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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)


A month ago, shortly after Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt's bombshell announcement that he might move his team to Austin for better corporate support and a downtown stadium, we asked, "Can this marriage be saved?"

Yesterday, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer answered our question: Not if one party is still steppin' out on the other.

In an open letter to Precourt and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, these city leaders make a reasoned, though clearly last-ditch, pitch to save the team for Columbus. They reveal for the first time that during a Nov. 15 meeting with Precourt and Garber in New York, Columbus offered specific ideas for stadium sites and funding options. And they reiterated those options in the open letter, saying the offers still stand for prime, city-owned land near Downtown. They also allude to other possible stadium sites on choice land in private hands. And they offer to assist with efforts to strengthen team corporate sponsorship, attendance and television ratings.

"None of the above is achievable," they write, "if we continue to be pitted against another city. We ask you to reconsider working exclusively and collaboratively with us to advance our mutual interest."

Partnerships require a commitment. Columbus can't line up investors or corporate sponsors if Precourt is still courting his Texas mistress, imagining that relationship would be more fulfilling than the solid marriage he already has in central Ohio.

We are perplexed, because while Precourt has said he is interested in working with our community leaders to find a way to stay in Columbus, his actions have been contrary. Even as Honda-brand Acura stepped forward with a lucrative jersey sponsorship, announced earlier this year, Precourt was already said to be checking out Austin.

Yes, he made great moves that strengthened the team after buying his 2013 purchase, for a reported $68 mill-ion. And he's sunk in more money since. But team promotions have been curiously absent this year, as if he doesn't much care about building this fan base.

These are all things an owner might do if he were trying to build value for a team he plans to move. A recent suggestion that Columbus might now wish to apply for a league expansion team is a punch in the nose; we were a founding city for MLS. Why would we want a different team? We have one.

Further, we'd urge Precourt and Garber to consider the long-term wound this would create in the nation's 14th largest (up-and-coming) city. They seem to not grasp what is taught at Harvard as "the Columbus Way." Our community -- business, philanthropic and political interests -- cooperates to make the difficult doable.

This approach looks to have fallen flat with MLS, which prefers to operate on the traditional "millionaires club" model of owners; the Columbus community's offer for multiple partners to buy half the team (or own it outright) doesn't fit that model. But Columbus isn't like any other MLS city; it has an exceptional history and a community spirit that justifies an exceptional ownership model.

Leaving would be shortsighted.

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November 30, 2017


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