Columbus, Ohio, may be losing its Major League Soccer franchise to Texas.
Columbus Crew SC, one of the league’s original teams and the 2008 MLS Cup Champion, revealed in a statement that it is "exploring strategic options to ensure the long-term viability of the Club, including remaining in Columbus at a new stadium or potentially relocating the Club to the city of Austin, Texas.”
The team said it has recognized Crew SC's "growing disparity in attendance and corporate support compared to its MLS peers and other midsize markets, such as Kansas City, Orlando, Portland and Salt Lake City."
Anthony Precourt, a financier from San Francisco who bought the team in 2013, has complained that the team’s current stadium is part of the reason the Crew have been operating in the red. “This Club has ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS, therefore we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options,” Precourt said. “This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise. Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit."
The Crew’s current stadium was built in 1999 as MLS's first soccer-speciifc facility, and Precourt will likely seek public money for a new facility in either Austin or Columbus, according to a report from Deadspin.
The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the MLS has already registered Austin FC and Austin Athletic trademarks earlier this year.
Precourt’s purchase agreement is said to have included a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years. But the Dispatch suggests there may also have been an “escape clause” in the event that Precourt wanted to move the team to Austin.
The stadium and the site are “challenges,” according to Precourt. “I think our fans struggle with the time it takes to get in and out of stadiums before and after games,” he told the Dispatch. “I think fans struggle with the entertainment options before and after games. It’s not in the best part of town and I think the league has learned a lot in the past 22 years that we need to be in a vibrant part of the city and in a downtown part of the city where citizens of the community want to spend time.”