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Stadium site emerges in Austin for possible MLS franchise

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With Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt reportedly pushing ahead for relocating the Crew from Columbus, Ohio to Austin, Texas, local reports state that a preferred stadium site has emerged for a potential new Major League Soccer franchise.

According to the Austin Business Journal a downtown park site is “virtually perfect” to house an MLS team in a soccer-specific stadium.

Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, a city-owned park close to Lady Bird Lake, has emerged as the frontrunner for the stadium with an Austin-based attorney working for Precourt Sports Ventures, Richard Suttle, stating the site was “virtually perfect for a modern, urban MLS stadium.”

Suttle added that other sites were being considered but it appears this public park in the heart of downtown Austin would fit the bill when it comes to following the model set by recent MLS soccer-specific stadiums such as Orlando City, Houston Dynamo and Minnesota United.

Other reports out of Austin believe the stadium will cost over $200 million and that a city election would need to be held over the privately funded stadium, which could throw a spanner in the works as Precourt wants the stadium deal to be in place by next summer.

All of this will twist the dagger already embedded into the hearts of Columbus Crew fans, just days after their team were eliminated from the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs in the Conference final by Toronto FC.

With City Officials in Columbus offering options to build the Crew a new stadium downtown after meeting with Precourt and MLS last month, there was hope that one of the original MLS franchises could remain in Columbus.

Reports like this seem to suggest that with the 2017 MLS season over, Precourt is pushing ahead with his relocation efforts.

Austin passes resolution to pursue stadium sites for MLS

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Austin has unanimously passed a resolution to explore stadium sites in the hopes of drawing a Major League Soccer franchise to the capital of Texas.

The resolution was spurred by Anthony Precourt’s interest in relocation the Columbus Crew to Austin but, interestingly, now has language that allows for Austin to pursue other teams.

The team would have to construct and operate the facility.

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Precourt is trying to wriggle the Crew from Columbus in a move which has spawned much vitriol and a #SaveTheCrew movement from all sides of the soccer community.

Though they’ve maintained they are not 100 percent on leaving Columbus, Precourt Sports Ventures released a statement expressing its love for Austin and the passed resolution.

Additionally, this article should not be misinterpreted as approval for ripping an original MLS team from its home.

Finally, this:

Austin interest high in bringing Crew from Columbus

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While the Columbus Crew beat New York City FC and stands 180 minutes from what would be its second MLS Cup Final in three years, the predators are lurking from afar.

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While expansion hopeful San Antonio has ripped into Major League Soccer for the idea of Columbus coming to Austin, the Texan capital is angling for the Crew to come build a stadium in town.

Here’s Austin mayor pro tem Kathie Tovo, from Columbus Business First:

“It’s a neat opportunity. A great opportunity for Austin,” Tovo said. “There seems to be lots of support. I’m intrigued. My staff is doing research about benefits to the community” including programs for youth. “It’s exciting to me.”

Meanwhile in Columbus, Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer have a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday in New York with Major League Soccer officials to try to keep the Crew in town.

Who is sent to and what comes out of that meeting is more interesting than anything from the Texas side of things. Who will be meeting with Columbus officials, and what will they ask or demand of Columbus in order to become an advocate for their original MLS member?

Perhaps the worst thing that could happen for MLS and Crew owner Anthony Precourt, oddly enough, would be the Crew advancing to and winning MLS Cup Final (though its fans would deserve it and how). It would put this unsavory situation front and center for even longer, and no league wants to have its sitting champion dealing with tiny attendances for a summer before it leaves town.

Columbus Crew owner may move soccer team to Austin, Texas

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The owner of the Crew SC says the team is no longer sustainable and will move to Austin, Texas, unless a new, privately-financed stadium is built in downtown Columbus.

Anthony Precourt, whose Precourt Sports Ventures has owned the Major League Soccer club since 2013, said Tuesday the Crew need more fan and financial support to compete in the growing league, and a new stadium in the urban center is the only way to make it work. The Crew currently play in 17-year-old Mapfre Stadium, about 4 miles north of downtown Columbus.

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The team will be back in Ohio’s capital city for 2018, Precourt said, but its future beyond that depends on which city steps up first.

