Crew Could Move To Austin If New Downtown Columbus Stadium Cannot Be Finalized
Crew Owner Anthony Precourt announced today that he may "move his team to Austin" in '19 if a downtown Columbus soccer stadium "cannot be finalized in the next year," according to Grant Wahl of SI.com. Columbus Partnership President & CEO Alex Fischer, who heads a group of 60 Columbus business leaders and CEOs, said that Precourt had "rejected offers" to buy 100% and 50% of the Crew from a group of local business and community leaders in Columbus. If Precourt moves the team to Austin, it is "expected it would play in a temporary facility" in '19 and ’20 before "moving into a new urban soccer stadium" in '21. Mapfre Stadium was MLS' "first soccer-specific stadium when it was built" in '99. But amenities are "far behind" those of recently-built stadiums in MLS. Precourt bought the team in '13, but the financial side "has been challenging." A source said that the Crew have been in the "bottom three teams of nearly every MLS business metric for a decade" (SI.com, 10/16). Fischer: "We learned of these conversations (with Austin) a month or so ago, when ownership approached us with ideas for a new stadium in Columbus. We made an effort, and an offer, to both buy the team outright as well as go into a 50-50 partnership." In Columbus, Michael Arace in a front-page piece cites sources as saying that Precourt is "frustrated with the Crew’s declining revenue and poor attendance." A source said that a deal to play games at the Univ. of Texas is "all but done" for '19. Arace notes the purchase agreement "contained a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years; it also included an escape clause in the case Precourt wanted to move it to Austin" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/17).
EVERYTHING'S BIGGER: In Austin, Kevin Lyttle cites an MLS source as saying that while Austin is "being used for leverage," it is the Crew's "first option." UT men's AD Mike Perrin indicated that his school "would be interested" in hosting the team at Myers Stadium. The venue has a capacity of 20,000 -- in the ballpark for MLS -- and alcohol sales "are allowed." Circuit of the Americas Chair Bobby Epstein announced this summer he is "bringing USL pro soccer back to Austin" in '19 in the form of the Austin Aztex, who will "play in a new 5,000-seat stadium at the race track." Epstein is not involved with Precourt’s group and said that he will "take a wait-and-see approach about the Crew’s possible move to Austin" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/17).
TWITTER REAX: SI's Wahl tweeted, "Feel awful for Columbus soccer fans." Bayern Munich Media Manager Cristian Nyari: "Can you imagine being a diehard Columbus Crew fan for 20+ years and then they just get up and leave? Wow." Deadspin: "Columbus Crew, welcome to the stadium extortion racket." Author Neil deMause: "Columbus Crew: Without public stadium funds, we’ll go demand public stadium funds in Austin." But Sporting News' Michael DeCourcy tweeted, "Not sure why Austin would be the destination, but get owners' frustration."