I have taken thousands and thousands of photos and this is still my favorite. pic.twitter.com/12kgzaJ8RX— Pablo Maurer (@MLSist) October 18, 2017
“Despite our investments and efforts, the current course is not sustainable,” Precourt Sports Venture chairman Anthony Precourt said Tuesday in a statement. “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."
When Precourt bought the Crew in 2013, he promised to keep the team in Columbus for 10 years, but the rub was that he had an out clause -- the exception was that he could move the Crew to Austin.
How serious was Precourt's interest when he took over in 2013 and later pursued talks on a downtown stadium in Columbus to replace Mapfre Stadium? The fear is that Precourt's possible move is, as Bushnell Henry Bushnell of Yahoo FC wrote, "straight out of the NFL’s playbook" with frequent moves by teams from one market to another.
American soccer has always held itself up to be something different -- "a sort of evangelical enterprise," wrote Wes Burdine of FiftyFive.one -- so that trust was broken with Precourt's announcement, which was felt by MLS fans around the league. "If relocation is now on the table for a club like Columbus," Burdine said, "it is on the table for every club."
Burdine suggested it was not too late for MLS to do something:
-- Forbid relocation if a genuine offer is made to purchase the team from the existing market;
-- Provide more resources to the original clubs (four of whom rank at the bottom of attendance).
Precourt says his interest in Austin is sincere.
“I’ve had a longstanding affinity for this city," he told the Austin Statesman. “My interest in Austin is very sincere. It’s young, vibrant, multi-cultural, loaded with millennials and has a rapidly growing corporate element.”
That might be true, but there was no sign of overwhelming support for soccer out of Austin, where two USL teams have failed. That only added to the uncertainty of the situation.
All the possible move to Austin did was threaten San Antonio's bid for one of MLS's four expansion franchises.
“MLS officials told us that there will not be a franchise in both Austin and San Antonio,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who has spearheaded the San Antonio MLS effort, said in a statement to the San Antonio Express. “We want clarification from MLS regarding the status of our expansion application in light of news today from Columbus.”
Express columnist Roy Bragg wrote that Precourt might be like "nearly every other disgruntled team owner in America, using one city (Austin) to extract financial concessions from another (Columbus)."
If Precourt is, all he'll have done is make enemies in two cities.