Major League Soccer has hit the big time. The MLS has one franchise owner, the Columbus Crew’s Anthony Precourt, who is threatening to move his team from Columbus to Austin, Texas, because the 18-year–old stadium in Columbus just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Columbus is 20th in the league in attendance and Precourt has noted that there is a “growing disparity” in attendance and corporate support compared with other MLS mid-size markets, such as Kansas City, Orlando, Portland and Salt Lake City. Precourt wants a new, privately-financed stadium downtown, but it is unclear whether he would put up any money for the building. Precourt has an escape clause that allows him to leave after the 2018 season, but when he purchased the team in 2013, part of the deal included having him pay rent on the stadium property through 2023.
The possible move to Austin in 2019 could impact Precourt’s business in Columbus as the team will refund money to people who have already committed to buying tickets and sponsorship for the 2018 season. The deadline for the refund requests is on November 3.
Meanwhile in Austin, politicians are moving ahead with plans for a soccer stadium. The interesting aspect is that no one in Austin put in an application for a future expansion team so it is an open market. But Austin politicians are not exactly throwing out the red carpet for Precourt. There will be no public money for a soccer stadium in Austin.
On November 9, the Austin City Council will begin the due-diligence needed to get a sports franchise. In 2014 the Austin City Council was supposed to do a study that was designed to figure out whether Austin could support an MLS team. That study apparently was shelved.
Columbus taxpayers are subsidizing the NHL’s Blue Jackets arena. Columbus is paying for price to be big league.
By Evan Weiner For The Politics Of Sports Business
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.