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(Updated) Columbus Crew Owners Threaten to Relocate Team to Austin if New Stadium Demands Aren’t Met

Walker Evans Walker Evans (Updated) Columbus Crew Owners Threaten to Relocate Team to Austin if New Stadium Demands Aren’t MetPhoto by Matt Ellis.
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The owners of the Columbus Crew SC soccer team want a new Downtown stadium built for them and they’re not screwing around. Sports Illustrated reported last night that if demands from Precourt Sports Ventures are not met, they’ll be packing their bags and relocating the team to Austin in 2019.

According to SI.com, Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt is expected to announce their financial demands to stay put in Columbus at a press conference today.

Speculation about a Downtown soccer stadium have circulated ever since the team was founded in 1994. Those discussions came to the forefront once again last fall when the team’s owners and management conducted a public input survey about possible locations to build a new facility. Those potential locations included Downtown, The Arena District, The Short North, The Brewery District, Franklinton, and “Suburban Columbus”.

UPDATE (10/17/17 9:35am) — The full press release from Precourt Sports Ventures:

COLUMBUS – Precourt Sports Ventures, LLC (PSV), owner of Columbus Crew SC since 2013, announced today that it is exploring strategic options to ensure the long-term viability of the Club, including remaining in Columbus at a new stadium or potentially relocating the Club to the city of Austin, Texas.

Columbus Crew SC was the first charter granted in Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. Columbus Crew SC has recognized its growing disparity in attendance and corporate support compared to its MLS peers and other midsize markets, such as Kansas City, Orlando, Portland and Salt Lake City.

“Despite our investments and efforts, the current course is not sustainable,” Anthony Precourt, chief executive officer of Precourt Sports Ventures and chairman of Columbus Crew SC, said. “This Club has ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS, therefore we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options. This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise. Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit.”

“As attendance League-wide continues to grow on a record-setting pace, and markets across the country seek to join MLS, Columbus’ situation is particularly concerning,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Despite PSV’s significant investments and improvements on and off the field, Columbus Crew SC is near the bottom of the League in all business metrics and the Club’s stadium is no longer competitive with other venues across MLS. The League is very reluctant to allow teams to relocate, but based on these factors, we support PSV’s efforts to explore options outside of Columbus, including Austin, provided they find a suitable stadium location.”

Precourt Sports Ventures has been in communication with city and community leaders in Columbus regarding its concerns since early 2016.

Recently, in September 2017, Precourt Sports Ventures joined a forum of Columbus leaders to outline the Club’s specific challenges and to discuss the organization’s intent to explore strategic options for the future.

In evaluating Austin, as with any new MLS market, a critical component is the stadium plan. Without an MLS-approved site, Precourt said the Austin move would not be viable.

Studies and league data show that MLS clubs are most relevant and successful when playing at a downtown stadium location or at a site that is a destination for the entire community.

“The stadium site itself is of paramount importance and we recognize that private funding will be key in any stadium solution,” Precourt said.

BONUS: brush up on the issue of cities spending public money on privately-owned stadiums with this 2015 episode of Last Week Tonight:

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