Austin's Q2 Stadium will soon host its first non-soccer sporting event as it gears up to welcome the Premier Rugby Sevens 2022 Championship Weekend on Saturday, July 30.
The championship tournament will feature the best of the PR7s league, an equal-pay professional rugby league which holds four men's and four women's teams under the same umbrella.
Q2 Stadium, which normally hosts sold-out crowds for new MLS soccer club Austin FC, will add to its growing hosting repertoire with a championship weekend complete with bands, DJs, games, and special appearances in a festival atmosphere as Olympians and other top-notch athletes compete for the grand prize.
The league touts four men's and women's teams—including the Experts, Headliners, Loggerheads, and Loonies—and featured 15 Olympians in front of a cumulative audience of 472,000 viewers in its October 2021 debut.
Now, it's expanding to a multi-city format, with two tournaments consisting of brisk 14-minute matches set to be held at other MLS stadiums before the big day in Austin. The best men's and women's teams will then be crowned in the growing sports city of Austin.
Aside from Austin FC, Q2 Stadium has held both the U.S. men's and women's national soccer teams as well multiple Liga MX clubs, while Austin itself recently welcomed NASCAR, the PGA Tour/World Championship Dell Match Play golf tournament and Major League Pickleball, the city's first homegrown professional league.
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What's a game involving bats, balls and runs that's starting to take off in Austin?
While baseball and softball might also fit the bill, cricket—the second-most watched sport in the world—has recently grown in popularity in the Texas capitol.
The game of cricket rings foreign to many American ears—instead of rules, cricket has "laws" and uses gentlemanly terms including "wickets," "dismissals" and "boundaries." But just like America's pastime, the goal is simple: to hit the ball and score as many runs as possible. It's a sport that has spread across former English colonies, from South Asia to the Caribbean. And cricket enjoyed an estimated 2 billion viewers, or nearly 30% of the world population, at the 2015 World Cup.
It's that energy that Raghav Shankar wanted to bring to Austin. Shankar has spent his life playing cricket in different locales—from Singapore to England—and spent his weekends traveling around Texas for matches each weekend before he decided to quit his job three years ago and dedicate himself to teaching the sport.
For reasons sometimes unknown to him, cricket is as essential as eating or walking for Shankar.
Shankar (pictured right) received a Best Umpire Award at the Singapore Cricket Association Awards in 2017. (Raghav Shankar)
"Why is it an integral part of my life? I don't know, to be honest," Shankar told Austonia. "I love it and it brings the best out of me. Whatever leadership skills I've learned in life are through sport to be honest, so that's why I continue doing it. What I and my team of coaches want to teach kids is to basically never give up, not in sport and not in life."
His brainchild, Sport Movement, was originally intended to teach children about the sport. The organization quickly swelled from coaching one boy to around 200 boys and girls, offering after-school classes on cricket, soccer, and fitness.
Sport Movement began as an organization dedicated to teaching kids about cricket. (Raghav Shankar)
Shankar was happy with his business model—but when the pandemic hit and many parents weren't willing to send their kids to in-person coaching, Sport Movement needed a rebrand.
Already a member of the Austin Premier Cricket League, Shankar decided to start his own league. Sports Movement then founded an outdoor cricket night league and the Austin Indoor Cricket League, with the aim to include everyone interested in the game in 2020.
The org now boasts 275 players in the night league and 20 teams in its indoor league. With 90 minute matches vs. the popular 3 hour format (some cricket matches can last up to five days), the league is the only one of its kind in this part of the country. It's also marketed to all ages and skill levels, and Raghav said he's seen plenty of newcomers show up to try out the sport.
The Austin Indoor Cricket League has seen players from nine different countries come to play their favorite sport. (Raghav Shankar)
"Especially when we started indoor cricket, a lot of first timers came and tried out the game," Raghav said. "We saw a lot of Americans, a lot of people who've never tried a cricket game which was amazing because that's what we were trying to do."
Austin has become known as a hub for sports that are off the beaten path—from Brazilian jiu jitsu to roller derby to pickleball. It's that trying spirit that has led so many newcomers to the league. More importantly, however, it's helped build a community for Austin cricket fans from around the world.
"I would like to think our league is the most diverse because of the formats that we've introduced," Raghav said. "We've basically created a community where people come in and they can relate to each other and talk about how they grew up."
