Future of MLS Team Still in Planning Stages

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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)


Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer is hesitant to name any deadlines with respect to the potential purchase of Crew SC by a group that includes Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Edwards family of Columbus.

That reluctance comes in part because he knows had he tried last year to predict a timeline by which Crew SC's future would have been finalized, he would have been wrong.

"I would have guessed if we were at this point in time and we didn't have a team, that we would be dead in the water," Fischer said. "Turns out, we're not."

MLS announced Oct. 12 that the prospective ownership group had made "significant progress" with a committed MLS toward securing Crew SC's future in Columbus.

As the group works through the final steps to push a deal across the finish line, it knows the 2019 season is looming. It also knows, however, it can't rush toward arbitrary deadlines, especially with an ownership group that formed only recently.

"It's not like we haven't been thinking about it for the last year, but it has only been a week that we've known definitely that we've got an ownership group that came together that has been approved by the league to do this transaction," Fischer said. "It's now all hands on deck with MLS and the ownership group to think through a myriad of details."

One of those details pertains to the Crew's long-term home, as Mapfre Stadium on the Ohio State Fairgrounds continues to age and the team's lease with the state runs out in 2023.

A stadium on privately owned land west of Huntington Park in the Arena District has long been discussed as a possibility, but Fischer said "there are a number of really great sites" and reiterated that this early in the prospective ownership group's existence, no final decisions have been made.

"We're not going to rush it. We've got to get it right," Fischer said, adding that a location close to Downtown is a priority. "You want this to leverage (a growing downtown population and atmosphere) and you want to enhance all of that. Therefore, you're not going to put a stadium out at Buckeye Lake."

For all of the work that still needs to be done to complete a deal with MLS, Fischer recognizes the progress Columbus has made with respect to its MLS future since last October.

It started with an ownership group committed to both Columbus and Ohio.

"At some point in time, members of the Haslam organization had a conversation with MLS officials" at a gathering of NFL owners in California, Fischer said. "I was told of that and I've got a long history (with the Haslams) and picked up the telephone. At that point, they were kind of watching it and curious (about MLS)."

Fischer said there were others interested in the possibility of joining a prospective Crew SC ownership group but that the Partnership and others in the city worked with MLS to form "the best possible" ownership group with individuals that were a "cultural fit" with respect to the needs of an MLS team.

As the potential new owners and MLS work toward an agreement, it also marks a significant transformation in the relationship between the league and Columbus decision-makers, which in late 2017 and early this year was icy, to put it mildly.

After a while, "We were acknowledging that if there was any hope that anything was going to get done, we both needed to tone it down a little bit and start working collaboratively," Fischer said. "That was a good sign back in the spring."

A subtle olive branch from both parties, while not immediately noticeable, helped set the stage for what could soon be a new Crew.

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October 24, 2018


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