Crew Say Possible Move To Austin Part Of Effort To Ensure Long-Term Viability In MLS
The Crew announced yesterday that they are "'exploring strategic options' to ensure" their long-term viability in MLS, a strategy that will "move forward with one of two options: remaining in Columbus at a new, Downtown stadium or relocating the franchise to Austin," according to a front-page piece by Andrew Erickson of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. Crew Chair Anthony Precourt said that he and the team's ownership group -- Precourt Sports Ventures -- are "not seeking public tax dollars to build a stadium in Columbus or Austin." He also "downplayed the nature of investment deals presented to Precourt Sports Ventures." Precourt: "No investor in Columbus presented a serious offer to invest in the club while the team plays at Mapfre Stadium." Erickson notes the Crew will play at Mapfre Stadium in '18, but the "key to keeping the franchise in Columbus beyond that is construction of a Downtown, soccer-specific stadium." Austin’s viability as a market also would "require a league-approved stadium site." Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a statement said that an MLS team would "find support in Austin but that there would not be support for a publicly funded stadium." Columbus Partnership President & CEO Alex Fischer, who heads a group of 60 Columbus business leaders and CEOs, said that the group had "approached Precourt" with offers to buy the club outright or "go into a 50-50 partnership, both of which were rejected by Precourt." Asked why city officials seemed to have been left in the dark regarding yesterday's announcement, Precourt "called that a misrepresentation." He said, "I have been very clear since the start of 2016. I raised my hand and expressed our concerns around the health of our business with both public and private leaders in the Columbus community" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18).
COURT SHIP: Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said that the city has "not considered using public money to pay for a new soccer stadium." Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady added that it is unlikely the three-member Board of Commissioners would "use the county sales tax" on a new stadium (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18). In Columbus, Michael Arace writes it was "no secret" that the the club was "going to need a new stadium to shore up the operation -- but the impetus to actually do something was lacking on the municipal side." The powers in Columbus "didn’t think the Crew might leave, and there was a lease in place, so they figured they would deal with the stadium issue somewhere down the road." But Precourt "wants action." Arace: "What we have here is a double-hostage situation" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18). A COLUMBUS DISPATCH editorial cartoon shows Precourt holding papers for "stadium extortion" and "relocation plans" while a Crew fan grimaces on the ground (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18).
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? In Austin, Kevin Lyttle notes Precourt "quickly sought to alleviate concerns" about who would pay for a stadium. Precourt: "I am not asking for tax dollars. I want to make that clear. This will be privately financed. We will seek local investors." He added, "Operating in the urban core is important. We’ve got to try to find that, and it will take time." Meanwhile, MLS Commissioner Don Garber "supports" the Crew's possible move to Austin (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/18). Also in Austin, Kirk Bohls writes the likelihood of the Crew moving to Austin has "no better than a 50-50 shot." Circuit of the Americas Chair Bobby Epstein, who is bringing the USL Austin Aztex to COTA, said that Columbus has "offered the team guaranteed sponsorship money to stay put" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/18). SI.com's Grant Wahl cited a source as saying that if the Crew move, and thus "opens up some real estate in the Midwest, it will dramatically increase the chances that Cincinnati and even Detroit get expansion teams and essentially kill the chances of San Antonio." The source said that Precourt would only move the club to Austin and is "not considering a move to Detroit, Cincinnati or anywhere else" (SI.com, 10/17).