Major League Soccer isn’t likely to make the future of the Columbus Crew clear on anybody’s schedule but their own. What the league is willing to do is remind everyone that this is a soccer business operating in a soccer nation and not anything else. That’s a single-entity business model reminder to fans that comes at a tough time. Pick any part of American soccer right now, and there’s probably a big picture issue in play.
So the Crew’s investor/operator Precourt Sports Ventures wants to move cities in a league that rarely allows that. MLS is still a league without traditional owners. The league itself owns 51% of the Crew and every other team, with the investor/operator holding the bulk of that remaining 49%. That’s where comparisons to other American pro sports teams stop working. Those other leagues aren’t single-entity. The league doesn’t own the majority of every club.
MLS would prefer we didn’t think about it like that. After a lot of years where the business story would regularly overtake what happened on the field, the league got what it wanted. The focus shifted to the excitement of new cities joining up and what happens over the course of the schedule. The Columbus Crew’s proposed move to Austin move is actively changing that perception.
Where MLS is in all of this is a somewhat open question. Yesterday’s meeting with representatives from the city of Columbus, the Crew’s investor/operator, and the league didn’t help.
The mayor of Columbus Andrew J. Ginther and Columbus Partnership president Alex Fischer released a statement that underlined the city’s issue. “We were united in putting all options on the table, with the expectation in return that the MLS and ownership would cease pursuing moving the team to Austin. Great American cities do not get into bidding wars over sports teams to benefit private owners. Garber and Precourt were not willing to do that today.”
In a separate statement posted to the league’s website, Precourt Sports Ventures saw things differently. “We were extremely disappointed that no concrete offer or proposal was presented and then told by the City of Columbus that it would not communicate with us past today. Precourt Sports Ventures made a clear commitment to Columbus four years ago by purchasing 100 percent of Columbus Crew SC. In the meantime, despite successful efforts to reinvent the brand and improve the Club, market challenges for Crew SC in Columbus continue to mount. Despite the city’s refusal to make a real offer and its decision to cease conversations, we remain open to a productive dialogue if the City of Columbus reconsiders. Columbus Crew SC remains focused on our quest to win MLS Cup.”
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— Tyler Adams (@tyler_adams14) November 16, 2017
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