After all that, Columbus Crew SC will be staying in Ohio, while Austin, Texas will have to wait until 2021. Perhaps sanity has finally crept in the back door and taken its seat at the head of the table.
So Ohio keeps Columbus Crew SC. Austin gets an official MLS nod for a team — but for now, the Texas capital city only has Anthony Precourt on the roster. A pending lawsuit in the mix stands to get dismissed. And sanity is returning to both Columbus and Austin.
Precourt Sports Ventures maintains its mission to launch an MLS franchise in Austin. But Ohio’s state law throwing a poison pill into pro sports teams moving away worked. Columbus Crew SC stays put and won’t become Austin FC.
MLS released a statement on the moves on October 12. Ownership of the NFL Cleveland Browns commited to buying out Precourt and keeping the team in Columbus.
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The Columbus Partnership and other Crew interests chimed in their approval. Precourt and the MLS-to-Austin supporters remained silent in this communication but locals had statements in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.
There in Texas, supporters called the result a win-win situation. They emphasized the MLS statement calling for a clear path to MLS in Austin and they cheered an expected target for MLS play there no later than 2021, when the privately financed stadium would open in North Austin.
A statement from the City of Austin said the latest development doesn’t change the negotiations between the City Council and Precourt Sports Ventures. The plan remains to open the stadium and have Precourt put a team in it.
Mechanics of an Ohio state law scrapped the original plans to relocate Columbus Crew SC to Austin. The Ohio Attorney General and City of Columbus sued both MLS and Precourt Sports Ventures to invoke that law. The state passed the law in 1996 after NFL owner Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore. There, the team became the expansion Ravens.
In response to outraged politicians, civic leaders and fans, the NFL agreed to keep all Browns records in Cleveland and helped arrange for the team to resume play there in 1999.
The new Columbus Crew SC ownership group is led by current Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam. They are residents of Tennessee. Jimmy is the brother of that state’s governor and CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain. Dee is the founder and executive producer of RIVR Media.
The only thing missing from the story is disappointment from Austin at losing their built-in MLS franchise. Supporters had gone so far as arranging a group trip to Frisco to watch Columbus play FC Dallas.
After the news sinks in, Austin supporters should realize they’re still in good shape. 2021 isn’t a long time to wait for the largest metropolitan area without a top-tier pro sports team. They’ll just need to make sure the local politicos don’t take their foot off the gas. And that everyone keeps sane.