Long before he became a fixture of soccer on TV in the U.S., Adrian Healey visited Austin as a Boston-area alternative rock radio DJ in 1994. His memories of South by Southwest that year include a 24-year-old Beck Hansen lighting the city on fire with his hit single "Loser" and opening for Johnny Cash at Emo’s.
"I had an amazing few days," Healey told the American-Statesman. "Didn’t get to come back for years and years, but I’ve always thought it was a very, very special place."
In the intervening years, the city watched Healey from afar as he became a leading voice for soccer on ESPN and called five World Cups (three men’s and two women’s) between 2006 and 2011, three UEFA European Championships (2008, 2012 and 2016) and five UEFA Champions League finals.
Now, Healey is preparing to call Austin home as the English-language broadcast voice for Austin FC and the club’s executive director of broadcast and content beginning in 2021.
"I wouldn’t be doing this in any other city, in any other situation," he said. "But Austin to me was the sort of opportunity that only comes along once, particularly to be in right at the birth and the start of this club that’s going to be such a big part of this city. To me it was a relatively straightforward decision."
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In some ways, Healey is returning to his roots. He made the transition from alternative rock to soccer in the late-1990s with the arrival of the New England Revolution, first by inviting the team’s personalities on the air. He had called matches on the radio dating back to his youth, starting with his local pro team Swindon Town FC, and the Revs quickly gave into his pleas to put him on TV and radio as their play-by-play voice from 1998 to 2003.
At his day job, he continued to introduce alternative rock listeners to characters like Fernando Clavijo and Jay Heaps on the lunchtime Revs Report.
"That was 2001, I don’t think there was any other show being done like that at the time," Healey said. "I think I was the first person to ever have Grant Wahl on as a guest, before he was even a full-time soccer writer."
ESPN came calling in 2003. In addition to calling major tournaments, Healey’s called more MLS matches than any other play-by-play voice in the network’s history — totaling more than 250 and counting. He was ESPN’s lead MLS announcer from 2011 to 2018 and called six MLS Cups alongside Taylor Twellman. Recently he’s been doing more studio work as host of ESPNFC.
Healey’s new job will allow him to still work for ESPN on occasion, particularly for tournaments such as next year’s European Championships. He could also fit into the network’s plans to make more use of the Longhorn Network studios in Austin, which could allow him to call matches remotely.
"Austin will be everything," he said. "ESPN will be a little bonus from here on."
Healey has been a target for Austin FC since before the COVID-19 pandemic, which Healey admitted was a complication but never deterred his interest in making the cross-country move. He said team president Andy Loughnane and majority owner Anthony Precourt gave him time to make the decision on his terms.
"Adrian’s broadcast accomplishments place him in elite company within our sport, and we are honored to have such a talented commentator lead Austin FC’s broadcast team," Loughnane said in a statement. "Adrian will bring a wealth of experience to our English-language broadcast coverage, and just as importantly, Adrian will become a key contributor across a variety of Austin FC content and outreach platforms."
The timing felt right, with Healey’s two children currently off at college, for a change of scenery. He and his wife spent last weekend house hunting, and the plan is to relocate before the end of the year.
"I’m ready for a new adventure," Healey said. "I’ve been in the same place for quite awhile. It’s not that I haven’t loved it, I have. But there comes a time where you need to regenerate, you need to rejuvenate, and this is absolutely perfect."
A next step will be to add an analyst and a sideline reporter. Healey’s partners over the years have included the likes of Twellman, Alexi Lalas and Alejandro Moreno, among many others.
"All options are on the table at this point," he said. "It is an important next part of this, and it’s something I’ve been actively encouraged to be part of as well. I can’t give you any names, but what I can tell you is there will be a huge amount of interest in this role. ... It would be great if there could be an Austin connection, it would be great if there could be a Texas connection."
Austin FC will also look to add a team of accomplished Spanish voices as the club continues talks with potential providers for linear and streaming partners in both languages, according to club officials. In English, the club’s broadcast is in capable hands.