Once the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, the Columbus Crew will officially be staying in Columbus.
Amazingly, the Save the Crew movement appears to have worked as MLS announced there is an agreement in principal for the Edwards and Haslam families to purchase operating rights of the Crew from Anthony Precourt and Precourt Sports Ventures. The deal keeps the Crew in Columbus while allowing Precourt to start his MLS club in Austin, Texas. The purchase is expected to be completed in January 2019.
Earlier on Friday morning, Columbus city attorney Zach Klein announced he was dismissing the city’s lawsuit against PSV for his intention of moving the Crew to Austin.
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“After several months of discussions, we are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement in principle with the Haslam and Edwards families for them to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and operate Columbus Crew SC starting in January, 2019,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement.
“While we work to finalize the deal promptly, we want to state publicly the tremendous collaboration and community support for Crew SC, which has set the stage for a powerful plan that includes a world-class soccer stadium – a critical step that will help ensure the club’s success on and off the field. We appreciate all the diligent work from the Haslam and Edwards families, the leadership from the Columbus Partnership, the City of Columbus, Franklin County and the State of Ohio, Precourt Sports Ventures, and all of those who have contributed over the past several months to create the elements that will solidify Crew SC’s long-term future as an integral part of the Columbus sports scene.”
The Crew’s new potential ownership has local ties and roots. Pete Edwards is chairman of the Edwards Companies, a Columbus, Ohio-based land development and housing ownership organization. He was born and raised in Columbus, and went to Ohio State University. Jimmy and Dee Haslem are owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in addition to being the CEO of gas station chain Pilot Flying J. Per Forbes, the Haslams have a net worth of $2.7 billion, which will make them instantly one of the league’s wealthiest clubs.
Part of the purchase is the intention of the Crew to build a new stadium in Columbus’ downtown core, near Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Real estate in that area is hard to come by, but with the Edwards family’s real estate experience and the backing of the Columbus Partnership, a group of Columbus business executives, a deal will likely get done within the next few years.
Ultimately, this is a great move for both the Crew and MLS as a whole. In 2018, it’s unacceptable for an ownership group to pick up and leave, especially one such as PSV which was manufacturing poor marketing and sales statistics by not spending in those areas, making it look as though there was no interest in the club. Incredibly, Gregg Berhalter led the Crew in 2018 to a respectable fifth-place finish and a place in the MLS quarterfinals, despite all the insecurity regarding whether the team would pick up and move after the season.
While Precourt is certainly the villain of the story, Garber deserves some of the blame as well as some praise. Garber approved the clause that let Precourt potentially move the team to Austin into the purchasing agreement and wasn’t transparent about it, and essentially tried to help Precourt negotiate his way out of town. However, Garber then also helped facilitate this move to keep the Crew in Columbus. It’s unclear whether die-hard Crew fans will ever appreciate Garber’s work in the last few months to keep the Crew in town, after it seemed he was in favor of the club leaving.