Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt's possible move to bolt Columbus leaves trail of uncertainty and anger

Owner Anthony Precourt hasn't moved Columbus Crew SC to Austin yet, but for all intents and purposes many have moved on from the idea that MLS will have a team in Columbus, an MLS original and winner of one MLS Cup, three Supporters' Shields and one Open Cup.

If the Crew leaves, this won't be the first time that an MLS club has left town -- the San Jose Earthquakes, the best MLS team of their day, moved to Houston in 2006.

But the departure of the Quakes, an orphan team for their initial years, touched off nothing like the outcry of the possible exit of the Crew, owned by Precourt Sports Venture, which bought the team from the Hunt Sports Group in 2013.

The Crew's move would be much more impactful. It has been around twice as long, MLS is much bigger and the move to Austin would affect the expansion bid of neighboring San Antonio.

“I feel like I’m watching the stages of grief in real time," Morgan Hughes, who hosts Crew podcast called Aces Radio told the Columbus Dispatch. "There’s a lot of anger. There’s a lot of sadness."

The Crew's support declined in 2017 even though it has returned to near the top of the Eastern Conference. It is near the bottom in attendance as well key business metrics and plays at Mapfre Stadium, the oldest of the league's soccer-specific stadiums, so the economic issues are real and have been known for a while.

“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 -- 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.

8 comments about "Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt's possible move to bolt Columbus leaves trail of uncertainty and anger".
  1. Thomas Weber, October 18, 2017 at 7:25 a.m.

    Precourt has no intention of staying in Columbus. They also are not allowing any 2018 season ticket holders to decommit even after Precourt has decommitted to Columbus. He pledged to keep the team in Cbus - and even recommitted to that within the past year. He’s a no class liar, a hedge fund jack@ss who’s taking his new toy somewhere else. I feel bad for the staff/players but this owner deserves an empty stadium wherever he goes.

  2. don Lamb, October 18, 2017 at 9:25 a.m.

    Get this team out of Columbus. If they won't support a very successful team that plays the most attractive style in the league, move to one of the many locations that will.

  3. Chuck Redding replied, October 18, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    AGAIN AMERICAN ARROGANCE...rewarding failure!!! If Precourt wants to move the team to Austin and play in USL FINE and allow 1 more expansion team in that has a viable plan. Don Garber and his COUNTRY CLUB PLAN does not work!

  4. don Lamb replied, October 18, 2017 at 2:31 p.m.

    Ummmm, wouldn't this be punishing failure? The people of Columbus have failed to support the team... The failure has nothing to do with the team or the owner -- they have won and done it in a very impressive way. They deserve much better than the horrible support that they get in Columbus.

  5. Chuck Redding, October 18, 2017 at 3:58 p.m.

    OHHHH....OK.....Blame it on the fans...Ummmm

  6. don Lamb replied, October 18, 2017 at 5:33 p.m.

    Who else is to blame for not showing up and supporting the team, Chuck?? The players, coach, and owner are doing their part by winning and doing it in a fashionable way.

  7. :: SilverRey ::, October 18, 2017 at 6:57 p.m. #savethecrew

    We need your help. If you believe in the fans of MLS, and what MLS means to the fans, help us show this greedy 'Mergers & Acquistions Specialist' Anthony Precourt that he has no place in MLS.

    <b>Ways to help</b>
    Show your solidarity this Sunday by wearing yellow to the game
    Bring signs denouncing Precourt (and Garber who is entirely complicit)
    At minute 10 (Crew was the first of the original 10 teams in MLS) begin a Columbus Crew chant - i.g. clap,clap,clap COLUMBUS
    Anything else that you can do that would show the league that this is not the way to do things in MLS!

  8. :: SilverRey ::, October 18, 2017 at 6:57 p.m.

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