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Columbus Crew owner, MLS review Ohio suit over possible move

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Major League Soccer and the owner of the Columbus Crew say they’re reviewing a lawsuit that Ohio’s attorney general and the city of Columbus filed to stop the proposed team move to Austin, Texas.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

The league and Precourt Sports Ventures said they anticipated having more comment Tuesday about the litigation, which was announced Monday.

The lawsuit cites a law that prohibits sports teams that have received public money from moving unless certain conditions are met. It was enacted after the original Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996.

[ MORE: JPW’s wild World Cup predictions ]

The law says teams using publicly supported facilities must provide six months of advance notice of a move and give cities or residents near sports facilities a chance to buy the team.

Crew owner Anthony Precourt announced the possible move last fall.

Ohio Attorney General sues to prevent Crew relocation

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Ohio’s Attorney General is coming for Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt.

State AG Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against the reviled MLS owner who’s attempting to relocate the Crew to Austin, Texas.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

DeWine cites a statute dating back to Art Modell’s move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore that prohibits relocating a sports franchise from Ohio without the meeting of several conditions including a purchase by state residents.

“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. I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed.”

The lawsuit alleges that Precourt Sports Ventures:

  • accepted the benefits of approximately $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking facilities.
  • accepted state property tax exemption for the land on which the Crew SC’s home field, Mapfre Stadium, sits.
  • leased that land from the state at a below-market rate.
  • accepted more than $300,000 in city taxpayer-funded reimbursements of their costs in moving portions of a storm sewer and constructing a water line.
  • entered into a Tax Increment Financing and Economic Development Agreement with the city of Columbus to extend Silver Drive to increase access to Mapfre Stadium currently costing the city $1.3 million in tax revenue with the potential total cost of more than $2.1 million.

The good guys and girls could win.

Of course every owner is allowed to move a team, but the way Precourt Sports Ventures has conducted itself — from nascent “except for Austin” clauses in its contract to the limiting of entrances at a playoff game to make the stadium look empty at opening kick — has been extremely off-putting.

At some point, you’d love to see Major League Soccer address the situation in an open way, though the league largely works at the discretion of the owners. It wouldn’t hurt to see them prodded in that direction by some other owners.

Ohio AG threatens legal action should Crew move to Austin

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The fight to #SaveTheCrew took a new turn Thursday, as a little-known state law could put pressure on the Columbus Crew’s owner Anthony Precourt in his intention to move the team to Austin, Texas.

The state law, put in place in 1996 after Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore a year earlier, states that if a professional sports franchise that uses a taxpayer-financed facility for most of its home games decides to leave, it must do one of two things.

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Either make an agreement with the local city or municipality allowing the team to go, or give six-months notice of the team’s intention to leave and also provide the local city and businesses the opportunity to purchase the team.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement Thursday that after reviewing Ohio Revised Code law 9.67, he believes that it could be applied to the Columbus Crew.

“The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the law passed after the Browns’ move,” DeWine said. “We believe the evidence will show that this law would apply to the Columbus Crew and Mapfre Stadium. As Attorney General, should ownership of the Columbus Crew initiate a move of the team without complying with Ohio law, I am prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law to protect the interests of the State of Ohio and the central Ohio communities which have all invested to make the Columbus Crew a proud part of our Ohio sports tradition and help Mapfre Stadium earn its reputation as ‘Fortress Columbus.’”

The best-case scenario for Crew fans is for Precourt to sell the team rather than to keep the team in Columbus under his ownership, but even under this law, Precourt can move the team as long as he provides that six-month notice.

Perhaps Precourt will be coerced to sell however under all the pressure from fans and politicians, which could lead to a happy ending for Crew fans and soccer fans in Ohio.

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

MLSsoccer.com

Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabled Precourt every step of the way.

Columbus officials release statement after MLS, Precourt meeting

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Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther and Alex Fischer, the CEO of the Columbus Partnership, met with MLS commissioner Don Garber and Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt on Wednesday in a bid to keep the Crew in Ohio.

It did not go well.

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Ginther and Fischer released a statement on the meeting, claiming that they offered every option to get Precourt and Garber to take relocation to Austin, Texas, off the table only to be shot down by the MLS hierarchy.

“We met with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt in New York today. It is clear the MLS and ownership did not come to the meeting willing to commit to staying in Columbus. We know this is heartbreaking for the dedicated fans in Columbus and across the country who have shown unwavering support for the Columbus Crew SC.

We are disappointed and frustrated. We were united in putting all options on the table, with the expectation in return that the MLS and ownership would cease pursuing moving the team to Austin. Great American cities do not get into bidding wars over sports teams to benefit private owners. Garber and Precourt were not willing to do that today.

Once the league and owner are committed to Columbus, we stand ready, willing and able to support the team’s success. On November 21, standing alongside the best soccer fans in the country at MAPFRE stadium, we will be cheering Black and Gold onto victory. Glory to Columbus.”

Relocation stories are never fun, but this one is infuriating. From the timing of the announcement — before a big playoff run — to the words of Precourt, it’s been one big stinger after another.

Sadly, stories like these are unavoidable when a league size is limited and closed. Precourt bought the original MLS team with the hopes of moving it to Austin. The sale was approved with that language in it. Essentially, the Crew barely had hope of overcoming those desires.

Precourt claims that Columbus didn’t present a viable plan to keep the team in Ohio, from MLSSoccer.com:

Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer met this afternoon in New York City with Mayor Ginther and Alex Fischer, at the request of the city, in anticipation of being presented an actionable plan and a legitimate offer that would advance efforts to improve Crew SC’s long-term ability to operate and compete in Columbus.  Both PSV and the league entered the meeting with open minds, no demands and a complete willingness to listen and entertain concrete ideas or a meaningful proposal from the city’s representatives at the meeting.

We were extremely disappointed that no concrete offer or proposal was presented and then told by the City of Columbus that it would not communicate with us past today.

Precourt Sports Ventures made a clear commitment to Columbus four years ago by purchasing 100 percent of Columbus Crew SC.  In the meantime, despite successful efforts to reinvent the brand and improve the Club, market challenges for Crew SC in Columbus continue to mount.

Despite the city’s refusal to make a real offer and its decision to cease conversations, we remain open to a productive dialogue if the City of Columbus reconsiders.  Columbus Crew SC remains focused on our quest to win MLS Cup.

In terms of business, Precourt has every right to move the team, and MLS has every right to let him. And it seems — strictly inference here — MLS views the outcome of giving Cincinnati a team after Columbus leaves as somehow a fine trade-off for Ohio.

If MLS started today, Columbus probably wouldn’t get one of 28 markets. That’s not the point. They have a team, an original team, and those are generally hallowed in major and important American sports leagues.

But as someone who grew up in Buffalo with constant threats and hostage moves regarding the Sabres and Bills to pony up or risk losing the team, I hope Columbus finds the solution our city did: Owners who were willing to make less than the maximum to cater to a community in love with its teams.

Imagine a United States without the home of Dos a Cero boasting a top tier side. Again, this remains a league barely over 20 years old, and Garber and Co. are very much navigating the equivalent of the Wild West (along with teams in other leagues). Still, concern for what’s been built in Ohio would be nice, at the very least.