The Columbus Crew, one of MLS’s original teams, is angling to move its franchise to Austin, Texas, SI.com has learned.
Columbus owner Anthony Precourt is set to announce in a press conference on Tuesday that he will move his team to Austin in 2019 if a downtown soccer stadium for the Crew cannot be finalized in the next year.
Precourt, who lives in California, did not reply to a message on Monday night.
Alex Fischer, the president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, a group of 60 Columbus business leaders and CEOs, said Precourt had rejected offers to buy 100 percent and 50 percent of the Crew by a group of local business and community leaders in Columbus. (On Tuesday, Precourt denied that there had been offers to buy the team.)
“We met with ownership a month ago to discuss their stadium study and plans and ideas for a new stadium in Columbus,” Fischer told SI.com. “Those conversations turned up the fact that ownership had been in extensive conversations over the last number of months with leaders in Austin about a possible new stadium and moving the team there.”
Fischer continued: “We’ve received notice from the ownership that at a press conference [Tuesday] they are going to announce they are jointly pursuing that plan in Austin as well as continuing conversations about a possible new stadium in Columbus.”
When asked if he thought Precourt was seeking public financing or support for the stadiums in Columbus and Austin, Fischer was clear. “I think there’s no question he expects public financing and or support for any stadium in either city,” he said.
If Precourt moves the team to Austin, it’s expected it would play in a temporary facility in 2019 and ’20 before moving into a new urban soccer stadium in 2021.
The Crew’s Mapfre Stadium was MLS’s first soccer-specific stadium when it was built in 1999. But its amenities are far behind those of other, more recently-built stadiums in the league. Precourt bought the team in 2013, but the financial side has been challenging. A source with knowledge of the situation said Columbus has been in the bottom three teams of nearly every MLS business metric for a decade.
A source with knowledge of the situation told SI.com the league expects Austin will have votes in December and again in June 2018 on a soccer stadium in that city. (The city of Austin and Columbus dispute that assertion.)
On the field, Columbus has been on a terrific run of form as it heads into the MLS playoffs.
Said Fischer, “It’s a real disappointment for our players and our fans to have this news coming out on the eve of the playoffs. But I guess owners have to make the decisions they have to make.”