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'The more, the merrier': Football and futbol collide this fall with Austin FC and Texas football

Austin FC and Texas football fanbases will collide and intertwine this fall for the first time. (Jay Torres/Twitter)

Austin sports fans are in the clear this weekend as Austin FC heads to Vancouver and Texas football plays at home, but this month they'll face a moral dilemma as they're forced to choose between Verde and burnt orange for the first time.

Austin FC, the newcomer that has quickly incited one of the most passionate fanbases in MLS, will play at home at the same time as tried-and-true Texas football for the first time at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept 18.

Some fans, like Austin FC season ticket holder Rod Mercado, will resort to desperate measures to catch a glimpse of both their favorite teams.

Rod Mercado (left) is a longtime Texas and Austin FC fan. (Rod Mercado/Twitter)

"Maybe I'll watch the Longhorn game on my phone while I'm sitting in my seats (at Q2)," Mercado said.

Others say conflicting times are no problem for the two different sports.

But the fateful Sept. 18 time conflict is just one of the run-ins between the two teams that have never played in the same season. Austin FC has had the undivided attention of Austinites all summer as their first season rides into a time usually dedicated to all things Longhorns. Some wonder whether one team will suffer in the presence of the other, especially as Austin FC struggles to move up in the standings.

But Mercado, a Longhorn fan since graduating in 1995 and longtime Austin Anthem and Los Verdes member since its "MLS to Austin" days in 2017, said he and other dual fans are embracing a new favorite color combo: Verde and burnt orange. Just like Longhorn and Austin FC part-owner Matthew McConaughey, they say "the more, the merrier" when it comes to Austin sports culture.

"Texas athletics is the original game in town, but now we're no longer a little hip government, university town, man," McConaughey said at an Austin FC press conference in April. "We're a corporate town. We're a tech town. We're an international destination."

Dr. Matt Bowers, an associate professor for sports management at UT that has been following both teams, tends to agree.

"There's long been this assumption that the Longhorns have such a kind of stranglehold on the sports fan market in a place like Austin that it's too much to compete with," Bowers said. "I think Austin FC is showing that's absolutely not true."

(Q2/Twitter) (Bob Daemmrich)

He said that the Venn Diagram of Longhorns and Austin FC fans isn't a perfect circle. With Longhorns supported by alumni and longtime Austinites and Austin FC representing transplants and a younger audience, each serve different purposes to Austin sport goers.

Austin's sporting market is as "weird" as the rest of the city, according to Bowers, and the two might actually help boost each other as they appeal to slightly different audiences. But the teams still likely won't be collaborating anytime soon. Texas has successfully ingrained itself into what was once the largest market without a professional team, and Bowers said they're probably not looking to team up with smaller competitors.

Fans like Mercado hope to see their two teams work together in some way, from a "Longhorns Night" at Q2 Stadium to Verde and burnt orange merch. Many fans are looking forward to an all-day party when Texas plays OSU at home at noon on Oct. 16 and Austin FC follows at 8 p.m. that night, or when UT plays Baylor at noon in Waco before Austin FC heads to FC Dallas at 7 p.m Oct. 20.

But some Austin FC fans like Bryce Cathcart side with Texas in saying they don't want the two to mix.

"Not a UT fan but more than that I just think it would be in bad taste," Cathcart said. "Honestly I think the majority of the Austin FC fan base couldn't care less about UT. Let the two teams do their own thing."

Austin FC fan Bryce Cathcart said most Austin FC fans aren't interested in UT. (Bryce Cathcart)

While Bowers says fan attendance should be mostly unaffected as long as Austin FC stays in their honeymoon phase and the Longhorns maintain their grip on Austin, he's most curious about which team will win TV rights at sports bars across the city. Still, he says that both teams should come out pretty unscathed as their seasons come to an end.

"I don't think we'll leave this fall with anything other than optimism about what our sports fan market can support," Bowers said.

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