Since the club’s inception in 1994, The Columbus Crew have been a gleaming example of what the future of soccer could look like in America . The Crew were the first club in MLS to promise, and then build their own soccer-specific stadium.
Columbus Crew Stadium’s first season broke attendance records in 1999, giving hope to the endeavors of future small market MLS teams. For all Lamar Hunt and The Crew did to advance the game in America, the club is now on the verge of relocation. Threats of relocation has sparked the #SaveTheCrew movement.
Anthony Precourt, owner of the Crew, bought the club in 2013 and rapidly made changes in hopes of a revival. Precourt made sweeping changes to the roster, the front office, and eventually the club rebranded. Attendance and sales has been a problem as of late. The Crew are 20th in MLS in attendance. As MAPFRE Stadium continues to age, Precourt continually made his desire for a new stadium apparent.
Precourt does not believe The Crew, without a new stadium, can compete with other MLS clubs financially. His concern for the team’s future has led him to pursue potential business ventures in Austin, Texas, where he hopes to relocate the club.
CEO Alex Fischer, of The Columbus Partnership, and Andrew Ginther, Mayor of Columbus, met with Anthony Precourt and Don Garber to persuade the two against the move. The meeting did not go as planned for either party. In a statement from Precourt Sports Ventures, “We were extremely disappointed that no concrete offer or proposal was presented and that the City of Columbus then told us that it would not communicate with us past today.”
CEO Alex Fischer claims that the group made an offer to buy 50% of the club. Brewdog, a beer company with a brewery in Columbus, has shown interest in the cause to #SaveTheCrew. Rumors of the two coming together to help rescue the franchise began to swirl.
And right on cue, on November 20th, 2017, came a glimmer of hope for Crew fans. The Columbus Partnership published an elaborate rendering of a new stadium in the heart of Columbus.
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The Columbus Partnership wants it to be a conversation starter on how the city can make this a reality. The proposal also includes a section on how funding would work. The proposal includes Brewdog purchasing 10% of the franchise, the Columbus Partnership putting down $500,000 to start the project and PSV to cover what local government can’t fund.
That’s the catch. This proposal would rely heavily on sales tax dollars from Franklin County and funding from the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Franklin County Commissioner, David O’Grady, said the sales tax idea , “is not a possibility”.
Based on the outcome of the meeting, its evident that Precourt intends to relocate the club. And without surprise, Don Garber backs it. The Crew will be back in Columbus in 2018 and the move to Austin is not official, yet. But after the failed meeting between the two parties, the future of soccer in Columbus is gloomy. There is hope the Columbus Partnership’s lofty ideas may start a dialogue on how a new stadium can be built.
The Possible Future of MLS in Austin, Texas
In March of 2017, Don Garber spoke at a Q+A in Austin and spoke on a potential team in Austin. “There’s a young, innovative, diverse population living in a city. Austin should be a good MLS market.”
Austin is the largest city in the U.S without a professional sports franchise. On November 10th, 2017, the city approved a measure to allow a search for city land appropriate for a soccer stadium. Austin’s vibrant culture could yield an exciting new club for the league. It would just be an utter shame if it were to be at The Crew’s expense.
The potential relocation of The Crew has ramifications for supporters around the league. This potential move could set a frightful precedent in the league. What club will be next to be relocated to a market MLS saw profitable?
Ironically, in the midst of all of this, The Crew are two legs away from potentially reaching The MLS Cup Final. The Crew will host Toronto FC in front of a sold out MAPFRE Stadium on November 21st, at 8 p.m EST on ESPN.