Crew Stadium had a nice ring to it for the U.S. men's national team, but it lacked something for the Columbus Crew. It was void a key sponsorship component integral to helping the Ohio team compete at the highest level.
When team owner Anthony Precourt took over the Crew in July 2013, landing a stadium rights deal easily made the front page of his to-do list. He hired the Crew’s president of business operations, Andy Loughnane, on Aug. 16, 2014, and plastered his job description with that goal.
“It was established that I needed to attack that from day one on the job,” he tells SI.com. “I would say we made progress every single day, starting on Monday, Aug. 18, we literally worked on it every single day.”
The culmination came on March 3 when the Crew announced a multi-million dollar, multi-year stadium naming rights deal with Columbus-based MAPFRE Insurance.
Loughnane says the success of changing Crew Stadium to MAPFRE Stadium—and the dollars that accompany it—came due to the increased relevance of the club and the venue itself.
What is now MAPFRE Stadium already had a nostalgic value most stadiums can only dream of. Columbus built the nation’s first-ever soccer-specific stadium, hosting over 20,000 fans in the basic design in May 1999. With that proud distinction, Columbus was awarded key national games and became the “spiritual home” of the U.S. men's national team. The Columbus venue hosted the U.S. team’s first Dos-A-Cero drubbing of Mexico in 2001, the first of four consecutive home World Cup qualifying triumphs over El Tri by a 2-0 scoreline.
With nostalgia, though, never did come a naming rights deal. The Precourt ownership group started to take the steps necessary to change that, last season adding a new scoreboard on the south side of the stadium and installing two 42-foot-long LED ribbon displays on the façade of the upper deck. The locker room and training facility were upgraded. And the soccer operations saw an infusion of capital that included a 50 percent increase in expenses.
“There have been significant upgrades to the physical plans and stadium experience,” Loughnane says.
Add in that the team made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2011 with record attendance, and the complete rebrand of the team this offseason and “all of those combined to help increase the relevance of the franchise, help increase the profile of the club, the profile of the stadium.”
With a new wave of relevance for the Columbus Crew SC, Loughnane was able to parlay that into an agreement with a “like-minded” Columbus company.
“MAPFRE Insurance has been operating in Columbus for 75 years and have deep Ohio roots,” he says. “They have an international footprint and love the sport of soccer and want to expand in Columbus. That aligns very well with Crew SC.”
Entering the club's 17th season in the same home, Loughnane says the Crew will carry with it the legacy of the first MLS soccer-specific stadium. Now they want to build that legacy by making sure they are always known as a “team of firsts,” from selling out the venue, creating innovating ticketing options and more.
But they won’t ever forget the tie they have to national team soccer. “I certainly think the legacy and the history of some of those results are prideful moments for our club and MAPFRE Stadium,” Loughnane says, “and we will continue to be the spiritual home for U.S. Soccer.”
The next season of Black & Gold soccer—or possibly the next Dos-A-Cero result—won’t move away from a historical U.S. soccer venue. The venue just comes with a new name.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.