How Los Verdes is Using Art, Music & Storytelling to Grow Austin FC's Supporter Culture
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When a team begins play in a new city, in many cases, supporters face the daunting task of creating. Everything from creating interest and enthusiasm to creating a name a logo, a culture, an identity. There’s so much to do before a ball is even kicked. Ask anyone who has been a part of an SG launch over the past few years, sticking the landing is hard.
But if there’s one city that knows how to create, it’s Austin, Texas.
With the launch of MLS side Austin FC just months away, members of the supporters group, Los Verdes are using storytelling, art and music to create an inclusive, authentic culture and identity that directly reflects their city.
“Our main focus is always cheer on the team and show our efforts in the community, then everything else comes next,” said Los Verdes president Gaby Navarro.
Established in May of this year, many of Los Verdes’ founding members met through Austin Anthem, another Austin FC supporters group. Individual supporters were just starting to find the team or discover their passion for supporter culture, and found each other in the process.
Like when current Los Verdes Vice President Rigo Rodriguez Lira had a lead on an extra ticket for the official announcement of the team back in January of 2019. Despite not knowing Navarro, he snatched up the extra ticket for her and passed it along.
“That was my first experience with MLS in Austin,” Navarro said. “Somebody like Rigo saying, ‘Hey, I’ve never met you, but I’m going to hook you up with a ticket.’ Since then, I’ve been like, ‘I’m not leaving your side. Wherever you go, I go, whatever we do, I’ll help you out.’”
In the months since their founding, Los Verdes have focused on getting the word out about the group, making inroads within the community, and also, because it’s Austin, creating cool stuff. From well-produced video profiles that introduce individual supporters to eye-catching artwork, the group is leveraging Austin’s creative spirit.
“It's a creative city. A lot of people do creative jobs for a living,” said Jay Mendoza, lead trumpet for La Murga de Austin. “There’s a ton of people here who just love to create for the community and to contribute to something that's bigger than themselves. I think that's sort of our unfair advantage. I'm not too worried that other cities are going to blow us out of the water in terms of their culture.”
“We live in a city of so many artists that want to help us,” said Rodriguez Lira. “We want it to be a collective. Some people can do more than others but we’re all there to make it happen, to create this. For people who don’t know about soccer, maybe they don’t fall in love by seeing the first game, but they’ll fall in love by creating these projects, and socializing and being part of a community. Eventually that just translates to everybody loving the team.”
Austin supporters also have something that not many other cities can boast. They’ve got La Murga. La Murga de Austin is a brass and drum band focused on creating an elevated gameday atmosphere. Filled with both professional musicians and novices, the band will act as the heartbeat of all Austin FC supporters regardless of SG. They’ve already developed several songs and chants that blend traditional chants with Austin-focused flavor, and have produced lyric videos for supporters to not only learn the words but also internalize the beats and rhythms, so that when those match days finally arrive, everyone will be ready.
“I think central Texas is kind of unique in that it’s the one region in Texas where the Tex really does meet the Mex,” said Mendoza. “I think people here are really proud of that connection and in that same way, I think we’re pretty excited about what we do as the band. I think we’re one of the few places in the country where we could do this successfully.”
All of this, the art, the music, the mix of cultures, all this creation might seem overwhelming. But according to Mendoza, it’s more about individuals chipping in with their own talents.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Mendoza said. “We’ve got social media, we’ve got videographers. We’ve got people who can record music, write music, play music. We have artists. We have the people and the talent to document what we’re doing. I don’t want to say it’s easy, because people put in tons of work to do it. But when you have enough people invested in it, it becomes inevitable that compelling content is created.”
One of the good things about creating something from scratch is that you get to make the rules. For Los Verdes, that means that openness and inclusion are pillars of the group.
“As soon as somebody walks into our group, they go tell another person, then that person starts getting curious, they see how welcoming we are, how much diversity and inclusion we create for ourselves,” said Navarro.
“But it's not like, ‘Oh, here's the women's group Here is the LGTBQ group’. It's more like, ‘Hey, here's the group of people that like to go ride bikes on a Saturday morning, or here's your people that like to talk about booze.’ We literally have a Slack channel where everybody sends pictures of what they're drinking on a Friday night. That to me is what brings diversity together. It's not necessarily the color of your skin or who you choose to date. It's more like, ‘Hey, come do this activity with me and enjoy it.’”
This creative and community-minded approach to support, even before their team takes the field, has led to several collaborations around the city, including a partnership with the Austin Soccer Foundation to promote its FootGolf tournament, a holiday fundraiser for the Central Texas Food Bank which raised more than $2400, a scarf collaboration with supporters collective The Plastics, and a beer partnership with Austin-based Hopsquad Brewing.
“It’s crazy, because we sold out in the first week,” Navarro said, of the Hopsquad beer. “Because we created those relationships with people in the supporters group and people within the community, it now gave people that were stuck at home, even if we weren’t able to meet in a big group, they could be like, ‘I’m a part of Los Verdes, I’m a member, and now we have our own beer.’ It just gave you an excuse to leave your home, go get a bad-ass beer and take it back home.”
The group isn’t short on creativity, enthusiasm, or a commitment to the matchday experience. But there’s just one thing they’re missing. Matchdays.
Major League Soccer is scheduled to kick off its 26th season in March. Though it’s still uncertain if the league will kickoff as scheduled, and even if it does, what regulations will be enforced at Austin’s McKalla Place.
But regardless of what it does look like or when it happens, Los Verdes will continue using soccer as a tool in the community and a way to show the world that Austin is ready for soccer.
“We all love it and we choose to live here,” said Mendoza. “Everybody who’s here, wants to be here, you live here for a reason. I think we just know how great our community is, we know how we fell in love with this city, and we want the country to fall in love with it. It’s easy to want to represent that and to be a part of it.”
“We’re trying to bring soccer to Austin, but we also want to bring Austin to soccer,” said Rodriguez Lira.