A cricket fanbase in America is still relatively small but continues to grow, with a new Major League Cricket league planned to begin in 2022. But Raghav says it'll be a while before cricket pitches are built next to baseball fields in American cities.
"The first thing is that we need cricket to be accepted and understood by Americans, but 99% of Americans don't play the sport yet," Raghav said. "In order to become truly successful, it has to be played by locals... cricket wants to grow, but it will take a long time before it becomes as big as any other sport."
The Austin Indoor 8s League will begin its 2022 season on Saturday at the Crossover in Leander, where the league will play every Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 27. Check out more info on the league here.
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Austin is way past its days as being known soley for live music.
With the unprecedented migration of Californians, city dwellers and more into the U.S's newest "boomtown," the city has quickly transformed and built on its preexisting "weird" reputation to become a city of many identities.
Here are just a few things Austin has become known for this year.
TechSISU claims their C31 cinema robot is the easiest to use and cheapest on the market. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While Austin is a hub for live music, wanderlust travelers and wacky sports, it’s gained the most attention for its recent rep as the nation’s next Silicon Valley.
Startups and big tech like Dell have long called Austin home, but Elon Musk led a migration from California to Austin when he moved Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, The Boring Company and his foundation to the capital city. In October, he officially announced the new Tesla headquarters would be at the site of the new gigafactory that is completing phase 1 of construction this month.
And while Tesla's relocation has dominated EV news in the capital city, another Austin startup is currently working on extracting precious lithium from Bolivia to boost the electric vehicle industry.
Some companies have revolutionized local issues: Austin startup ICON has helped create affordable homes with 3D printing technology in Austin and even teamed up with NASA, while robots have seeped into everyday aspects of Austin life from surgeries to grocery shopping.
The surge in tech has brought in droves of talent and even fueled Austin's hot housing market during the pandemic. A U.K. study recently found the city to be the best place to move to in the world, while a LinkedIn study found that Austin leads the country in tech migration. And tech salaries are following—the city saw that Austin's average tech salaries are nearing that of California despite vastly different costs of living.
Jiu jitsuJiu jitsu greats including Crag Jones (in leopard print) have opened gyms in Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
This summer, Austin became the unlikely site of Brazilian jiu-jitsu beef as Danaher Death Squad, a famed professional crew of grapplers, split into two after a decade of working together. Formerly located in New York and Puerto Rico, the group's two new sects located separately in Austin, a burgeoning "Mecca of jiu jitsu."
Legend Gordon Ryan teamed with coach John Danaher to form a new studio, aptly named "New Wave Jiu Jitsu," in North Austin, while former teammates Craig Jones and even Ryan's brother, Nicky Ryan, opened an elite studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B-Team Jiu Jitsu."
The B-Team is using their renowned and wacky sense of humor to attract the "Olympians" of the sport from all over the world, while New Wave's Ryan is training for big-name titles as New Wave's studio construction is underway.
While the two gyms haven't announced any rivalry bouts yet, they're both training for the WNO World Championships in 2022. And coupled with dozens of jiu jitsu gyms in the metro and Austin-based jiu jitsu media site Flo Grappling, the fast-growing sport is quickly taking off in Austin.
PokerAustin's poker house scene continues to flourish through a loophole in Texas gambling laws. (Palms Social Club/Facebook)
What happens in Vegas may not always stay in Vegas anymore.
Private poker houses in Austin and Dallas are quickly gaining steam where Texas Hold ‘Em got its name.
Austin is quickly becoming a hub for poker thanks to a loophole in Texas’ gambling law that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
One poker house, Texas Card House, used to stand alone in Austin like a small town saloon; now, around 20 are found around town.
Texas Card House was founded in 2015 with just five tables and has since expanded to include a Youtube channel with over 30,000 subscribers and regular visits from big-time poker players like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
But they no longer hold a “royal flush” on Austin poker culture: The Lodge, based just up the road in Round Rock, is the largest poker house in Texas, and interested Austinites can find anything from poker lessons and beginner pots to $15,000 buy-ins in the Texas capital.
