It was one of those days in late November in L.A. when the wind was strong enough to want a jacket, but hot enough to make you sweat as soon as the long sleeves went on. But none of that fazed me, because the Columbus Crew had just won their first Major League Soccer Cup in club history. I remember club legend and forever captain, Frankie Hejduk, climbing into the stands to celebrate with the traveling fans, singing “Columbus ’til I Die.” This moment in Crew history, and countless others, are being threatened by the current owner, Anthony Precourt of Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV), and his efforts to move the team to Austin, Texas.
The news of a potential move to Austin was announced a few weeks ago. The stated justification is business metrics, citing low attendance and inadequate corporate sponsorship. According to PSV, unless an agreement to build a stadium in downtown Columbus by 2019 is reached, the team will move forward with the relocation.
As the news of the Crew’s potential move to Austin spread, these elusive business metrics have been contested by fans and analysts alike.
In an article from Columbus Business First, Anthony Olejniczak, a Columbus executive, was cited saying, “It seems Precourt’s story behind the proposed move away from Columbus rests heavily on a lack of sponsorship interest locally, but anecdotal evidence points to exactly the opposite, and also points to manipulation of sponsorship prices.”
Many sponsors were turned away this year because they couldn’t afford the prices Precourt was demanding.
Many speculate that this move has been in the works since Precourt bought the team in 2013. Some claim he purposely approved television deals that wouldn’t allow fans in Columbus to watch the games. Others say he didn’t advertise the games in order to bring down attendance. It’s difficult to prove either of those statements, but it is suspicious that the contract with which Precourt bought the team stated the Crew could not move to any city in the United States within 10 years except Austin, Texas.
This announcement was met by a storm of local protest against the move and of support for the history of the Columbus Crew and their fans. Within a week, there was a rally at Columbus City Hall with over 2,000 loyal fans waving banners and chanting “Save the Crew.” Local businesses rushed to speak out in favor of keeping the Crew in Columbus, and a group of businesses even claim to have offered to purchase 100 percent of the soccer club. These efforts were met by near silence from PSV.
In the weeks since the rally, there has been a great deal of local and national support to keep the Crew in Columbus and preserve its unrivaled history. Crew fans with “Save The Crew” banners came out in droves for College Gameday when the Buckeyes played Penn State. There have been numerous appeals to the Columbus City Council. Further, many MLS owners from across the country have come out in support of the Crew. The Nordecke (the supporters’ section at MAPRE Stadium) was to capacity for the Crew’s 4-1 thrashing of NYCFC, while MAPRE stadium itself was nearly full on a cold, Tuesday, Halloween night.
The movement has gained momentum and will continue to grow as the Crew charges forward in the MLS playoffs. On Sunday Nov. 5, they qualified for the conference final on aggregate goals scored, and they now look to play Toronto FC — their rival and the best team in MLS history (based on points accumulated throughout the season) — in two legs over the next few weeks. The first game will be in Columbus on Tuesday Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. ET. I plan to be in section 141 with the rest of Nordecke cheering for the team that I grew up with; the team that belongs in Columbus.