Friday, Ohio soccer fans were relieved to hear that the Columbus Crew Soccer Club would remain in Ohio following the decision to transfer ownership to the Haslam and Edwards families. This decision comes after a year of uncertainty, fan outrage, and statewide protests.
On October 17, 2017, Precourt Sports Ventures, a group that has owned the Columbus Soccer Club since 2013, announced they were considering “remaining in Columbus at a new stadium or potentially relocating the Club to the city of Austin, Texas.”
Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber supported the decision, noting that “the Club’s stadium is no longer competitive with other venues across MLS.”
This announcement left many Columbus Crew fans stunned and infuriated. Many felt Precourt was attempting to extort a free, or heavily subsidized, stadium from the city with the threat of relocation. The hashtag “#SaveTheCrew” quickly went viral on social media platforms. Multiple public protests were held throughout Ohio.
The backlash from fans was so extensive that Precourt Sports Ventures CEO Anthony Precourt made a public apology via Twitter:
I really do feel for you Crew fans. Its an uncertain time I recognize, and I take full responsibility for the situation I have put us in.
The majority of fans remained unmoved and continued to protest the decision.
On December 7, 2017, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (now governor-elect) announced that he was pursuing legal action against Precourt Sports Ventures. DeWine was alleging that Precourt had violated Ohio Revised Code 9.67 AKA, the “Art Modell Law.”
This act stipulates that any Ohio sports franchise that receives significant tax breaks, benefits, or funding from the state must give, at least, six months notice before relocating as well as give “the political subdivision or any individual or group of individuals who reside in the area the opportunity to purchase the team.”
This law, passed in 1996, was created following the attempt by Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell to move the team to Baltimore during the 1995 NFL season.
MLS announced in October that they had entered into discussions with both the Haslam and Edwards families regarding their possible purchase of the team. The Haslam family are the current owners of the Cleveland Browns, and both Haslam and Edwards are Ohio natives.
Those discussions culminated with the December 28 announcement that the two families would jointly purchase the team. Earlier that day, both the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio announced that they had filed “a notice with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to dismiss their joint lawsuit against Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures.”
While the purchase is not finalized, it is an agreement “in principle” and a complete agreement is expected in the coming months.
Earlier this month, a new stadium for the Columbus Crew was unveiled to the public. The planned complex could cost taxpayers as much as $115 million in support for its estimated $645 million construction.
While this type of taxpayer support for stadium construction is not uncommon, it has come under public scrutiny, most notably, following an episode of Last Week, Tonight with John Oliver.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jim Haslam” by Erik Daniel Drost. CC BY 2.0.
Background Photo “New Columbus Crew Stadium” by Rogers Krajnak Architects.