[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Mark McCullers, who had been with the Columbus Crew since 1998, has stepped down as its president. The move comes less than a year after San Francisco investor Anthony Precourt bought the club from the Hunt Sports Group and six months before the end of McCullers' current contract. The Crew is off to a 2-0-0 start under new coach Gregg Berhalter but has lots of work to do on the business side, according to Precourt.
The decision came over the weekend as Precourt was in Columbus for the Crew's home opener against Philadelphia, a 2-1 win.
“Mark and I had the chance to speak this past weekend, and based upon that conversation, I told him that we would not be extending his contract with the Crew,” said Precourt told reporters in a teleconference call on Monday. “When we purchased the Crew, we said that we would evaluate the club in a thoughtful and thorough manner. After nearly eight months at the helm of the club, Mark and I both agreed that it would make sense for the organization to go in a different direction, so he offered me his resignation, which I accepted.”
McCullers' final day with the club is April 30. Precourt will serve as interim president until a successor is named to manage the club's business functions. Berhalter, who was coach and sporting director last fall, handles the club's technical side. Precourt said he wanted to be in a position to have his new president in place as business decisions related to 2015 are made this year. He said his decision to fire head coach Robert Warzycha before the end of the 2013 season similarly allowed him time to have Berhalter on board a week after the regular season ended.
“We’ll take a few months now to thoroughly and thoughtfully find our next level," Precourt added, "and let that person step into the organization and have a few months to be assimilated before 2015 business planning begins.”
Despite missing out on the playoffs, the Crew boosted attendance by almost 9 percent to 16,080 a game, its highest average since 2004. But it has yet to sell naming rights to Crew Stadium, the oldest soccer-specific stadium in MLS.
McCullers and Precourt received a lot of heat from Crew fans for the new local television deal signed with Time Warner Cable SportsChannel that leaves many of them out in the dark. The network is only available to subscribers of Time Warner, and an area-wide blackout (within 75 miles of Columbus) means fans without Time Warner service can't even pay to watch the matches online on MLS Live.
Precourt, who said he was very aware of the reaction to the deal, bought the Crew and its stadium for an estimated $68 million. The relatively low price reflected the Crew's under-performance on the business side in a city that has had one of the strongest economies in the country in recent years.
“The Crew has a lot of work to do in terms of improving its business operations to support what our primary goal is, which is to be a successful soccer club,” Precourt said. “Obviously we talked about stadium naming-rights opportunities and improving our season-ticket holder base and our corporate partnerships and other things I’d like to see improve with the Crew.”