Since news of the Columbus Crew’s intention to move to Austin, Texas was revealed last fall, the proposed relocation of the MLS franchise has been filled with fuzzy math and false pretenses. The lack of transparency and subterfuge from owner Anthony Precourt, his management team at Precourt Sports Ventures, and even MLS commissioner Don Garber has been shocking and disturbing. And it reached new heights of both on Wednesday.
Even though PSV and MLS promised “parallel paths” in pursuing stadium options in Columbus and Austin, Precourt has focused his efforts entirely on Austin. However, the proposed relocation has hit speed bumps.
After releasing a stadium rendering in the popular Butler Shores park, Precourt made it clear that it was his desired location for a soccer stadium in the “urban core” of Austin. While Butler Shores was included in the list of preliminary sites to be considered by the city council for a potential MLS stadium site, it’s now facing heavy opposition. Four city council members have now written a letter seeking to remove Butler Shores and other park land from the MLS discussion.
It’s a significant blow to the Crew’s relocation to Austin. And in response the Crew’s ownership lashed out at… soccer fans in Columbus?
In an extraordinarily brazen and tone-deaf letter, the astroturf group @MLS2ATX sent a newsletter to subscribers pleading with them to contact city council members to keep Butler Shores on the table. It’s important to note that @MLS2ATX is operated by Precourt Sports Ventures and was even tweeting from Columbus, Ohio when it first started.
— MLS2ATX (@mls2atx) January 24, 2018
In the letter PSV blames — get this — soccer fans in Columbus for the Austin City Council members refusing to hand over their own parkland to an out-of-town professional soccer owner. (Bold emphasis added for the sheer amazement that Precourt Sports Ventures is openly attacking their current fanbase in Columbus in trying to court their new fanbase in Austin.)
We are disappointed because our city leaders are backing down as a result of pressure from a vocal minority, some of whom are from Columbus, Ohio, and who have the obvious motive of killing this move to Austin.
In a city of more than 1 million people, it’s unfair that a few hundred people may ruin this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring major league sports to Austin.
If this gets killed, we are going to look back in 10 years and think this is one of the worst decisions made by this Austin City Council.
Even in the cold-hearted, cutthroat world of sports owners, this is unbelievable to see in print. You would at least expect Precourt to attempt a facade of giving Columbus a fighting chance while stabbing the city in the back. Instead, this is a full-out assault from an ownership group on its own fanbase. The unmitigated gall to suggest that it’s “unfair” to Austin for others to “ruin” this relocation when PSV is the one trying to uproot a team from its home community takes a heck of a lot of nerve. And it reeks of panic and desperation.
PSV has done nothing but feed into the conventional wisdom that they are solely trying to sabotage any pathway forward in Columbus (this includes cutting back promotions for home Crew games to ending outreach to the Hispanic community) and gone all-in on Austin. But it’s become more apparent they’ve done so without even knowing what cards they’re holding.
Precourt’s work in trying to move the Crew to Austin has been the equivalent of Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes. Why on earth would they go public with this proposed move without a secured plan in place in Austin? Why would they do so without the full backing of the community or city leaders in Texas? Why would they focus entirely on the Butler Shores location when it was going to be such a tough sell? Why try to force it through on an unrealistic timeline?
It’s like Precourt thought he could literally go to Austin, hand out a few dozen scarfs, and get the city to give him the their best prime real estate to build his dream stadium.
The latest developments in this saga proves that city officials in Columbus were prophetic when they refused to play the Precourt/Garber game and be pitted in negotiations against Austin, Texas. That is clearly now what Precourt and PSV president Dave Greeley are now trying to do as they find out they can’t easily get exactly what they want in Austin. At this point, after seeing PSV in action up close for several weeks now, why would Austin want to go into business with Precourt at all?
The actions of Precourt and MLS throughout the relocation drama has been the epitome of the worst of professional sports. The greed in trying to shake down communities, the lack of transparency in never revealing “business metrics,” and the “unethical” bait and switch by MLS in San Antonio are just a few examples. It’s antithetical to everything that MLS supposedly stand for in being for “club, country, and community.”
Through it all, Garber and the league are just as complicit in this growing mess. Garber has stood alongside Precourt every step of the way in abandoning the league’s own original fanbase in Columbus in search of dollar signs elsewhere. Garber’s lack of accountability has been noticeable as well. Remember when he was supposed to be interviewed during the Columbus-Toronto playoff game and mysteriously got “stuck in traffic?”
The longer this saga drags on, the more the league’s integrity and standing with fans across the country and the world continues to deteriorate.
Meanwhile, through all the drama, soccer fans in Columbus have been working non-stop to save their team. The #SavetheCrew movement has been an incredible success story which has gained national recognition and been a rallying cry for fans in Columbus and around the league. MLS even tried to shut down Save the Crew chants at the recent SuperDraft from fans in Philadelphia. The Save the Crew movement has not only built fan support, but also done more in four months to build community partnerships and sponsorships than Precourt has as Crew owner in four years.
In three short months, #SaveTheCrew has aligned with over 260 local businesses and generated both national and international focus on our soccer team that already exists, all without the benefit of planning anything. Completely reactionary. Totally successful.
— Morgan Hughes (@Morgan_Hughes) January 24, 2018
How many owners around professional sports would give anything for fan engagement and involvement like this?
There is still time for Precourt and Garber to set things right and work towards a solution in Columbus to save the Crew. It’s obvious that the Columbus fanbase is energized and working actively in spite of their own ownership group working against them.
Imagine what could be possible if PSV/MLS actually partnered with this community movement instead of ignoring them or denigrating them behind their backs. Then imagine what would be possible if the Crew were sold to local ownership in Columbus.
Columbus deserves better than Anthony Precourt and Don Garber. Austin deserves better. Soccer in America deserves better.