Lo­cal buy­ers could save Crew

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Ali­cia DelGallo

Colum­bus Crew SC may have found its sav­iors.

Af­ter a year of un­cer­tainty and drama sur­round­ing in­vestor/op­er­a­tor An­thony Pre­court’s ef­forts to re­lo­cate the Ma­jor League Soc­cer fran­chise to Austin, Texas, lo­cal buy­ers have emerged in an ef­fort to keep the team in Colum­bus.

Cleve­land Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his fam­ily have joined a Colum­bus-based in­vestor group led by Pete Ed­wards Jr. to po­ten­tially buy the Crew, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased Fri­day by MLS. The league will still work with Pre­court to launch Austin FC by 2021.

“We are op­ti­mistic about our re­cent con­ver­sa­tions with MLS re­gard­ing the po­ten­tial sale of the op­er­at­ing rights of the Colum­bus Crew,” read a joint state­ment from the Colum­bus Part­ner­ship (a non­profit coali­tion of lo­cal CEOs), Ed­wards and Dee and Jimmy Haslam. “While there are many de­tails to be worked out, our al­liance is work­ing dili­gently and col­lab­o­ra­tively with the League to keep the Crew in its com­mu­nity.”

The Colum­bus Dis­patch re­ported the sale is far from com­plete, but it ap­pears the Crew will re­main in Colum­bus beyond this sea­son. The plans also in­clude build­ing a down­town soc­cer sta­dium in Colum­bus, ac­cord­ing to Sports Il­lus­trated.

“MLS, the Colum­bus Part­ner­ship and the in­vestor group all agree that for the club to be suc­cess­ful in Colum­bus, it re­quires strong lo­cal part­ners, long-term cor­po­rate sup­port, a strong sea­son ticket base and long-term plans for a sta­dium, prac­tice fa­cil­i­ties and as­so­ci­ated sites,” the state­ment read.

The league went on to say that it is com­mit­ted to keep­ing Crew SC in Colum­bus “should we con­tinue to make progress on these crit­i­cal com­po­nents and agree to key terms with the in­vestor group.”

Ear­lier in the day, ru­mors of the deal cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia and Crew SC fans packed into a lo­cal brew­ery, where they fre­quently broke into chants of “Save the Crew!” while await­ing the of­fi­cial news.

The an­nounce­ment comes nearly a year to the day from Pre­court an­nounced his re­lo­ca­tion plans. Dur­ing that time, the City of Colum­bus filed a law­suit to block the re­lo­ca­tion; Pre­court got a ti­tle change, which led to ac­cu­sa­tions of “fac­tual mis­di­rec­tion”; FC Cincin­nati’s ex­pan­sion ap­proval caused con­cern; Austin’s city coun­cil fought over sta­dium plans; ren­der­ings for a soc­cer-spe­cific sta­dium at McKalla Place were re­leased; Austin FC was born — and that just skims the sur­face of the saga.

“MLS also re­mains very com­mit­ted to PSV’s plan to launch an MLS club in Austin and is ex­cited for Austin to be­come a great ad­di­tion to MLS,” the state­ment read. “The strong sup­port from Austin’s cor­po­rate com­mu­nity, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and pas­sion­ate soc­cer fans is im­pres­sive. Austin is a flour­ish­ing, dynamic city that presents a great op­por­tu­nity for MLS, and we look for­ward to fi­nal­iz­ing plans to be­come the first ma­jor league team in the cap­i­tal of Texas.

“While tim­ing for Austin FC is still to be fi­nal­ized, we are confident that the team will be­gin play no later than 2021 at the new, pri­vately fi­nanced sta­dium and soc­cer park at McKalla Place.”

Dur­ing the 2018 MLS sea­son, Crew SC morale strug­gled be­hind the scenes as em­ploy­ees ques­tioned their fu­tures and whether they would have a job at the end of the sea­son.

Some fans wres­tled with how to bal­ance sup­port­ing the Crew with not sup­port­ing Pre­court, which led to dis­cus­sions of whether to boy­cott games. The Crew’s av­er­age at­ten­dance so far this sea­son is last in the league at 12,120, ac­cord­ing to Soc­cer Sta­dium di­gest, down from 15,439 in 2017.

But a strong con­tin­gent of Crew SC fans ral­lied to cre­ate a fierce so­cial me­dia cam­paign to #SaveTheCrew. Their voices per­me­ated other sports leagues and gar­nered sup­port and crit­i­cism along the way.

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