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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.

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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.