team’s core fan base in Austin, Osborn acknowledged some will likely be at least initially disappointed.
“It’s a change, and sometimes change isn’t comfortable,” he said. “If a season ticketholder is that upset, we’ll reimburse them. But people in Austin can get to Round Rock, especially on a weekend when we play. And this is traditionally a strong sports area up here. We hope to attract a lot of new fans.”
The Elite’s season will begin April 21 against the Glendale Raptors in suburban Denver. The match will be televised by CBS Sports Network. Howes is proud that his first-year league already has a TV contract and broadcast partners ESPN3 and AT&T.
“We’re ambitious, and I’m excited to get this rolling,” Howes said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect this team to sell out matches here in Round Rock by late in the season.”
The sprawling venue already hosts a wide variety of local, regional and national events, including soccer, lacrosse, flag football and Ultimate frisbee. This weekend the U.S. Quidditch Cup, involving more than 150 games, will take place there.
The Elite aim to pull from a sports-conscious fan base in the northern suburbs, along with Austin. Single-game tickets and season tickets are available online at AustinEliteRugby.com.