Crew Owner Calls Austin "Best Untapped Market" For MLS; Leaves Columbus Door Open
Crew Chair Anthony Precourt spent yesterday "extolling the virtues" of Austin as a potential MLS market, but "kept the door slightly ajar for Columbus if it agrees to build a new stadium," according to Kevin Lyttle of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. Precourt said, "Austin is the best untapped market in the United States for MLS." He added, "Did you anticipate that Atlanta would be a good soccer market a year ago? Did you anticipate Orlando would be a good soccer market a few years ago? Portland? ... Those are some of the examples of the vision we have for Austin." Precourt several times "mentioned that any possible move is predicated on finding a suitable stadium site in Austin." Lyttle notes the Crew have drawn "no timeline for the decision nor answered questions about how much money is needed." They are "looking for private investors" and are "adamant that they are not playing Austin against Columbus." Precourt Sports Ventures President Dave Greeley said, "Let’s be explicitly clear: There is no leverage game here." Precourt and Greeley said that they are "not entertaining offers to sell the club and are not eyeing any other cities" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/19). Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a statement said that a potential MLS team in his city was "exciting news." He added that he "does not think that there is support for public funding of a stadium." Precourt yesterday reiterated that he "does not intend to use taxpayer dollars to finance a stadium in either city" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/19).
COLUMBUS REACTS: In Columbus, Laura Newpoff reported Columbus Partnership President & CEO Alex Fischer, who heads a group of 60 local business leaders, is "working to keep the Crew in town and has requested a meeting with MLS Commissioner Don Garber." Fischer said, "We offered millions in additional community sponsorships, as well as an offer to buy the team. Mr. Precourt wasn’t interested. I guess we are learning why. It appears he and others have long had a secret plan to try to move the team to Austin, starting with what has been reported as an ‘escape clause’ in his 10-year agreement that no one was aware of, and months of private discussions in Austin. It’s a shame leaders here in Columbus have been misled for so long." But Newpoff noted MLS officials have been "working in partnership with the Crew on the Austin move." The league was the "first to approach" Adler this summer about "whether there was support there for a soccer team" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 10/18). SI.com's Brian Straus wrote there has been "concern for some time about Columbus’s long-term MLS viability." It is a "smaller media market (ranked 32nd) where college football reigns supreme" and where Mapfre Stadium's location has been an issue. But it is "tough to separate interest in the product from the quality of the product, and therefore from the owner." Has Precourt "done everything possible to make it work?" Straus: "Isn’t it true that permission to move to Austin was written into Precourt’s 2013 purchase agreement? That raises obvious questions about his long-term commitment" (SI.com, 10/18).