As was the case a few years ago when DC United faced a move to Baltimore, another founding member of Major League Soccer is in jeopardy of being pilfered from its rightful home. Current Columbus Crew owner, Anthony Precourt is lobbying to move the original MLS franchise to Austin, Texas, citing poor business metrics and an uncertain financial future for the club in Central Ohio. The way the league has handled this debacle has been downright shameful. Commissioner Don Garber has preached for years that MLS wants to “build a soccer nation” in the United States. Well in my humble opinion, it is difficult to accomplish such feats by yanking one of the original pillars of the league out from the foundation.
It could be argued that I am biased in favor of Columbus, given that I was born and raised in Central Ohio. Sure, but the reality is Columbus helped establish that foundation for Major League Soccer and its goal to become a soccer nation. Without a market like Columbus being a strong pillar during the leagues lean years, MLS would likely cease to exist today.
Columbus was the first MLS franchise, built the first soccer-specific stadium, and was even tops in season tickets when the league first launched. Commissioner Garber & Company have forgotten that, instead becoming pathetically infatuated with the fresh new shiny toy that crossed their path in Austin. Mind you, this isn’t to bash on Austin as a potential MLS market. In fact, I have lobbied for several years that MLS would be foolish to not push for Austin to have a franchise. However, it never dawned on me that it would mean losing the Columbus Crew along the way.
We live in a world where everyone and everything has become disposable. We block, ignore, and swipe left anyone and anything that doesn't meet our instant gratification desires. We have forgotten what humanity is in life and in sports. Business is business, yes, but the foundation of any business endeavor is the people behind it. The Crew isn't merely a black & yellow badge. No, the Crew is Columbus. The people of Columbus are intertwined and woven into the crest, jersey, and stadium. Furthermore, the Columbus Crew is intertwined and woven into the fabric of U.S. Soccer. To rip the Crew from Columbus would be a massive and ugly blemish within the federation of the sport we all love.
This should be a wake-up call to all MLS teams, especially any of the originals. If the Columbus Crew of all teams could be thrown to the wayside, then who is to say your team won't be next when it behooves the league to do so? Your ongoing support isn't worth a damn if something newer, shinier, and with more bells and whistles comes calling. The Columbus market supported the league when nobody else did, and this how MLS reciprocates? That is shameful.
Having worked for multiple professional sports teams (including two within MLS), I am acutely aware that often-times team owners are given far too much grief by uninformed and uneducated fan bases. Having said that, I can boastfully say that any owner who assists in pushing this Columbus to Ausitn movement forward should be met with harsh criticism and labeled as greedy. Arthur Blank, you are better than this. Merritt Paulson, you are better than this. Phil Anschutz, you are better than this. Phil Rawlins, you are better than this. Robb Heineman, you are better than this. Clark Hunt, you are better than this and you of all people know this is wrong. Don Garber, you are better than this.
In the end, the solution is a somewhat simple for MLS; Pressure Precourt to sell the team back to the local community, while promising an expansion opportunity in Austin. If MLS is sincere about building a soccer nation, they need to invest when business metrics aren't at their prime in a market. The solution is to not just rip the roots out when a proven commodity is in a slump. Columbus can certainly still be a viable market; we have seen it over the years. Now it is up to Columbus city officials, its citizens and MLS to re-invest in the team. Can anyone that is emotionally, mentally, or financially invested in the league imagine an MLS without the Columbus Crew? I sure can’t and I hope that day never comes to fruition. #SaveTheCrew