“Despite all the efforts to move the needle beyond on-the-field success, our business is struggling to keep pace with the rising standards of major league soccer,” Precourt said in a conference call with reporters. “The club historically and presently has challenges with match-day attendance, with growing our season-ticket base, with demand for corporate sponsorship and with relevance. The stadium and site are challenges in Columbus.”

The Crew is 20th in attendance this season out of 22 MLS teams with an average of 15,439, despite making the playoffs. The capacity is 19,968.

Austin is the largest market in North America without a major league sports franchise, and the city is receptive. Precourt declined to comment about any talks that could result in a new downtown soccer-specific stadium there. He dispelled rumors that the team has an agreement to play temporarily at the University of Texas stadium in 2019 while a new stadium is built.

Precourt called Austin “the most attractive untapped market in the United States for MLS soccer.” The city already has submitted a bid for an MLS expansion team.

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Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said he had met with team ownership about solutions to keep the team in the city but complained that he didn’t get “full engagement.” City officials didn’t know about a potential move until the public announcement Tuesday, he said.

“We were surprised to learn of their decision in this way,” Ginther said in a statement. “Losing the Crew to another city would be a huge disappointment to their loyal and growing fan base in Columbus.”

Alex Fischer of the Columbus Partnership, a consortium of CEOs and business leaders, told The Columbus Dispatch that a group of business leaders approached Precourt with offers to buy Crew SC outright and to go into a 50-50 partnership, both of which were rejected. But Precourt said Tuesday that his discussions with potential investors in the team were all attached to a plan for a new stadium.

Precourt said he approached Columbus business leaders last year and was clear about the problems.

“We have engaged the community privately since the beginning of 2016 about our business issues, and made it clear that we would potentially start to explore strategic alternatives if the business didn’t improve,” he said.

He said three potential stadium sites have been identified in Columbus, but he declined to comment on them.

“We are not asking for public tax dollars, and we are not asking either city to build a stadium for us,” he said.

USL continues expansion with Austin franchise

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United Soccer Leagues (USL) added its second new franchise in as many days as professional soccer will return to Austin, Texas in 2019.

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The second-tier league has continued its rapid growth in recent years with the Ottawa Fury, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Reno 1868 FC all joining at the start of the current 2017 season to take the league to 30 teams.

Austin Aztex’s were the last USL franchise in the Texas city but they were disbanded in 2015 after flooding issues at their former home and that team was in fact the second franchise to carry the Aztex name after the former was founded in 2008 but then relocated in 2010 to become Orlando City.

With a new soccer-specific stadium approved at the Circuit of the Americas track (it hosts the U.S. Formula 1 grand prix), Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein will take over majority ownership of the franchise.

Speaking about the new franchise USL CEO Alec Papadakis  believes Austin is an incredibly strong market for soccer.

“The USL’s return to Austin is a major moment for the league as it continues to lead the growth of professional soccer across the country,” Papadakis said. “We could not be happier to be doing so with Bobby Epstein as the new leader of the organization’s ownership group. His work alongside the league’s leadership over the past two years to ensure professional soccer’s long-term stability in an outstanding city with a passionate fanbase has been exceptional, and we are delighted that this day has arrived.

“Bobby was named as one of the most influential people in Formula 1 racing in 2016 by Paddock Magazine, a sign of the high regard he is held by his peers in sport that encompasses the world. He is another outstanding addition to the strong ownership groups that have helped drive the USL toward its goal of being viewed in the same light as the English Championship, Liga Adalante and 2. Bundesliga.”

With San Antonio FC nearby, the rivalry has been renewed and Texas now has its fifth pro soccer team.

Birmingham, Alabama was also added to the USL ranks on Tuesday for the 2019 season and that now means USL will expand to 34 teams for the 2019 campaign as Fresno FC, Las Vegas and Nashville SC will all join for the 2018 season.

USL will launch a new division-three league in 2019, creating a third-tier in the North American soccer pyramid.

Lower level soccer in the U.S. is booming with many USL markets in the running for new Major League Soccer franchises, the North American Soccer League adding three new teams (California United FC and San Diego)  for 2018 and clubs such as FC Cincinnati, Detroit City FC and Sacramento Republic all breaking attendance records.