The MLS commissioner concedes that club relocation can be 'traumatic' and that Columbus owner Anthony Precourt hasn't yet made a final decision.
The pressure and bad PR that followed Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt’s reveal that he’s exploring a move to Austin, Texas, has resulted in at least one small win for a beleaguered fan base. On Wednesday afternoon, the Crew said that season ticket holders now have a nine-day window to seek refunds on their 2018 deposits. Previously, Precourt intended to keep the money even though it was due prior to his Austin announcement.
The Crew have said publicly that they plan to play the 2018 season at Mapfre Stadium and then leave for Austin ahead of the 2019 campaign unless some sort of permanent downtown stadium solution can be found. There are those in MLS circles, however, who believe the club's departure is a fait accompli.
Considering Precourt’s long dalliance with Austin, as well as the out that was written into his 2013 agreement to purchase the Crew, numerous fans felt mislead. Precourt addressed that issue Wednesday.
“I understand that the recent announcement … and subsequent media coverage surrounding the club have created a difficult period for those who have passionately supported Crew SC. I also understand that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the club is of concern to our loyal season ticket members,” he said.
The Crew visit Atlanta United Thursday evening in an MLS Cup knockout-round game and if they win, would host either Toronto FC or New York City FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Also Wednesday, MLS commissioner Don Garber addressed the Crew controversy during an appearance at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York City. Garber stressed that no final decision to leave Columbus has been made.
“It’s not proper to say they want to move,” he said. “What they’re doing is evaluating what their options are to determine whether it not it makes make sense to move to Austin, or whether or not it makes sense for them to have factors that will improve their performance and stay in the city of Columbus.”
Garber also said nothing that might imply Precourt wants to stay. The commissioner cited the San Jose Earthquakes' 2006 move to Houston—which officially is considered as the launch of an expansion team in Houston and a two-year hiatus for the Quakes—as a “traumatic decision that long-term…can be beneficial for the sport and the league overall.”
MLS always wanted to return to the Bay Area. It’s the country’s fifth most-populous combined statistical area. Columbus ranks 25th, and it’s probably safe to say MLS won’t be back in central Ohio if Precourt leaves a year from now.
“No league, and certainly no leader of a league, wants to move a club,” Garber said. “These things are traumatic and I respect and I understand that. The owner is a good guy. He believes in the sport. He believes in Major League Soccer. He very much believes in his team. He wants to be successful. He’s done an incredible job investing on and off the field. It’s one of the most successful teams in MLS over the last number of years. We’re all going to work together to get the right outcome and I’m confident we’ll be able to find the right way to achieve that.”
Garber didn’t say Precourt believes in Columbus, but nevertheless it seems the city will get a chance to make its case. The commissioner confirmed Wednesday that there will be meetings with Columbus officials “in the next couple weeks.”
On Tuesday, Mayor Andrew Ginther released a statement saying in part, “We are resolved to do our part to keep [the Crew] in Columbus. Over the weekend, we made contact with [Precourt and Garber]. We reiterated our views to each very directly and have requested in-person meetings with both to discuss options for keeping the team in Columbus. They have agreed, and we expect those meetings to occur over the coming weeks.”
On Sunday, the final day of the MLS regular season, Crew fans rallied in front of Columbus City Hall. Around 2,000 attended, according to The Columbus Dispatch (the team was playing in New York).