Opinion: Columbus Crew relocation talks a mistake

Drew Taylor

Earlier this week, Anthony Precourt, the owner of the Columbus Crew, made an announcement that unless the team and city can agree to a new stadium, he would relocate the team to Austin, Texas, in 2019.

Major League Soccer seems to back the potential move despite the Crew being one of the original 10 teams when the league started play. This move is straight out of the playbook of the other four major sports leagues in North America. Threatening the city to pay for a new stadium with relocation is nothing new.

However, this is the first time sports fans have seen an MLS team make this move.

There are a lot of problems with Precourt’s attempt to basically extort money out of the city of Columbus and the private donors who would help fund it. On top of the typical attempt to claim that a new stadium will revitalize the local economy, despite there being no evidence this is true, Precourt has put the Crew in the worst position possible to gain popularity, and may have tried to sabotage the team’s financial success as an excuse to relocate the team.

There is very little marketing of the team in and out of Columbus, and the Crew signed a terrible television deal that makes watching games difficult for even the team’s biggest fans.

Plus, there is little agreement Precourt made when he became owner of the team in 2013, promising not to move the team — unless the move was to Austin.

Sure, Mapfre Stadium is not in a great place for fans to mingle at before and after games, but the stadium is what it is: a perfectly fine, soccer-specific stadium that still holds up. This is one of the reasons why it is still a common place for home matches of the United States men’s national team.

The Crew does not need a new stadium, and if Precourt wants a new one, he can pay for it himself.

MLS is in the wrong too, especially commissioner Don Garber.

Garber released a statement supporting the possible relocation. It’s a slap in the face to fans of the game, supporting moving one of the original teams of the league.

The NFL wouldn’t dare be fine with the Green Bay Packers relocating to Oklahoma City, nor would the MLB be OK with the Cincinnati Reds relocating to Charlotte.

Yet, it should not come as a surprise that the MLS is doing this. With no potential MLS expansion bid in Austin, it’d be easy to just move a team there and to force Columbus to buy their way into the league again.

The business model of the MLS over the past few years has been to earn their money through expansion, adding a team in any city to any group of investors willing to throw $100 million their way.

Despite constantly claiming their goal is to grow the game of soccer in America, they have shown time and time again that, like Precourt, it’s all about the money.

While supporters have rallied online to save the Crew, it’s almost guaranteed the team will relocate in two years. A disappointing story to MLS fans no matter their team affiliation, this is a mistake made by Precourt and the league itself.

Drew Taylor is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].