It appears to be done.
I’ve received reliable information that, almost a year to the day when Anthony Precourt announced he was exploring the opportunity to relocate the Columbus Crew to Austin, the Columbus Crew have been saved. Requests for comments from MLS have not yet been returned; the plaintiffs in the Modell lawsuit declined to provide a comment at this time. [Update: See comments below]
What I’ve been told is that the deal to keep the team in Columbus is “largely done.” Precourt will be awarded a team in Austin (or, the rights to operate one there). The Columbus Crew will remain where they are under new ownership. What wasn’t quite clear was how this will be effected. The information I was told is that the Columbus will get an “expansion” team, but will keep their name, players and identity and will play in 2019. Which doesn’t sound like an expansion team, but we’ll have to wait for an update.
Precourt will be sent to Austin having been paid out for his ability to operate the Crew in Columbus [Update: I’m not actually sure if this is how it will work. He may simply operate his team in Austin, while the new Columbus owners pay the expansion fee to MLS. -Miki]. Whether that means he will operate a team in Austin in 2019 is up in the air. As I’ve previously discussed, Precourt has had issues finding a temporary site, but perhaps that issue has been resolved. The mostly likely outcome is that Precourt waits until a stadium gets built. Reports on who will be purchasing the Crew I cannot confirm. [Update: See below for that information]
Now, eagle-eyed readers will note that “largely done” doesn’t mean “official.” Until the signatures are affixed to the proper documents, it’s entirely possible that things fall apart at some point in the future.
A resolution to this case would mark a remarkable -and sudden- end to a situation that immediately captured the imagination of American soccer fans and media. The use of a statute passed by the Ohio legislature to hold up (if not prevent) a potential relocation of a professional sports franchise was unprecedented. It has led to nearly six months of litigation, where the plaintiffs fought to keep the team, while the fans mounted an impressive campaign to spread awareness and support.
Yet behind that, there has always been uneasiness with the relocation, even in Austin. Local politicians were initially lukewarm to the move, and it was difficult to secure a location to move the team to, to say nothing of coming to an agreement on building a stadium. Even now, the situation is unsettled.
But that aside, this is ultimately about the Columbus Crew staying where they are. A formal announcement could come at any time today, or not at all. I’ve heard is that this deal has been near completion for a few days, but as these things go, they’re impossible to keep under wraps. Thus, while an announcement may not originally have been planned for today, the leaks have sped up the timeline.
I’ve compiled a list of statements from all of the parties. What a day this was.
Joint Statement from the Columbus Partnership, Pete Edwards, Jr. and Dee and Jimmy Haslem, who are reported to be in negotiation to purchase the rights to operate the Crew:
“While there are many details to be worked out, our alliance is working diligently and collaboratively with [MLS] to keep the Crew in its community. We are very excited about the quiet but deliberate progress that has been made to date and will keep the community updated as this process moves forward.”
Statement from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office:
“Today is a great day for Crew fans, and this is outstanding news for all of Columbus!
“I am proud of the work our legal team has done in ensuring Ohio’s laws are followed and the door has been kept open to productive negotiations. Our community has invested in this team and deserves the opportunity to keep the black and gold right here, where they belong. I appreciate the efforts of the Haslem and Edwards families, and the Columbus Partnership for their work, and I will continue pursuing the case in court until there is a final deal.
The City of Austin released a statement in response to the news:
“From the City of Austin’s perspective this does not change the terms of the ongoing negotiations between the City and Precourt Sports Ventures. We look forward to bringing Major League Soccer and the community benefits that come with it to Austin and working with PSV on making that a reality.”
Recall that the City of Austin has been working towards completing a lease-development agreement since August, which will allow Precourt to move. Nothing about the apparent agreement in Columbus changes that, per se.
Leslie Pool, member of the Austin City Council:
“The official notice from MLS and Columbus sounds like a big win for Columbus fans. Austin may still get an expansion team, which is also good news for Austin sports fans. However, I believe now is the time to push the reset button on building a stadium on the McKalla site. Let’s redouble our efforts here at home to respond to legitimate taxpayer concerns about the subsidized deal. We should solicit proposals for developing McKalla and rework a stadium deal that is fair to all stakeholders”
From MLS on Columbus:
“MLS, the Columbus Partnership and the investor group all agree that for the Club to be successful, it requires strong local owners, long-term corporate support, a strong season ticket base and long-term plans for a stadium, practice facilities and associated sites. MLS is committed to keeping the Crew in Columbus should we continue to make progress on these critical components and agree to key terms with the investor group.
“MLS also remains very committed to PSV’s plan to launch an MLS Club in Austin and is excited for Austin to become a great addition to MLS,” the league said in a statement. “We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of that Club.”
MLS on the impact this news has on Austin:
Major League Soccer is excited to move forward in Austin with Precourt Sports Ventures and their vision for Austin FC. Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for PSV to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club.
The strong support from Austin’s corporate community, government officials and passionate soccer fans is impressive. Austin is a flourishing, dynamic city that presents a great opportunity for MLS, and we look forward to finalizing plans to become the first major league team in the capital of Texas.
While timing for Austin FC is still to be finalized, we are confident that the team will begin play no later than 2021 at the new, privately financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place. We applaud the Austin community, city leaders and Precourt Sports Ventures for their commitment to making this happen.”
That last paragraph is big, as it acknowledges it’s possible that Anthony Precourt’s team won’t start playing in Austin until 2021, which we discussed on the SocTakes podcast last night.
Statement from PSV:
With the acknowledgement of serious negotiations, the parties can set about finalizing this deal and moving on to the next (final) chapter of this story. That said, the lawsuit continues until an agreement has been reached, and the case dismissed.
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