Crypto and NFTs
One crypto-art curator is merging physical pieces by local artists with digital NFTs. (Apollo the Curator)
Everybody who's somebody knows what an NFT is by now—at least, that's what Austin's most crypto-hip population tends to say as the once-mysterious trend grows in popularity in the city.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, were a mystery to the general public when self-proclaimed "Crypto Queen" and former girlfriend to Elon Musk Grimes sold $6 million crypto art in early March. The tokens usually take in the form of digital art or collector's items and serve as a "certificate of authentication" that can't be hacked using cryptocurrency Ethereum.
The tokens have since broken into mainstream culture, at least in the tech verse, as anyone from University of Texas athletes to local artists began cashing in on the craze. Draped high above Austin city streets, Sam Feldman, founder of crypto explainer marketcap.guide, created billboards that double as NFTS available for sale with positive mantras like "Bitcoin is a peaceful revolution."
Austin NFT whiz Apollo the Curator has brought local artists into the scene by combining in-person art competitions and physical pieces with a digital copy of art. Meanwhile, late Austin artist Daniel Johnston's iconic "Hi, How Are You" art has been sold as an NFT and local country singer Parker McCollum has created a fan club NFT product.
Popular sports venues, including Formula 1 track Circuit of the Americas and the University of Texas' Campbell-Williams Field, have also joined in on the movement.
And after a name, image and likeness bill was passed this summer to allow collegiate student-athletes to capitalize off of their reputation, UT athletes like football star Bijan Robinson and local business NiftyHorns are selling digital trading cards in the growing NFT market.
SoccerAustin FC matches are just one of many ways to get your party on in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)
Austin’s futbol fandom gained national attention when MLS team Austin FC became the city’s first professional sports franchise this year. Despite a season with just nine wins, fans consistently flooded the team’s brand-new Q2 Stadium with a sold-out crowd of over 20,000. Hundreds regularly flocked to away games across the country, and many more stuck to watch parties at home at local bars and restaurants.
But the most steadfast soccer fans will argue that Austin has always been a “soccer city.” In 2019, the city was the world’s No. 1 market for the Women’s World Cup TV ratings, and fans were rewarded with a U.S. Women’s National Team match to christen the Q2 pitch back in June.
Since then, the stadium has seen two appearances from the U.S. Men’s National Team and national teams from Mexico, Chile, Jamaica and Qatar, each in front of sold-out crowds.
And behind the scenes, teams like women’s semipro club FC Austin Elite, the University of Texas’ soccer team and even a Liga Verde Austin FC supporters’ league have kept the soccer spirit alive and well in Austin.
Austin saw its first Major League Pickleball season this November. (Major League Pickleball)
Austin FC may have been the city’s first major league team, but it was Major League Pickleball that became Austin’s first professional sports league as they launched this year.
Founded in the 1960s, pickleball is a racquet sport that resembles life-sized ping pong. Less intense than tennis and easy to learn, the fast-growing sport has quickly spread in Austin for its inclusivity and supposed addictive qualities.
Professional pickleballers, some of whom train in Dreamland’s Dripping Springs full time, went head-to-head at the venue in November in front of enthusiastic fans for the MLP’s first season.
The sport can be seen at 20+ parks and rec centers around Austin, including popular pickleball hangouts like Bouldin Acres. And Austin will soon be host to Texas’ largest pickleball venue as Austin Pickle Ranch opens its 32-court multipurpose venue early next year.
Street skating and roller derby converge in pandemic-era Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Austin invented a new era of roller derby in the early aughts as the first-ever professional flat-track roller derby league, Texas Rollergirls, was founded in 2003. Channeling the funky nature of Austin and unapologetic girl power, the league transformed into a popular form of wacky entertainment, complete with outlandish names like "Shutem Up Buttercup" and halftime band performances.
The Rollergirls' influence quickly spread beyond Austin, helping create new leagues around the world and inspiring a documentary. And even though the pandemic forced bouts to be canceled, many athletes stayed on their wheels and went "full circle" as they took to outdoor skating.
Skate parks, once reserved for mostly-male skateboarders, saw an influx of roller derby athletes, trick skaters and newbies around the city as quarantine raged on. Spurred on by viral TikToks, the sport grew across the country—but especially in Austin, where roller roots run deep.
Texas Rollergirls has been postponed from in-person events since February 2020 but is hoping to resume operations in early 2022 if COVID conditions allow it.
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