Ohio AG enters 'Save the Crew' fight

The fight to keep Crew SC in Columbus took another twist on Monday as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the city of Columbus filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court and seek to use what is known as the "Modell Law" to get an injunction against the Crew from moving to Austin.

The defendants in the case are Precourt Sports Ventures, owner of the Crew, and MLS.

Modell law. The section of the Ohio Revised Code dealing with franchise moves by Ohio sports teams who play in taxpayer-supported facilities was passed after Art Modell's Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore after the 1995 NFL season.

Section 9.67 states that a team must give the political subdivision, in this case Columbus, six month' notice of its intent to move and allow local individuals a chance to buy the team and keep it in the area.

While Precourt Sports Ventures has been exploring the possibility of moving to Austin, it has not reached an agreement on a site for a soccer stadium and says it won't move to Austin if the right site is not identified.

Legal uncertainty. The law is untested -- no court has had to interpret the statute -- so it is not clear whether the Crew would be covered under the law and what is meant by giving a local investor "opportunity to purchase the team," i.e. what would the minimum terms of that purchase offer have to be.

The argument is that the Crew's use of Mapfre Stadium is covered because of state contributions to parking upgrades and the discounted lease rate the Crew receives from the Ohio Expositions Commission, which owns the site of the stadium and its parking lots.

Public contributions. Here are some of the public contributions DeWine sets out in the lawsuit:

-- Approximately $5 million in state of Ohio taxpayer-funded parking upgrades;
-- State of Ohio property tax exemption for the land on which Mapfre Stadium sits;
-- Land leased from the state of Ohio at a below-market rate;
-- More than $300,000 in taxpayer-funded reimbursements from the city of Columbus for work on a storm sewer and construction of a water line; and
-- TIF agreement with the city of Columbus to increase access to Mapfre Stadium that has already cost the city $1.3 million in tax revenue.

“Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars,” DeWine -- a candidate in the 2018 Republican Party primary for Ohio governor -- said in a statement. “I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed.”

Impact. Whether or not the law survives constitutional scrutiny in court, the short-term impact will be to make it very unlikely that the Crew moves to Austin in 2019, though that possibility has already decreased in recent months as opposition at the city-owned parkland sites Precourt Sports Ventures has been eyeing has grown.
Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications